Thursday, March 30, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 NewsPrints


Nautilene is a city in a country at war. The men are off at the war and women are filling in at the shipyards and other essential jobs. Blue is an orphan taken in by the mayor and his wife, and helps with selling the Bugle newspaper along with the other boys in the household. One day, Blue discovers what looks like an abandoned warehouse and meets Jack - an eccentric inventor. Blue seems to have a knack for making friends. There are the other orphans, the canary (Goldie), Jack, and even an odd boy who seems to disappear whenever grownups are around (Crow). When the oldest orphan, Hector, comes home for a visit, he tells Blue he is working on a big news story. A scientist working for the war effort has gone missing and may be hiding in Nautilene. Hector wants Blue's help in searching for clues and getting the story that will prove Hector is a real newsman. If the story puts Blue's friends at risk, will old loyalties or new win out?

This is a debut graphic novel praised by Kazu Kibuishi (creator of the Amulet series). The ending makes it clear that readers can expect a sequel, or even a longer series set in this world. Themes of friendship, loyalty, and the courage to be yourself are all included along with action, humor, and mysterious inventions.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire


Fans of unique individuals such as Junie B. Jones will be delighted with Cilla Lee-Jenkins. As a second-grader, Cilla is more mature than Junie, and as a future author extraordinaire, she has a wonderful vocabulary. Cilla enjoys being an only child and is not AT ALL excited about a new sister on the way. She decides that the best thing to do is finish writing her bestseller and become a famous author before the baby's arrival. 

Being a writer is such a big part of Cilla's life, that it comes through loud and clear in her best-seller manuscript. Even though her father urged her to give kindergarten a chance, she "despaired. As writers do." And when she plays with her dollhouse, she creates "an epic drama that had Suspense and five main characters, three love interests, ten children, two imaginary dogs, and (her) teddy bear as an all-powerful dragon." How many nine-year-olds have that sort of imagination and grasp of what creates a successful book? Yet, even with all her intelligence, she still has problems knowing the right thing to say to Colleen when she's worried over her grandmother, or how to find a way to get her own grandparents to be closer. After all, she's just a child, not yet a best-selling author.

Susan has created a completely believable character. Everything about Cilla is so easy to accept. I personally identify with Cilla's problems with her slowly growing hair when she was very young. She resents a cousin who has bows in her pigtails and explains, "When you're bald and your mom is trying to tape a bow to your head because it won't stay on, then and only then will you understand the agony of this terrible injustice." Having suffered through taped-on bows myself, I agree with Cilla completely. And I also agree with her that "your best friend knows that there's more to you than the words you accidentally say, or don't say. And you know the same thing about her."

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

Spring Reading 2017 Compassionate Soldier: Remarkable True Stories of Mercy, Heroism, and Honor from the Battlefield


Don't be misled by the title. Although all the stories take place in war zones or during military conflicts, not all the featured individuals are actually soldiers. The accounts of these compassionate folks are presented in chronological order, according to the conflict they were involved in, from the American Revolution to modern day deployments to Iraq. Some stories focus on honor like Captain Ferguson refusing to shoot General Washington in the back, or Robert Campbell giving his word of honor to return to the German prison camp if the Kaiser will release him to visit his dying mother. Others feature battlefield angels like Richard Kirkland at the Battle of Fredericksburg, or nurse and resistance supporter Edith Cavell. Whether it discusses journalist and philanthropist Edith Wharton's efforts to help the women of Paris, or Hunter Scott's quest to find justice for Captain McVay of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, each tale spotlights how humanity can survive and even thrive in the worst of circumstances.

Each of these accounts captures extremes of human behavior, juxtaposing the terror of napalm falling from the sky to the efforts of journalists and medical staff to save a child's life, or a serviceman's bravery in coaxing Japanese civilians and combatants to surrender in WWII's Pacific theater. A few of the stories end with referrals to Bible verses, but even readers who are not deeply religious will still be able to appreciate the grace and compassion shown by these individuals. The author obviously believes strongly in providing these examples for readers to admire and emulate. This book could be used to stimulate discussion about what the duty of one human being is to another, perhaps in a civics or philosophy class. Recommended for grades 4+.

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Spring Book Festival

Welcome spring 2017 by attending:
MARCH 27-29
Find your new favorite books and authors. Fiction of every genre, from Children's Literature to Fantasy, Romance to Horror will be represented by a diverse list of Indie authors at discount prices; many are free. You say you like Non-fiction, too? Don't worry, we've got that.
Enter the $150 giveaway in prizes!
Come join us and tell your book-loving friends!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Real Friends: A True Story about Cool Kids and Crybabies


Shannon Hale is well known for her chapter books, and now her collaboration with LeUyen Pham will earn new fans among graphic novel readers. Her memoir of her elementary school years and dealing with bullies at school and an older sister who could be a bully at home will show young readers that they are not alone in their struggles. Many people can empathize with Shannon and remember how it felt to want to make friends and feel that everyone else knew some friendship rules that they were somehow never told. How do you get to be part of the "in" crowd? Why is there always someone in a group that seems to be the least empowered or the last one taken into consideration when plans are made?

I heard LeUyen speak on a panel at ALA Midwinter, and she talked about working on the illustrations for this book. She said there were some scenes that were very difficult to draw and she would have to try them out from several viewpoints before she could capture the emotional tone she was going for. One scene in particular she showed to her own child and was told that it was too scary because of the expression on a character's face, so she had to rethink her approach and switch the perspective to make it easier for young readers to deal with. 

The author's note at the end reinforces that this is the story of those year's told from Shannon's memories. Others in the story, classmates and family, may recall some of the same situations differently. That doesn't mean anyone is remembering wrongly, just that they all have their own point of view and how things seemed to them at the time. I love that she included school photos of herself from each of those grades. What a nice touch!

Highly recommended for graphic novel fans, readers of Shannon's other books, and anyone who is feeling left out by friends or even feeling bullied or picked on (but if they are -they should get help from a trusted adult). 

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 The Metropolitans


Think of all the best books that feature a group of kids who become friends and go on to solve a mystery and save the day. The kids from Chasing Vermeer come to mind. Or what about stories like The 39 Clues, or the friends from The Infinity Ring series? And don't forget about Harry, Ron, and Hermione tracking down the Deathly Hallows, among other things. This book will be joining their ranks soon. 

Madge, Kiku, Joe, and Walt all meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at a time in their own lives where they have suffered losses and feel lonely. It is also a time in our country when things are very rough. The Nazis are surging across Europe, and on the day the kids meet, Pearl Harbor is bombed. Suddenly their chance encounter turns into fate. They find themselves forming a group of modern knights, searching for the pages of a missing book of Arthurian legends. If they can solve all the clues and retrieve the lost chapters of the book, then they may be able to prevent an horrific attack on New York. Can four middle-school students foil the plots of enemy agents?

The Metropolitans is a delightful mix of urban fantasy, espionage thriller, and historical fiction. The world of 1941 America comes to life with Indian boarding schools, Japanese internment, Hoovervilles, and the Nazi threat. Cultural references such as Captain America, Captain Marvel, Little Orphan Annie, and King Kong are smoothly worked in to ground the story in the historical timeline. The Arthurian legend transfers into the Met and the lives of the children so that readers learn about Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Morgaine, Mordred, and Merlin along with the protagonists. The action is fast paced. The clues take the knowledge and skills of all the group to solve, forging the bond between them stronger with each task that is completed.

This is a great read for those who have enjoyed any of the other books I mentioned, as well as for those who enjoy mysteries and historical fiction. It is perfect for a read-aloud because each chapter will leave listeners begging to hear more. Highly recommended for middle grades and up.

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

Winter Reading 2017 Diary of Anna the Girl Witch 3: Fighting Witch


The adventures of Anna Sophia, the girl witch, continue to expand her circle of friends and take her to different parts of the world. This time around she is off on a quest to recover her father's heart. He had given it to her mother and she had hidden it to keep it safe. Now that her mother is gone and her father is ill and weak from having his magical energy siphoned off, he needs his heart to regain his strength and resume his job shepherding the dead to the after-world. Anna and her friend Lauraleigh travel to Canada and head north into the territory of the Wendigo to search for the missing heart, using riddles that Anna's mother left behind as clues. They have help from Monsieur Nolan's half-sister, Evelyne, who happens to be familiar with Canada. And they meet other beings of power along the way, some helpful and some not. 

The earlier books in the series tied a lot of Russian folklore into Anna's story. Baba Yaga, Vodyanoy, and Koschey all have a part in the tale of Anna's mother and Anna herself. This time, while those characters are still a part of her history (and some are even family), Anna and her companions will encounter the Wendigo, fly in La chasse-galerie, and hear about Inukitut legends. Besides learning more of the folklore from the land she is travelling, Anna must also practice her magic and learn to control her growing skills. One of the most difficult things for her to do is manage her temper. Isn't that a challenge that many of us can understand? Luckily, Anna remembers some good advice from her Uncle Misha about how each story has many different versions from the viewpoints of those involved, and each one is true, although it may not be all the truth. If she can just keep that in mind as she meets others who knew her mother and share their own stories with her, she may be able to complete her quest and learn more of her past.

These tales of Anna the Girl Witch are a coming of age story, with the added bonus of magic and magical creatures, a quest, and steadfast friendship. Readers who enjoy stories that mix magic and the modern world (I wouldn't say urban fantasy, since most of the action takes place in the wilderness), and who like protagonists that are trying to discover the sort of person they will be as they mature, should give the Diary books a try.

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 Where Will I Live?


Rosemary McCarney, author of books such as Every Day Is Malala Day and Because I Am a Girl, has a new picture book that portrays the uncertainty and the hope of refugee children. Where Will I Live? has full-page color photos of scenes from Cameroon to Slovenia, places around the world where there are refugees. Each photo captures a moment in time; it might be fleeing an armed conflict, entering a tent city, or some children playing in a camp. What unites the scenes is the presence of children in every one. They might look frightened or tired, or sometimes they might be smiling with a new friend. Their faces make a remote situation recognizable and something to which readers can relate. We've all felt tired or scared or relieved and those are commonalities that help us connect to the text.

Each of the photos is unobtrusively labeled with the location where it was taken. Beneath the photo is a short bit of text that ties the images together. "Sometimes scary things happen to good people," it begins. Then it explains why people might have to leave their homes and look for a safe place. It talks of how they reach this new place and what sort of shelter they might find. But the biggest point is saved for last, the hope that these children have for someone to say "Welcome home" at the end of their journey. 

As Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations, Rosemary McCarney hears of situations like these every day. Using photos taken by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, she has created an accessible book about the topic for young readers. But it could also be used as an entry point for older readers - who could then research the situations in each of these places, plot them on a map, or try to find a service project to help the refugee populations. This would make a wonderful addition to classrooms and school libraries.

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 The Crow and the Big Oak Tree


Crow thinks he is really something special. So special that only the biggest and best tree in the whole forest will do as his home. And he is NOT going to share. It doesn't matter that there is plenty of room for the other animals, or that they haven't done anything to him. Crow runs off anyone who even thinks about living in "his" tree. Then he finds out that maybe having some neighbors wouldn't be so bad.

Toole has written a story very much like a fable. The character of Crow is proud, selfish, and bossy. He doesn't think that he needs anyone for any reason, or that anyone else is as good as he is. In the end, he learns an important lesson about valuing others and what they can contribute to a community. As children gain skills and independence during their elementary school years, it is easy for them to begin thinking that they don't need anyone. "I can do it myself" becomes a familiar refrain. This story  reminds them that everyone needs help once in a while.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes. Author Anne Toole was a first grade teacher and an ESOL instructor before she began writing children's books. This is her fifth book.

Winter Reading 2017 A Dog Named Cat


How would you feel if you were a dog and your human family named you Cat? Probably you would be about as frustrated as that poor guy in the song "A Boy Named Sue." Poor Cat finds out that there is a creature called a cat  and he is nothing like one of those. He doesn't want to chase mice or birds or mess with goldfish. What he wants is a new name, one that fits him better, but none of his plans work. Just when he thinks there is no hope of ever getting a different name, an unexpected event changes things.

The humor of the story will appeal to young readers. Many children probably have pets with funny names, too. This story also makes them look at things from the pet's point of view, which is a good skill to have. And Cat's attempts to make his family change his name can be the start of a discussion on problem-solving. Were his attempts well thought out? What could he have done instead? Have they ever had a difficult problem that took more than one try to solve? You get the idea - stories like this help with talking about life skills such as  empathy and persistence and are great to have around for parents and teachers.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes. Author Anne Toole was a first grade teacher and ESOL instructor before she began writing children's books. Her book is geared toward children from 4 to 7 years old. (from press release)

Winter Reading 2017 Dragonwatch


Dragons. Demons. Witches. Ogres. Fairies. Unicorns. Nipsies. Brownies. Satyrs. Centaurs. Stick around Fablehaven long enough and you might meet any or all of them. But now Seth and Kendra are off to Wyrmroost to help stave off a dragon uprising in the sanctuary. It's not a perfect solution, but there aren't a lot of options open to the sanctuary keepers like Grandma and Grandpa Sorenson. Can two teenagers, however talented and blessed with magical gifts they are, actually hope to stand up to the might of the Dragon King and his followers?

Fantasy readers who have not yet discovered the Fablehaven series will still enjoy this new novel. The characters are 3-dimensional with faults as well as strengths. The plot is complicated and keeps you on your toes as you read along. Who is on the side of the humans? Who supports the dragons? Who is a neutral third party, or perhaps just waiting for a chance to choose the winning side? Lore and magical relics are discussed and searched for. Alliances are made and friendships tested.  Anyone with siblings can appreciate the bickering and heavy sighs of frustration between Seth and Kendra.

It's only fair to warn you that once you read this you will want to go back and read the other books, too. There are plenty of earlier events mentioned that will pique your curiosity, pestering you like an itch that needs to be scratched. And we will all be eager to see what happens next, impatiently waiting for Brandon Mull to complete Dragonwatch #2.

Highly recommended for grades 4+.

I read an advance copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 Toucans, Too


The author of Cockatoo, Too is back with another book, and the cockatoos are back, too. This time the cockatoos are busy making two-can stew (adding two cans of ingredients). But the toucans misunderstand and think that some "toucan stew" is being created. It all gets worked out, but in the meantime it is sure to have readers laughing out loud. It is also tempting to repeat all the phrases, trying them out in different voices and putting emphasis on different syllables to change the meanings around. 

Murguia's illustrations are bright and engaging. The cockatoos with their mohawk-like feathered crests have their large eyes wide open in earnestness. The toucans show their horror at the thought of toucan stew with their gaping beaks and the eyebrows jumping off their faces in alarm. The gnus watching everything from their spot offshore seem like spectators at a tennis match, their eyes looking this way and then that. 

This is a true picture book that depends upon the illustrations to make the meaning clear. With very few words, readers have to pay careful attention to the details to build the story and grasp the humor. Teachers looking for books to help with visual literacy skills would find this a great text for a lesson. It would also be perfect for discussing word play and homophones. Those who have already discovered Cockatoo, Too will be delighted to have this companion book.

I read an advance copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2017 I'M NOT LITTLE!


Fans of Lulu, the Big Little Chick can add another favorite to their pile of bedtime stories. Little Shaggy, the protagonist of I'm Not Little! has the same sort of determination to prove he is bigger than everyone believes. Tired of being treated as a little monster, with everyone constantly offering him a little story, a little walk, or a little pet name, "Little Shaggy has a little news." He declares to everyone, "I'M NOT LITTLE!" And then he throws "a little temper tantrum." 

Any child who has ever become frustrated with this sort of treatment will have a little sympathy with Shaggy. It is cathartic to watch him hurling toys through the air and venting his feelings to the adults in charge. The illustrations by Glenn Thomas perfectly complement the story. Shaggy and his family resemble the colorful characters from "Monsters, Inc." with horns, fangs, and odd-shaped bodies. When he stomps his little feet around his bedroom, it is amazing how much expression is shown in Mom and Dad's eyes as they peer around the edge of the door. 

A perfect story for someone who is about to become a big brother or big sister and is ready to claim their "big" status, or for any young reader who is tired of being a cute little tyke and ready to step into some big-kid shoes. If you have any fans of Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." and "Monsters University," hand them this book and watch them smile.

I read an advance copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2017 Blobfish Throws a Party


It's funny how some topic or type of character will suddenly appear in several places with no connection to each other. In this instance, it's a blobfish. Only last month Jess Keating's book, Pink Is for Blobfish, was on our school's book fair - and now here is a story of hilarious miscommunication also starring a blobfish. 

Where Keating's book is a nonfiction look at pink creatures in nature, Miranda Paul has written a tale of a lonely guy who just wants some friends, lights, and delicious treats. That's not asking too much, is it? As he sees it, Blobfish can either "1. Throw a party. 2. Save the world in true hero style." Naturally he decides that throwing a party would be easier, but it doesn't go well. Everyone who hears his invitation actually mis-hears it. "Deep-sea party! Bring a treat to share!" becomes "Creepy tree party! Wring and eat your hair!" and even worse variations. 

Just when Blobfish despairs of ever having a party, or friends, or delicious treats, a surprise twist happens. (I'm not saying what it is.) I will say that Blobfish reminds me of Big Al in the book by Andrew Clements. They both are lonely and want friends, and their best efforts don't seem to work. But Blobfish's story is a great one to use when looking at silly rhymes (think The Hungry Thing), or miscommunication in general. Kids can have fun inventing their own rhymes for different groups and different settings. What can they think of to add to the ballerinas, sheep, mermaids, and monkeys already in the book?

Maggie Caton's illustrations show a guy with a sad face that would give the Pout Pout Fish a run for his money. Each group's reaction to their interpretation of Blobfish's invitation is sure to provoke lots of smiles and giggles, especially the big scene where "Everyone was partying in loud, weird ways." And I love the way she shows the reporters backtracking to where the whole idea originated. (It was my first time ever seeing a cow in a scuba helmet.) 

If you have a young reader who enjoys humorous and even downright wacky stories, or you need a good book about careful listening or miscommunication - grab a copy of Blobfish Throws a Party. Just be prepared for the laughter!

I read an advance copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 Remy Sneakers vs. the Robo-Rats


Imagine if you were accused of a crime you didn't commit, simply because you matched the description of the criminal. But Remy Sneakers (Remington Raccoon), knows that he didn't do it and that he is being unjustly labeled as a public enemy. Where can he turn for help? Perhaps the other critters in town will help him look for the real thief. So Remy and his friend Stix visit Mouseville, Rat City, and Pigeon Plaza looking for friends who will believe in his innocence. Meanwhile, the real villain continues the evil plot that started all of Remy's troubles.

A mystery in Scooby-Doo fashion, that is also part buddy story with the unlikely pair of the raccoon and Stix the mouse, and similar to the TMNTs when reporters realize there is a talking raccoon, this story will have readers laughing out loud. Since this is only the first of Remy's adventures, they can stay tuned to see what happens next (cue music for foreshadowing). The illustrations carry the narrative along and express emotions more easily than you would expect on the critters' faces. I'm sure many readers will be drawing their own scenes and creating new villains for Remy to face.

A bit longer than the Scholastic Branches chapter books, Remy Sneakers is on the borderland of graphic novel and heavily illustrated chapter book. Fans of Bad Kitty will want to give this a try.

I read an advance reader copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2017 When God Made You

I love David Catrow's illustrations, and he has created an exuberant main character to accompany the text of this book. Turner's rhyming text calls to mind the phrases of Happy Birthday to You by Dr. Seuss. Both authors emphasize the unique nature of each child. Seuss - "There is no one alive who is you-er than you." Turner - "you're perfectly crafted one of a kind." But as you can see from the title, Turner has a more spiritual thrust to his message. He pulls in details about every strand of hair and how "God was thinking of you long before your debut" that allude to lines from the Bible about how well the Creator knows each of us even before we are born.

As the text speaks of how God hopes we will become "A dreamer who dreams in big and small themes, one who keeps dreaming in journeys upstream," we see the child helping out an artist in the park and her paintings full of vivid colors coming to life. While the colors spread across the pages, the words hold out hope that a child can grow up to be one "who views others as sisters and brothers." In a time when people are asking for more understanding and rallying around efforts like "We need diverse books," this it the type of story that we need.

This would make a wonderful gift for a baby shower or a birthday present for a young reader. The affirmation of each child's worth and potential, the joyful explosions of color, and the happy rhymes are a difficult combination to resist.  

Visit the publisher's website for more information on the book or the author.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Winter Reading 2017 If You Were Me and Lived on Mars


Along with her popular series on countries of the world and her growing collection of books about historical time periods, now Carole P. Roman has reached out into the solar system. This new title explores what it would be like to live on Mars as part of a scientific expedition. Comparisons of Earth to Mars talk about their distance from each other in space, the amount of land on both planets, and the need for life support in the atmosphere of Mars. Details about the length of the trip to reach the red planet, the moons, seasons, and gravity are all included.  

Sci-Fi depictions of the planet (most recently "The Martian"), don't usually show families. But Carole's book explains the jobs each parent would have and the need for teachers to work with the children in the settlement. Scenes that show kids playing basketball in the lower gravity of Mars, or their dog in a custom spacesuit and helmet add a bit of levity to discussions of sandstorms and volcanoes. The book also has a helpful glossary/pronunciation guide in the back.

A nice introduction to young readers who are curious about outer space.

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

Winter Reading 2017 If You Were Me and Lived in the Ancient Mali Empire


Carole P. Roman continues to add to her new series on different historical periods throughout the world. For those of us who have only heard of Mali from movies like the Dirk Pitt adventure, "Sahara," her title on the Ancient Empire of Mali is full of incredible facts. I appreciate that her narrator is a girl from the time period, and that she mentions how boys and girls have different traditional roles. Modern children will probably be surprised to learn that boys were apprenticed to learn a trade at age 12 or 13, and that girls were considered old enough to be married. The different social classes are described, as are various occupations. 

The history of Mali and how it rebelled against the government of Ghana and formed its own country, then went on to become rich and powerful will impress young readers. Perhaps they will see parallels between the beginnings of Mali and that of the United States. The rich traditions of history, music, storytelling, and religious tolerance are shared with readers, along with descriptions of clothing and common foods. Children will be shocked that many people used salt to trade for goods in the market rather than gold. We are so accustomed to using standard currency that barter and trade seem strange to modern readers.

A nice introduction to young readers who are curious about the past and important time periods and people. This series gives a broad overview of each period and location, and enough specifics to answer basic questions while also giving facts that can lead to further research. There are several pages in the back matter that describe important figures such as royalty, military commanders, scholars, and architects.

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

Winter Reading 2017 The Fallen Star (The Nocturnals #3)


In their first appearance (The Mysterious Abductions), three very different animals - Tobin the pangolin, Bismarck the sugar glider, and Dawn the fox- work together to save themselves from a hungry snake on the very first night they meet. That success leads to the formation of the Nocturnal Brigade, with the three new friends ready to help others. In this third adventure the friends are watching falling stars and see one crash down near their valley. Strange things begin to happen after it lands; plants disappear, animals are poisoned, and strange glowing creatures roam the night. Aye-Aye Iris claims that she has seen things and knows secrets, but she won't share her knowledge. Is she making it up? Did Bismarck's comment that she sounded "loco" make her decide not to help? How will the friends find the answers in time to save all those who have been poisoned?

The Nocturnals features a wide variety of nocturnal animals - foxes, sugar gliders, pangolins, lemurs, kangaroos, bilbies, and bandicoots. Bismarck, the sugar glider, continues with his efforts to impress everyone by using very large words such as atrocious and malodorous. Along with the extra-large words, he also sprinkles words and phrases from other languages into the conversation like exactemente, pas de probleme, and muchacha. This time he even invents a new language called Starspeak that sounds like "Eep Ork, Zip Zop Zoop!" He uses this to try and communicate with alien beings.

Readers who enjoy animal adventures such as The Guardians of Ga'Hoole may have a new series to add to their bookshelves. The Fallen Star is the third book in the series featuring the Nocturnal Brigade. The friends in the brigade have the same quirks from their other books that will make readers laugh, from Bismarck's over the top declarations of love for Dawn to Tobin's loudly grumbling stomach. There is a website for readers and educators with plenty of resources at

I read an advanced reading copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 Science Comics: Bats: Learning to Fly


I admit it, I have a soft spot for little brown bats. They are native to the Great Smoky Mountains here in East Tennessee, so I was happy to see one as the principal character in Bats: Learning to Fly. Lil Brown, as we come to know him, is lost and finds himself in the desert, then in the care of a vet. While recuperating, he meets bats of many types and learns more about them. As Lil Brown learns, so do the readers. We find out that different bats eat different things, why they hang upside down, and what humans can do to help protect them. Dangers like deforestation, white nose syndrome, and loss of food sources are all covered. 

The unique way that Science Comics present information by having a storyline going in some panels and factual information shown in others really works for readers that are visually literate. They can read along in the story's narrative, then dip into the extra details when they are ready for them. Some might choose to read the entire story, then go back for facts about how and what bats eat, or the various species and their habitats. Others might prefer to read the nonfiction content as it appears alongside the story, explaining more of what is happening to Lil Brown and the other bats.

The back matter has lots of handy information like how to build bat houses, ideas for volunteering or careers (if you would like to work with bats), a glossary, diagrams, and suggestions for further reading. A great addition to a library or classroom, and for use in lessons on bats, nocturnal animals, or animal adaptations.

Winter Reading 2017 Digging for Dinos (Haggis and Tank Unleashed #2)


Jessica Young continues to expand on her range of titles and characters. First we had the picture book My Blue Is Happy, and then her early chapter book series for Scholastic's Branches featuring Haggis and Tank. These two doggie friends are opposites in many ways. Haggis is small,  well-groomed, and he seems very sensible. Tank is large, a little messy, and she seems a bit on the goofy side. When Tank discovers a large bone in the yard, she is certain that it is a dinosaur bone and convinces Haggis to go searching for dinos with her. What ensues is a humorous adventure.

Kids will enjoy the relationship of the two friends, the humor of Tank misunderstanding what Haggis says (reminiscent of Amelia Bedlia), and the delightful scenes of the pals having fun with their new acquaintance - the triceratops. Adults will be able to laugh along with young readers as they sympathize with the frustration Haggis feels about Tank's confusion over where the dinosaurs are. "There aren't any left?" "There aren't any right?" "So where are they - left or right?"  James Burks does a wonderful job illustrating the story, capturing Tank's wide-eyed wonder at everything around and the long-suffering patience of Haggis as he indulges his friend's desire for adventure.

Great for readers just beginning the transition from picture books to chapter books.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 Arthur and the Golden Rope


With the recent interest in Norse mythology spurred on by Thor and Loki in the movies, as well as Rick Riordans's Magnus Chase books, readers of all ages are eager for more. The story of young Arthur Brownstone seems to be that of a typical misfit. He is interested in things that others in the village are not. Spending time listening to the wise woman and exploring the woods makes him "different," so it is easy to blame him when a giant wolf attacks the village. Even though it isn't his fault, Arthur sets out to save everyone from the giant beast and winds up consorting with Thor, Odin, and the other Viking gods.

Cheering for the little guy who is an unlikely hero is always fun. Arthur is brave, even when he is terrified. He puts the knowledge and the artifacts he has collected to good use. And he is the kind of clever hero that doesn't need a ton of muscles to get the job done. The illustrations are excellent. They show the world around Arthur with all the goblins, fairies, and sea monsters. And they also underscore how large and scary these dangers are in comparison to Arthur's small size, which makes his courage even more impressive.

Once readers have learned Arthur's story, they will be eager for more tales from the Brownstone's Mythical Collection.

Winter Reading 2017 The Story I'll Tell


Families or teachers looking for books about adoption and ways families are formed should pick up a copy of this book. Ling does a great job of showing how an adoptive parent might consider how to tell the story that answers the question, "Where did I come from?" Such a parent might say that the child drifted down in a balloon, or was found in the garden. But the true story is a really good one, so they will have to tell how they brought the child home to meet their new family.

The various stories that the mother considers telling capture romance and adventure and whimsy. The illustrations by Jessica Lanan pick up on those themes with vibrant hot air balloons, elegant angels, the splendor of lion dancers, and the danger of a sleeping dragon. Together they portray the lengths to which these parents would go for the sake of having a child of their own, and the treasure that they feel the child to be.

A warm, loving, and incredibly positive look at forming a family through adoption.