Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Questions and Answers with Barbara Brandt, author of Your Kids: Cooking!

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Recently I reviewed a wonderful new cookbook & cooking program for young people. The author, Barbara Brandt, has very kindly taken the time to answer some questions about the book and her experience writing it.

1. How long did it take to narrow down your choices of which recipes to include? 

A long time! More than half the time I spent on creating the program went in to choosing the recipes. It was a bit of puzzle because I had to find recipes that would appeal to not just kids but to the entire family, and they also had to be popular recipes that most families have heard of, like spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, eggs benedict, macaroni and cheese, etc. But what made it really difficult was I needed to find ten popular recipes that would also teach kids all basic cooking skills, methods, and techniques and then could be arranged so that they would learn new skills in each recipe and also review previously learned skills. That was a real challenge and it took several months to figure it all out.

2. Did you have the same young cooks working with you each time you tested a recipe, or did you have a large group of volunteers who wanted to get into the kitchen with you?

I had several different groups of kids helping me because I wanted to test the recipes with kids of all ages to make sure they could all follow the steps easily on their own. We had a lot of fun because we weren’t too worried about things turning out perfectly. The kids were very relaxed and focused on all the new skills they were learning, rather than on the finished product, but the recipes are pretty foolproof so we ended up with a lot of yummy food at the end of the day!

3. What are your favorite types of foods to cook? 

My favorite way to cook is to see what I have in the refrigerator and in the pantry and then create something based on what’s there. I don’t like cooking from recipes. I prefer to create my own recipes, and my favorite kind of recipes to create are pasta dishes.

4. Have you had a lot of positive feedback on the format and the way you chose to present the program as a multimedia set? 

Yes, lots of positive feedback, both on the use of the video to teach kids how to complete the steps, and on the written directions in the book. People love that there are pictures of all the ingredients and utensils and steps and they also like how the recipe is broken into three stages; Get Ready!, Get Set!, and Get Cooking! Many parents have told me they wish adult cookbooks would be formatted that way, and I agree with them! I find the typical recipe time consuming to read and difficult to follow while you’re cooking.

5. What is your all-time favorite food to eat? 

Well, I have a long list of “favorites,” but I guess if I had to pick just one I would have to say the birthday meal I always requested as a kid (and still do) which is baked chicken wings, white rice, and steamed peas. I can’t really say why I like that combination so much, but I ALWAYS have chicken wings in the freezer as they are my “go to” meal when I just can’t figure out what else to make. They always sound good to me!

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Your Kids: Cooking! was just published June 30, 2015 and is available now at http://www.yourkidscooking.net.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 A Whole New World (A Twisted Tale #1)


Many great stories start with a simple question, "What if?" In A Whole New World, the question to ask is, "What would happen if Jafar got the magic lamp and Aladdin didn't?" Imagine an Agrabah in which Jafar has supreme power - he is sultan, he is an evil magician, he controls the lamp and the genie. What could anyone do to stop him? Liz Braswell has created this alternate story of Aladdin and Jasmine in just such a world. The princess and the street thief must somehow find a way to defeat Jafar, with no magic of their own. What they do have are the people of Agrabah (and Abu and Rajah). Can the frightened citizens, both the respectable tradesmen and the disreputable Street Rats, combine their forces and skills to overthrow the insane sorcerer?

Filled with daring raids, battles, heroism, and terror - this is not the story we all know. But it is a well-told tale of friendship, first love, and the courage of facing evil together. And those who thought Jasmine was a plucky princess in the film version will be delighted to see her really come into her own in this alternate telling.

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

Here is a quote from the description of the Twisted Tales series provided by Disney for the NetGalley site: "Ages 12 and up Welcome to a new YA series that reimagines classic Disney stories in surprising new ways. Each book asks the question: What if one key moment from a familiar Disney film was changed?" 

Summer Reading 2015 Max the Brave


Fans of cool cats like Skippyjon Jones and Pete the Cat and stories of quests and misdirection like I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat will have a new hero after reading Max the Brave. Max is a kitten who does not enjoy being dressed in bows, but he does chase mice. Or he would if he only knew what they looked like. In a manner familiar to those of us who grew up with Are You My Mother? Max begins his search for a mouse to chase. He finds a fly, a fish, birds, even an elephant. Finally, a small, furry "monster" with a long tail and big ears points out a sleeping mouse to him. The mouse is very large, much bigger than Max expected. He is also green, has very big teeth, horns on his head, and ears a lot like Shrek's. Hmmmmm, maybe someone hasn't been completely honest with Max. 

Kids and adults alike will love the deceptively simple illustrations and the charmingly funny story. I predict this will get repeated requests for read-alouds. You can check out the book's trailer for a preview of all the fun.

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

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Rungle in the Jungle


This is a rhyming story about some jungle friends who decide to have a race. Timmy the Tiger and Joshua Jaguar send out word that a mile-long race will be held and everyone is invited. But the snake begins boasting about how easily he will win, playing mind games and undermining the confidence of the other animals. Timmy and Joshua are not worried or frightened and even plug their ears to keep out his hissing. The day of the race, snake again boasts and even pulls a trick to try and win, but the boys run right past him and even blow him a kiss. When the other animals see that he can be beaten, it cheers them all up and they enjoy the race. 

If you have a child who is discouraged about a competition because of someone's boasting, this story could help illustrate how the boastful don't always live up to their words. Some of the rhymes are a bit strained - "rhino" and "sign-o" - for example. The animals are anthropomorphic (wearing running shorts or eyeglasses, drinking lemonade, etc.), and they all get along (except for the snake), so this obviously would not be a book used for teaching a unit on jungle food chains. Younger readers will probably enjoy the cheerfully colored illustrations. 

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

Summer Reading 2015 I Want a Dog: My Opinion Essay


I love the book and I enjoyed how the author shared it on Pinterest to get feedback. It was convenient that I could look only at the book's page, or I could glance down at the comments she had posted about it. Since I am a dog lover, I liked the inclusion of many types of dogs as the criteria are explored for choosing the perfect pet. I also think students would like the comparison/contrast between the two cousins and what they want and need in a dog. Of course, the names for the dogs are a very humorous perk and will catch the attention of all the superhero/comic book fans. As a mentor text to use with students learning to write an opinion essay, this hit many points of concern - it is not too technical, it deals with a subject many kids love, it has humor, the illustrations are appealing, it even shows the difference between the sloppy handwriting of a rough draft (as he's enumerating his criteria), and a neat finished copy to turn in for a grade. I will definitely be recommending this title to the reading/language arts teachers in my school.

Summer Reading 2015 Aoleon The Martian Girl, Part 3: The Hollow Moon


Events are picking up speed as Aoleon and Gilbert get closer to the heart of the problems on Mars. They manage to sneak inside the Luminon's palace, but what they see is confusing. Why would the Luminon's appearance seem to flicker and be replaced by that of a vicious reptile? And why is he talking about attacking facilities on Mars, attacking his own people? The Galactworks is sabotaged by someone they both recognize. When Aoleon takes her pilot's flight test, the ship is attacked by forces hidden in space near Mars. Even renting a skyboard for Gilbert ends in disaster as they are targeted by Paladin guards. 

Can they reach the contact that the rebel leader, Pax, has asked them to find? Why does he insist that these two children are the only ones who can find out what is really going on and stop an invasion of Earth? With spies, saboteurs, and alien soldiers after them, will they survive long enough to get any answers? We will have to keep reading to find out.

I read a copy of the book provided by the author for review purposes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters


I'm always looking for poetry that kids will enjoy. Usually humor, sports, or animals are the key ingredients. This collection has humor and animals - so it's twice as likely to be a hit. Franco has written poems that not only showcase several types of poetry (concrete, haiku, cinquain, etc.), she also works in cool facts about the various fish. Fans of Nemo will love the poem, "Why clown fish hang out in the anemones." Those readers who are more interested in the visual elements will enjoy the poem's words being placed along the spines of the spiny puffer, or creating the stripes on the Moorish Idol. The acrostic poem carries an environmental message about endangered reefs and there is even a poem about reef food chains. The vibrant colors evoke a sense of summer beach fun that includes snorkelers appearing in the illustrations and then seen tucked into their beds beneath fishy quilts at the end of the book. There is a list of books and websites to check for further information, but this book on its own could introduce a unit on sea life, or on poetic forms. I would love to see a class create a similar book as their final assessment piece to conclude a unit on the ocean. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The scheduled publication date is October 1,  2015.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

NetGalley Badges

Professional Reader      Reviews Published 

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Summer Reading 2015 Gryphons Aren't so Great


The lovable and hilarious characters from Adventures in Cartooning return for more hi-jinks and laughs. This time the knight and faithful steed Edward are out having fun. When they discover a gryphon, the knight is tempted by the desire to fly. Poor Edward is left earthbound and alone. But, as usually happens with glitzy new acquaintances, the knight comes to see that Edward is a true friend and gryphons aren't so great.

The book (as do all those in the series), has "how-to draw" guides for Edward and the knight, and this time gryphons and bats are added. Even the youngest readers can easily create their own versions of the characters and write their own adventures. It is amazing how much emotion can be displayed by an armored helmet or a horse's body language with just a few strokes of the pencil. Old and new fans will enjoy this latest outing and be eager for more.

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

Summer Reading 2015 Family Changes

Family Changes is a helpful book for younger children who are curious or confused about separation and divorce. The setting and characters are obviously make-believe, which helps provide some emotional distance between the reader and what is happening in the story. This was a deliberate choice by the author, who knows that dealing with difficult issues is easier through the use of bibliotherapy. Asking questions about what the characters are doing or saying feels much safer and less frightening than asking questions about one's own life. Reading that Zoey's parents are not divorced because of something Zoey did (or didn't) do, can reassure youngsters that their own parents are not getting a divorce because a child forgot to do their homework, or some other small transgression. The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc.

But the book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults.

I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors as a way to get the conversation started an address some of the concerns that children have about divorce. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Aoleon the Martian Girl - Part Two: The Luminess of Mars


Gilbert continues his adventures with his new friend, Aoleon (from Mars), when she takes him home to meet her family. Gilbert discovers that Martians have their own version of pizza called a "Galact platter." Aoleon tells him that, "No civilized world can exist without it." He also gets to visit her school and see what classes in zero-G training and galactic history are like. But the fun really happens when he attends a psi-ball match in which Aoleon's team is competing with the team from the Martian Science Academy. Imagine a Quidditch match that uses hoverboards rather than brooms and the team has to capture the opponent's flag rather than a snitch; that is a rough idea of what psi-ball is like. 

But it's not all fun and games. Something is wrong on Mars. All the bovars (the Martian version of a cow). have disappeared and there may be war as the desperate Martians consider stealing cows from Earth. While Aoleon and Gilbert are traveling through the city to her home, they pass the Luminess, the wife of the ruler of Mars, and Gilbert has a startling vision of her as a hideous reptilian creature. What could have caused that? And why has the leader of the resistance movement asked them to find out what is really going on inside the Luminon's palace? What can two kids do? As if that weren't enough, one of Aoleon's classmates has begun acting very odd and may even have tried to throw the psi-ball game.

Readers will want to continue on to the next book in the series and see if these friends can find some answers to all their questions and prevent an interplanetary war. I read an advance copy that the author provided for review purposes.

Summer Reading 2015 Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye


The story of Warren the 13th and his family's hotel is full of secrets and danger. The Warren Hotel has always been owned and operated by a Warren, and it has now fallen to Warren the 13th. But Warren is underage and his uncle is running the hotel, although not really - because he is too lazy to do much of anything. The building has fallen into disrepair, there are never any guests, all the staff has left or been run off by Warren's frightening Aunt Anaconda, and all the work is left to Warren. (I picture Aunt Anaconda as one of the sinister figure s from Roald Dahl's The Witches.) Warren has no playmates, or pets, and his aunt will only allow the cook to feed him gruel. It isn't a very fun-filled life. But then guests begin arriving, more than there have been in years. It seems that there may be a magical object hidden in the hotel and everyone wants to find it. They are pulling up the floorboards, cracking open the bathtubs, tearing family portraits off the walls. There may not be a hotel left standing when they are done. 

In the midst of all this, Warren does make a new acquaintance or two. There is his rather odd friend Sketchy and the girl named Petula, who says she is staying at the hotel with her mother (although Warren doesn't remember them checking in). Unfortunately, he also meets Anaconda's two sisters, who are just as awful as their sibling. How in the world will Warren keep the hotel running, repair all the damage done by the fortune-hunting guests, and convince his Uncle Rupert that his wife is not the wonderful woman he believes her to be? 

Readers who enjoy Roald Dahl or "The Addams Family" will find Warren quite suited to their tastes. This is a story for mystery lovers, treasure hunters, and those who enjoy a taste of Victorian melodrama in their books. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Summer Reading 2015 Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in my...


Many of us have had assignments for class that we thought were lame - the dreaded "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay, for example. But Ike has to write a letter to someone from history to get extra credit, and he picks Benjamin Franklin since his father named him after the famous inventor (Franklin Isaac "Ike" Saturday). So he writes to Mr. Franklin and displays a lot of 7th grade sarcasm, but he also tells Ben some of his current problems in middle school life. Through a strange quirk of the post office, when Ike puts a vintage stamp on the letter and actually drops it in the mailbox, Benjamin Franklin receives it and they begin writing back and forth. 

Imagine, one of the founding fathers of our country sending advice to a lovesick seventh grader. Ben tells Ike that he doesn't appreciate being referred to as "B-Freezy" or a "stringy-haired windbag," but that he does feel sympathetic toward Ike's lack of popularity in middle school, since he has to contend with Thomas Jefferson getting all the attention while they are writing the Declaration of Independence. They continue sending each other advice, Ben telling Ike about his own pursuit of lady friends and Ike telling Ben about future events in U.S. history, until there is a major problem. Those of you who are familiar with stories that involve time travel know all about the dangers of derailing the timeline by tampering with the past..Let's just leave it at that, shall we? It does set up the story very well for a sequel, because some situations will need to be repaired or it could be the end of the world as we know it.

Ike's voice is a very convincing portrayal of middle school life and Ben's letters show us a humorous side of the Committee of Five and the founding fathers that history class does not usually reveal. Readers who enjoy historical fiction, or humorous stories with historical figures mixed in, will have an entertaining read with this book. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.