Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 The Fox Who Ate Books

I will admit that I am one of those people who gobble up new books. Often I read straight through a new book very quickly, because I am so excited and want to see how it ends. But then I go back and read it again right away, going slowly and savoring it the second time. I do not, however, sprinkle salt and pepper on the pages and actually eat the book. Mr. Fox does. He eats books - chews them up and swallows them and licks his lips. 

Mr. Fox has a problem with his diet. He has such an appetite for books, that he has sold almost everything he owns and there is no money left to buy books. The solutions he comes up involve the library and the corner bookstore, but he forgets to consider the consequences of his plan at each location. Then he is in a real mess. What can a book-loving fox do?

Taking the idea of a voracious reader to absurd lengths provides all kinds of humor in this witty picture book. Mr. Fox with his salt shaker and pepper grinder satisfies his hunger for literature and has plenty of "food for thought." The illustrations of the fox sprawled on the floor of his apartment reading, or casually whistling as he eyes the nearest exit in the library are comical. Younger readers will be rolling in the floor at the scene where "cheap paper upset his stomach." (Yes, it shows him in the bathroom. What kid wouldn't laugh at the sight of a fox atop a toilet?) And when he threatens, "I'll bite you in the bottom!" everyone will be laughing aloud.

Along with the obvious theme of loving books and reading, there are other topics that this story introduces. One big point of discussion could be thinking things through and considering what the results of your actions will be. Another could be the problems with being too greedy, even for good things like books. It could also be paired with another humorous book like Gregory, the Terrible Eater to accompany a lesson on proper nutrition. Young readers may be encouraged to try writing their own stories, as Mr. Fox attempts to do, or create their own illustrations of Mr. Fox eating one of their favorite books. And older students can explore all the vocabulary and the terms that describe hunger of one sort or another.

Perfect for readers who love books such as Judy Sierra's Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf! or Wolf! by Becky Bloom. This is another one of those stories where we are cheering for the character that is really a rascal. I know that kids will love Mr. Fox. Whether you read it at home or at school, children will be chuckling over the fox's antics and adults will be shaking their heads at his single-minded pursuit of books. Everyone will have a good time - which is really the best way to enjoy a good story.

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

Summer Reading 2016 The Ominous Eye: The Nocturnals Book 2

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. Although the brigade solved the abductions, there are still plenty of dangers for them to face. In their latest book, they try to find out what is causing the ground to shake, giant cracks to form, and ash to fall from the sky. (Any guesses?) They meet a lizard named Polyphema who claims that there is a great beast who is shaking the ground and that he wants all the animals to leave the area. Polyphema is a tuatara, a type of lizard with a third eye (seen while they are young hatchlings, then eventually covered with scales). She claims that she can see the future with this special eye and that if the animals do not leave their homes, there will be terrible consequences. Should the brigade trust her and talk the animals into leaving? Or is there something more going on, as Dawn suspects?

The Nocturnals features a wide variety of nocturnal animals - foxes,sugar gliders, bats, pangolins, owls, tuatura, jerboas, and kiwis. It also features some wonderful vocabulary, especially from Bismarck (the sugar glider). He wants so much to impress everyone, even though he is such a small creature, that he uses very large words such as stupefying,  precarious, and tardiness. Along with the extra-large words, he also sprinkles words and phrases from other languages into the conversation like absolumentma cherieamigos, and mio amore. Tobin is impressed by him, but Dawn sees through the theatrics and just gives him a look or a sigh to show that she isn't falling for his charm. The relationship between the three friends and the other animals has many humorous moments, even while they try to find a way to protect everyone from "the beast."

Readers who enjoy animal adventures such as The Guardians of Ga'Hoole may have a new series to add to their bookshelves. The Ominous Eye is the second book in the series and The Mysterious Abductions was the first featuring the Nocturnal Brigade. It is fun to see the relationships between the friends continue to develop. Bismarck teases Tobin about releasing his defensive scent every time he is scared, Dawn continues to roll her eyes at Bismarck's outrageous flirting, and Tobin wants everyone to get along.  There is a website for readers and educators with plenty of resources at

I read an e-book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2016 Paths and Portals (Secret Coders, #2 )

Hopper, Eni, and Josh are still working with the turtle robot they call "Little Guy." It actually seems that being put on trash duty as punishment at school has been a good thing. While Mr. Bee has robots blowing leaves and cleaning up the campus, he spends their punishment time actually teaching the kids coding skills. They have learned how to use verbal commands, enter commands with a keyboard and combine simple programs to make the robot do something new. Not everything is going so well, though. Hopper still isn't getting along with her mother. And there is trouble with her basketball career as well. Eni's sisters are still tormenting the friends whenever they can. And for some reason, the entire rugby team now has it in for the coders.

For kids 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. In this second book of the series, Mr. Bee even explains to the kids that the programming language the turtles respond to is Logo (if  anyone is curious about the history of programming languages).

To try out your own coding skills, you may want to visit

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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Summer Reading 2016: Groundhog's Runaway Shadow


Have you ever had a friend who did everything with you? Isn't it fun to have a friend like that? Well, it is at first, but sometimes you can get a little tired of never having any alone time. And what about when that friend does things that really annoy you or embarrass you? (It doesn't have to be a friend, it could be a brother or sister.)

Groundhog has his shadow and it is always with him. They laugh and cry and run and jump and eventually grow up. But Phil thinks his shadow is not acting the way an adult groundhog should act, so one day he tells him, "I wish you would just go away." And his shadow does. It's very peaceful and quiet after that, because Shadow is off exploring the world and Phil is at home being a responsible adult groundhog. Will the two of them ever get back together?

This is a great story for anytime of year, not just on Groundhog's Day. It is perfect for anyone who has ever thought that they outgrew a friend or were tired of a friend, then wished they had that friend back. There is also plenty of room for discussion about "Be careful what you wish for."

The illustrations are very funny and add extra pizzazz to a story that is very humorous all on its own. The scenes of Shadow burping loudly at the dinner table, or pointing to Phil and calling out "P U" when he passes gas are hilarious and sure to appeal to those who like jokes involving burps and similar situations. The illustration of Phil enjoying a scary movie all decked out in his 3-D glasses while Shadow is screaming and waving his hands in the air in terror was great. It would also be fun to map out all the places that Shadow visits, like the Great Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower. And, of course, kids will laugh when they see that sometimes Shadow is nowhere to be found on February 2nd. I would love to have kids draw their own pictures with their shadow and see what they choose to have their shadow doing.

Highly recommended for elementary grades and those who are forever young at heart. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Reading 2016: If You Were Me and Lived in Brazil


The "If You Were Me and Lived in... " series introduces young readers to countries around the world through the eyes of children. The book on Brazil shares many interesting details such as the fact that it is the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world, or that the capital was moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia in 1960. Common names chosen for boys or girls, and the nicknames for mommy and daddy are also introduced. Favorite foods, sports, and games are described. There is an explanation of the Carnival festival, too. In the back is a glossary for the Portuguese words such as churrasqueira, quiejo coalho, and mercearia.

With the upcoming Olypmic Games being held in Brazil, there is bound to be plenty of curiosity and the chance for research projects. Books such as this are great as a first introduction for elementary school students to the various cultures around the world. Teachers and librarians will find it handy to have the entire set on their shelves.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Summer Reading 2016: If You Were Me and Lived in the Middle Ages


Carole P. Roman has added another title to her new series on different historical periods throughout the world. I just finished the book on the Middle Ages. As usual, there are tons of facts and details, including the clothing, foods, and recreation enjoyed by the people of Medieval England during the late eleventh century. Carole has chosen the family of a landed knight as her example, explaining the home they would have lived in, the social customs, and the education the children would receive. But she also compares that family to their servants, pointing out that the wealthy would have worn finer clothing than their servants or the peasants who worked the farmland. She also compares what the family eats to what those less wealthy might have on their table. 

Carole explains that Europe was very fragmented after the fall of the Roman Empire and that the feudal system of kings, lords, knights, and serfs took the place of the vast empire headed by a single emperor. Men like the father of the family she describes were called on to support their lord when he needed soldiers and were rewarded with land and sometimes even a noble title. Life expectancy was not very long, the example given of a man already on his third wife or a woman remarrying after being widowed would be very common. The importance of the church is shown by how many cathedrals were being constructed, how many times a day people were expected to pray, and the way that families sent their children to become nuns or priests and serve in the church. Young readers will probably be shocked by the details of medical practices such as bloodletting.

At the back of the book there is a section which gives brief descriptions of famous people such as William the Conqueror, Joan of Arc, Saladin, and Charlemagne. And there is a glossary of terms to help out readers who may not have encountered terms like almonry, blanchette, or crenelate.

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.

Check out the video trailer for the series!

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

Summer Reading 2016: If You Were Me and Lived in Ancient China


Carole just keeps expanding on her ideas for her "If You Were Me"series - both in modern countries around the world, and now also in historical periods. The book on Ancient China covers the time of the Han Dynasty, almost 2,000 years ago. Young readers will enjoy hearing tidbits about the Chinese zodiac and agreeing that they would not want to be born in the Year of the Rat. Other things like the difference in the diets of people from different regions will probably surprise them. In our time, there is usually a McDonald's to be found, no matter where you travel. The idea that people only consumed the items that were available in their immediate area will probably seem very limited. Another idea that will generate some discussion is that of having the same job as their parents and grandparents and not really getting any choice in the matter. 

While the text shares information about aspects of life during the time of Han Dynasty, the illustrations show the clothing, the houses, and other visual details of the period. Children will probably remark on the way the corners of the roofs curl up or the fact that no one is wearing shoes in the indoor scenes. Points like rich boys having a private tutor, or the public school having over 30,000 students will be a surprise. There are biographical sketches of famous people from the period in the back matter, such as Cai Lun, Sun Tzu, and Genghis Khan. There is also a lengthy glossary of terms such as calligraphy, caravan, and dynasty. This book is sure to be a conversation starter and may begin some youngster's love affair with history as he or she becomes fascinated with all the differences between life then and now.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Summer Reading 2016: If You Were Me and Lived in the American West


Carole P. Roman's new series on different historical periods throughout the world also includes a book on the American West. As usual, there are tons of facts and details, including the clothing, foods, and housing used by the pioneer families. Carole describes a typical family, explaining the wagon they would have lived in during their western migration, the social customs, and the chores children would have been assigned. She compares the conditions the families have left behind in the eastern part of the U.S. to what they hoped to find in the northwest territories. She includes information about the various Indian tribes those traveling in the wagon trains may have encountered, the supplies typically packed into a prairie schooner, and the custom of several families working together to construct the houses and barns needed by the settlers.

Carole explains the reason why so many families traveled west from the more established states and out into the territories. She also gives details about the journey, including the fact that buffalo chips were gathered and used for campfires (that's guaranteed to get some groans and even some "Ewwws!" from readers). Young readers may also be surprised at the way school was held in the winter and summer when the children were not needed to help with crops, or the fact that all the children in the area attended a one-room schoolhouse with only one teacher.

At the back of the book there is a section with brief descriptions of famous people such as Annie Oakley, Sacajawea, and Red Cloud. And there is a glossary of terms to help out readers who may not be familiar with bodice, daub, or tenderfoot.

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. This will fit in well with elementary school social studies lessons on westward expansion, wagon trains, and the Oregon Trail.

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

Summer Reading 2016: The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase


Readers of the original story will find all their favorite characters in this delightful sequel. Logan, Daisy, Miles, Philip, and the assorted adults are all back for more candy and adventure. The last time we saw our intrepid heroes, Philip had won the Confectionery Association's annual New Candy Contest with the help of his friends. As we start the new book, it is almost time for the grand unveiling of the Harmonicandy and everyone is busy with plans for the big ceremony, the publicity, and getting the candy out to the stores and distributors. All the boys are at the Life is Sweet factory daily, but Daisy has been out of touch (on her latest assignment as the world's best young spy), although the boys can contact her using the vidphones she gave them for emergencies.

There are several things going on at the same time. (1) The owner of the Mmm Mmm Good candy factory is retiring and closing down operations, so he gives Logan's family 4 of his candies to produce at Life Is Sweet. (2) Logan's parents had planned to take the kids on a road trip to visit the stores that are premiering the Harmonicandy, but now they need to stay and oversee the new recipes. (3) Logan discovers that something is not right with the chocolate they used in the contest and wants to find some answers. (4) Philip's father has entered him a national talent contest. (5) Miles finds an old map, possibly a treasure map, in a box of journals and papers, and has also developed a love of geocaching and wants to look for caches during the road trip. (6) Daisy has to make a "dead drop" as part of a mission. (7) And Henry (from the marshmallow room at the factory), arranges a driver/chaperone for the road trip in place of Logan's parents. Whew!

I enjoyed how the first half of the book showed the same few days from each character's point of view. So we start off looking at things through Logan's eyes. Then we see the same things as Miles experiences them, then it's Daisy's turn, and then Philip's. As we read, and come across the same scene from the other POV, it suddenly makes a different kind of sense and we get those "a-ha" moments. Then the second half of the book has everyone all together and the action moves even more quickly. I also liked that the four main characters all discovered something about themselves and their families during this journey, as well as growing closer as friends and teammates.

There is something for almost everyone in this story. We have action, adventure, cool spy gadgets, a cat that barks like a dog, shooting stars, a giant telescope, maps, geocaching, drones, bio-luminescence, and lots of candy. Take "Willy Wonka", mix in some "Spy Kids", and then a little road trip fun and you get an inkling of how much fun this book is. 

Highly recommended for middle grades and up. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Summer Reading 2016 Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks


The latest title in the Book Ninjas collection features two cool chicks named Hensel and Gretel. When a vicious fox becomes a danger in the area and they lose their mother, these chicks take action. They sign up for ninjitsu lesson at the Three Pigs Dojo, where the motto is "Get empowered, not devoured." When they return home from their lessons and discover that their father is missing and there are fox prints, they know it is time to put what they have learned into action. After a long search in the forest, they arrive for the final showdown with the villain.

Obviously this is a new take on the Hansel and Gretel story. Instead of being left in the woods by their parents, they go into the forest to find their poor father. Rather than a gingerbread house, there is a house made of cornbread. The rhyming text gives the story a rhythm without being too cutesy. Readers of all ages will have fun reading phrases like, "No way, chicken tender!" or "Is that witchy fox ready for kung POW chickens?" 

And as funny as the text is, Dan Santat's illustrations take it to the next level. The double-page spread of the chicks tracking their father and his abductor into the forest emphasizes how vast and dark it is as they travel through trees, over log bridges, and across rocky outcroppings. I'm not sure how he manages to get faces with beaks to show so many expressions, but you can clearly see determination, panic, or surprise in the various scenes. He also manages to convey a sense of dramatic slow-motion during the fight scenes, just like in an action shot from a martial arts movie. 

Perfect for fairy tale fans, or readers or graphic novels and superhero comics - with plenty of action packed into each scene. Highly recommended for all ages.

Visit Curious City to find out more about programming for libraries and also check out the Book Ninjas site.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Friday, July 22, 2016

IF YOU WERE ME AND LIVED IN ... Blog Tour: Guest Post by Carole P. Roman

When I heard that The Children's Book Review was working with Carole P. Roman to organize the blog tour promoting her wonderful IF YOU WERE ME AND LIVED IN... books, I couldn't wait to participate. Bianca Schulze at TCBR sent my questions off to Carole, and the rest is history - just like Carole's books! Please enjoy this peek into a writer's life and remember to enter the giveaway.
Could she tell a little about how she began writing the series, or about becoming a writer in general? And what sort of books she enjoyed when she was a kid - favorite authors, titles, or genres? What does she read now, when she's not busy working on her own books? Does she have plans to go to the Olympics in Brazil, or just watch on television like the rest of us? I would just like to let fans get to know her in a little more personal way.

I have been an avid reader my entire life. I started with Nancy Drew and took off to adult fiction by the time I was twelve. There was no YA genre then, so it was books like The Godfather, Exodus, The Source, and James Bond, whatever was lying around the house. I remember one of my teachers contacted my mother because I was reading something rather inappropriate, she thought it was too old for me. My mother replied, that if I could read it and understand it, then it couldn't be too old for me. So, our home was always filled with books along with a kitchen table where we discussed them. It was no surprise when I decided I wanted to be a writer. It didn't happen then, though. I became a social studies teacher for about an hour, left to get married, have a child, and help my husband with our fledging business that consumed the next forty-four years. 
I continued to read, all the time. My mother, grandmother and I had a sort of book club. I devoured books, any kind, science fiction, romance, historical fiction, popular fiction, anything I could get my hands on. When I enjoyed them I read them twice, sometimes even more. Books are like a scrapbook of my past; I can remember what was going on in my life when I read Gone With the Wind (my first trip to Florida without my parents, resulting in a severe sunburn because I stayed on the beach too long reading). The summer of James Clavell that started with Shogun and ended with every book he wrote, Robert Ludlum, Frank Yerby's Judas, My Brother, my mother's favorite writer, Sidney Shellaberger to awaken a love swashbuckling. Tracey Chevalier,  Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's series about the Peninsula War, anything by Phillipa Gregory, Liane Moriarty, Jojo Moynes, Sandra Guilland and a slew of history books I read nightly. I always end my night with a textbook,reading history relaxes me, the facts and theories, the people from the past complete my day. I have other favorites, too many to mention. They are like old friends that bring me comfort and warm memories of my past.
My kids dared me to write the first book. I wrote Captain No Beard: An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life based on a game I played with my grandson. I followed with the non-fiction cultural series because I wanted to create an introduction to customs and culture for my grandchildren. I never expected it to win all the awards or take off the way it has. I didn't consider myself a writer until KDP called and asked me to attend a roundtable to discuss my books. Me, they wanted me to talk about my experience as a writer.

Researching and writing the books have taken over a large chunk of my life, but I still run a rather large business, take care of my growing family. (They may not live with us, but there is still a lot of maintenance). I handle all the promotion and publicity for my books as well as my son, who is a prolific fiction writer. (Michael Phillip Cash, FYI) I don't travel as much as I'd like to, so it's a lot of armchair traveling. I have been around the world a couple of times and have pictures, memories, and adventures to prove it.

My kids call me a receptacle of useless information. Ask about a time period and I will wax poetically about what they wore, ate, their religion, you name it. I like that stuff, so my husband said put it in a book. The third series was born. If You Were Me and Lived in... does for history what my original series did with culture. I started with Ancient Greece, moved to the Italian Renaissance, onto Elizabethan England and then to Colonial America. I began work right away on Ancient China, Viking Europe, The Mayans, American West, and the Middle Ages. I did four of them in the first weekend. I had a ball. I was in history heaven!!!!

So, writing is just another hat I wear. Being an indie writer makes it possible for me to do what I like and not what I'm told to do. I get a great sense of accomplishment and joy when I look at the legacy I am creating for my kids and grandkids. I wish my old reading partners, my mom and grandmother, could have lived to see it.


One (1) winner receives the grand prize:
  • A $50 Amazon gift card
Value: $359.75

Four (4) winners receive:
  • A choice of one book from either series.
Value: $10.99 +

Giveaway begins July 20, 2016, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends August 20, 2016, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

Giveaway open to US and Canadian addresses only.
Prizes and samples provided by Carole P. Roman.

Enter for your chance to win: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you to The Children's Book Review and Carole P. Roman for including the Fairview Review in this awesome blog tour.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure


I can remember reading all the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books when I was in elementary school. I loved all the clever ways she found to cure the bad behaviors of the various kids she met. And her house was such a unique place, with the upside-down orientation and all the animals she had. So I am very pleased that Ann M. Martin (Everything for a Dog, The Babysitters Club series, The Doll People), has continued the tradition with Missy Piggle-Wiggle arriving to take care of her Auntie's house. It seems that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has decided to search for her husband, who "was called away some years ago by the pirates." So Missy is staying in the upside-down house in Little Spring Valley with all the pets and farm animals. It doesn't take long for the town's parents to begin asking Missy for the same sort of help that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is famous for. An extra-special bonus of the new book is that Ben Hatke (Zita the Space-GirlNobody Likes a Goblin), is the illustrator. 

Missy takes on cases such as Honoriah (a know-it-all), Penelope (greedy), Melody (shy), Linden (a gum smacker), and Frankfort (whatever-itis the ailment that inspired the title of the book). Sometimes the cure is a potion; other times it might be a wristwatch that makes a very loud alarm. The child with the problem might find himself stuck in a bubble or discover that the people he is trying to spy on simply disappear. No matter what the problem, Missy can figure out an answer. And the problems also include parents who have a few bad habits of their own to break. The house itself is upset with Missy for something that happened when she was just a child visiting her Auntie, and she has to do some apologizing to get House to stop making banisters disappear or jiggling the stepping stones when Missy walks across them.

Parents and teachers who have their own fond memories of Piggle-Wiggle stories should not hesitate to introduce young readers to this new version. If you have not read the earlier books, they are similar to Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee in the way that children's behavior is sorted out and nice new habits are formed. A bonus for readers is that each chapter can be read almost as a stand-alone short story, with a different child and issue tackled in each chapter. I don't mean that the book is choppy or disjointed, just that it is easy to stop at the end of a chapter and pick back up again later. Great for read-alouds or independent reading.

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

Check out this trailer for Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I, a new book about the author of the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories.

Summer Reading 2016 The Changelings


Izzy is a typical older sister. It always seems that if she really likes something or wants to do something on her own, then her little sister manages to ruin it. Her parents aren't much help either since they have just moved the whole family to the most boring place on Earth, and she even has to share her bedroom with Henrietta, "Hen." But on a trip to the grocery store, Izzy learns that their neighbor could be a witch. Finally there is something to do - she can spy on Miss Marian and try to catch her doing something witchy. All she sees is a lot of gardening, and some funny stacks of stones around the yard. Just when she thinks that maybe Marian isn't a witch and Everton really is the most boring town ever, something happens - Hen disappears in the woods and there is mysterious music. What's a big sister to do, but join forces with the wacky neighbor and mount a rescue mission?

Izzy discovers there was a reason her grandmother never wanted the family to come visit the house in Everton - it is on the border between the human world and that of faeries. Marian takes her to the other side of the border, into the Everwood, in search of Hen. Izzy meets all sorts of creatures she has only heard of in her books of fairy tales. There are changelings, brownies, goblins, trolls and other fantastical beings. Parts of the realm seem magical in the best way, but other things like Queen Morvanna and her hunting beasts, the Unglers are downright terrifying. What can a small girl and a few changelings hiding in the woods do against the evil queen who has Izzy's sister? As usual in fairy stories, appearances can be deceiving and help can come from unexpected places.

Readers who enjoy fairy stories and tales of trips to other realms or dimensions will love this journey through the faerie world. Izzy is very believable as the exasperated older sibling, and Hen makes the perfect impetuous younger sister whom she can't help but forgive every time she messes things up. The familiar characters from fairy tales such as brownies and even the Pied Piper are given a make-over and fresh appeal. The action moves along quickly with triumphs and disasters keeping everyone (including the reader), on their toes until the very end.

Highly recommended for middle grades and up.

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

Summer Reading 2016 The Great Shelby Holmes


This book was a delight to read. John Watson moves to 221 Baker Street in New York with his mother. His mom has recently finished her tour of duty as a military doctor, and is still recovering from a wound she received in Afghanistan. Their new landlady,  Mrs. Hudson, introduces John to the girl who lives in apartment 221B, Shelby Holmes. Shelby has an older brother named Michael and an English bulldog named Sir Arthur. For those familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon, many such references will pop off the page.

John is used to making new friends due to his life as a military brat, but this is the first time he has moved to a new place that wasn't an Army post and without his father. His parents are no longer together and his mother has chosen their apartment to be near her new job and a great school for John. But school isn't in session yet and John doesn't know anyone or even know his way around the neighborhood. With Shelby as a native guide, he soon learns how to take the bus and the subway around town, and he also discovers that everyone in their area knows Shelby. It seems that she is a very precocious child who has solved mysteries all over the neighborhood, much to the annoyance of Detective Lestrade of the NYPD. John gets swept up in a cased with her when Shelby's classmate Tamra asks for help in finding her missing dog. Can they track down the disappearing pooch before Saturday's big dog show?

Adapting the relationship of Holmes and Watson to be a friendship between two kids must have taken some serious effort, but the result is a story that pulls you in and has you turning the pages as quickly as you can to find the answers. Fans of the original stories, or of later film and television adaptations will find many familiar details - a dog that doesn't bark in the night, exhortations to observe rather than just see, references to not wasting space in the brain attic with facts that won't help to solve cases, etc. Viewers of the BBC "Sherlock" will find Shelby's lack of social graces very similar to the other Holmes, and also recognize Watson's self-appointed task of smoothing the way with manners and tact.

For mystery lovers and readers who like buddy adventures, this is a satisfying middle grade chapter book, even if they are not Sherlockians. (They may not be when they start the book, but they will probably be converted by the end.) Let's hope we can look forward to many more cases for this daring duo.

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

Summer Reading 2016 The Drawing Lesson


My students love graphic novels and the "how to draw" books are some of the most often checked out titles in our library. When I saw this book, I couldn't believe what an incredible idea it was. I'm so glad that Mark Crilley realized what a great combination this would be. He has taken the story of David and Becky and embedded lessons about perspective and shading and other artistic skills inside it. David wants to become better at drawing, so when he sees Becky sketching some trees in the park, he begs her for a lesson. Becky is an artist, and an adult (unlike David), but she agrees to give him a lesson rather than brushing him off. As the story progresses, so do the lessons and David's skills.

As each skill is introduced, David's drawing provides an example of how to apply the skill. Becky shows him how to use everything from shading to negative space in his art, and asks him to practice each new skill on his own. By the end of the story, readers have gone through nine different lessons with David and can put the instructions into use for themselves. But, along with the lessons, readers will also enjoy the  story. David is amusing with his desire to be an even better artist than Ryan Pasternak, who "can draw a Lamborghini without looking at anything." He is a little overenthusiastic and does things like follow Becky home from the grocery store or knock on her door early in the morning before she's even had her coffee. The expressions Becky has when David does something to annoy her are very funny. Sometimes her eyes get very large and her pupils look like tiny pinpricks. Her eyebrows may arch with confusion or scrunch together tightly. Every now and then she grits her teeth and you can see steam rising from her head. Without any instructions given on drawing expressions, the book gives a wide variety of examples through the various scenes with the characters.

Crilley does a wonderful job of making the characters believable. David has all the absolute opinions of someone who has not really thought things through. He says things like it's cheating to look at something while you draw it, and that "If you can draw it from memory, then you're a real artist." Becky has her moments of irritation with him, but she also has the desire to share the art that she is passionate about. She tells him that "it is not cool" that he followed her home, but she also gives him genuine praise when he succeeds at a new technique. And the way in which the story comes full circle gives a great sense of completion to the whole book.

I can imagine an art teacher using this to introduce the various techniques to students, or children reading it and practicing on their own. I think I could even draw something recognizable if I follow the directions (which would really be something, since art is not a strong point for me). If you know a young person who enjoys art or wants to be better at drawing, this would make a great gift.

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

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Serafina and the Twisted Staff - a review by our own Kaden Royse


Serafina and the Twisted Staff is a fascinating sequel to Serafina and the Black Cloak. The book takes place just three weeks after defeating the man in the black cloak in the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina 1899. The main character is Serafina. She is the daughter of a catamount. A catamount is a cougar that can also shape-shift into a human. She has a best friend named Braeden. Braeden is the nephew of the Vanderbilt’s. He has a Doberman named Gidean and also loves rescuing animals. 

The story begins with Serafina in the woods. While she is practicing hunting for rats, she notices that the animals are fleeing the area. Upon deeper investigation she discovers many animals locked up in cages. Then she saw a man holding some kind of staff and using it to control the animals. She then goes back to the Biltmore to tell Braeden. When she finds Braeden, she meets a new girl in town named Lady Rowena. She was unable to tell Braeden because of Lady Rowena. That night, she was hunting rats in the Biltmore, as usual, when Braeden’s dog Gidean attacks her. She didn’t know why Gidean attacked, but she knew she had to get out of the Biltmore to be safe. She ends up meeting a boy named Waysa who is friends with her mother and also a catamount. She and Waysa try to figure out who the man with the staff is. They later get help from Braeden and Lady Rowena.

Personally, I think this was a very exciting book with a lot of thrilling events inside. I would recommend it as a good series for middle schoolers, it would be great for a class to study as a series. The book is very relatable to tweens and teens. Also, if you live near the Biltmore, you can relate to the places in the book. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Maxi's Secrets (Or What You Can Learn from a Dog)


I ought to create a new shelf - books that may me cry my eyes out - and put this one and a few others on it. The narrator of the book, TImminy Harris, tells you at the very beginning, "Let's get this part over with - its no secret. My dog Maxi, dies. Just like Old Yeller, Sounder, Old Dan, and Little Ann all died." So you know going into the book that you will probably cry, but let me tell you now - it is a foregone conclusion, so get the tissues ready. Tim gets his dog because his family is moving from their apartment in Portland to a home in the countryside of Maine. That means that the story is also one about adjusting to a new school, making new friends, etc. Lucky for him, he has Maxi to help him.

The book is told with Tim speaking directly to us. At the end of each chapter he lists the secret that he has learned from the events described in the chapter. Here are a couple of my favorites: "Secret #11 There's nothing so bad in the world that dog kisses won't make it better." "Secret #23 Learning is a lot more fun when it's stuff you care about." and "Secret #49 Sometimes there are no words." Along the way from Chapter 1 to Chapter 51, Tim describes how he handles being the new kid at school, the shortest kid at school, and the son of the new assistant principal. He meets his neighbors; Rory is a very large 7th grader with the nickname "The Jolly Mean Giant," Abby is a beautiful black girl who is blind and has been adopted by white parents, and Devon has to use crutches because she has hereditary spastic paraplegia. So Tim isn't the only one who has problems to deal with. Having Maxi around helps him make friends and cope with his difficulties.

There are so many funny parts within the book. Maxi finding turkey poop and rolling in it. An older student thinking Tim is an elementary school kid and trying to get him back on the bus even though he really belongs at the middle school. Abby pretending that she is going to walk off the edge into the swimming pool just to mess with Tim. Tim's dad explaining the meaning and derivation of the word gander (or any other word that someone questions him on). But, most of all, it is a story of a wonderful dog and her boy.

If you enjoy dog stories like Because of Winn Dixie, or Shiloh, then you should read this one as soon as you can.

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

The author wrote this book to honor her own dog, Maggie. Here is a photo of Maggie as a puppy:

And here she is, all grown up:

Lynn says that it has been 3 years since they lost their Maggie, but she still misses her every day. She says, "I believe we shouldn’t look away because it hurts too much when someone dies, but rather we should lean into our grief and celebrate the gifts and joy that our loved one brought to our lives—their gifts live on."

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Song of the Deep


Merryn lives with her father in a cottage on the cliffs above the sea. It is just the two of them because her mother died 7 years ago. Merryn's father is a fisherman, but he has been bringing in a smaller catch each day. Then, one day, he doesn't return from the sea. Merryn has a dream of a giant octopus-type creature pulling his boat beneath the waves and she awakes knowing that he needs her help. She does what any spunky 12-year-old would do; she builds a submarine and sets out to rescue her dad. Along the journey she meets a mermaid, leviathans, mechanical sea horses, submersible drones, and other wonders as she tries to track down her missing father.

Merryn reminds me of Nim from Kelly Orr's books (Nim's IslandNim at Sea, and Return to Nim's Island). They both have a dad, but no mother. They both are very capable and independent. And they both have skills that you don't normally associate with kids their age. One of the cool things about the story is that there is no emphasis on how pretty or how popular Merryn is. Instead, it focuses on her problem-solving, her perseverance, and her ability to find friends in unlikely places. She has skills with tools. She is smart enough to puzzle things out. She is brave enough to face her fears and the unknown to save her father.

This is the sort of book that parents are looking for when they say they want positive role models for their daughters, something besides princesses and fairies. What makes it even better is that the author was inspired to write it by his own daughter. There is also the video game that follows Merryn's quest to rescue her dad, and you can find more information about it at

This is a middle grade story (170 pages) with an illustration to start off each chapter and action that keeps you turning the pages to see what will happen next. The ending comes to a satisfying conclusion, but leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

I received an ARC of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Summer Reading 2016 DC Super Hero Girls: Finals Crisis

Super Hero High School is on the brink of semester finals and everyone is following their own routine to get ready. Some go out for snacks. Some try to find a quiet place to study. Others spar and work on their physical combat and stealth skills. One group heads out looking for villains to catch for extra credit points, while another group goes over flashcards. But as they all do what they can to prepare, someone is picking off students one by one and kidnapping them. Who is doing it and why? Is it a super villain with some plot to carry out? Perhaps it is one of the other students, trying to eliminate some competition for top scores?

Besides the story line of the abductions, there is also a bit of Super Girl's backstory. She shares with the Kents some events that happened back on Krypton before she was sent to Earth. It seems that there were bullies on her home planet, just as there are here in our solar system. She also has test anxiety, which is something that many readers can identify with. And the final showdown with the mysterious kidnapper shows what the students have learned in a very hands-on way.

It is fun to see the characters as teens still perfecting their skills and growing into their powers. The fact that some of them eventually become villains in their adult lives makes it very interesting to see them all as friends in these stories. Overall, the combination of favorite characters, a school setting, their interactions in that setting, and the mystery of the kidnappings combine to make an entertaining story and leave plenty of room for future adventures. Fans of shows like "Teen Titans" will find the same vibe.

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

Summer Reading 2016 Zack Delacruz: Just My Luck


Zack Delacruz can't seem to shake his bad luck. Here is just one example: he stands up from his seat in the cafeteria and his pants get stuck on one of the screws holding the chair together. The seat of his pants is ripped loose, exposing his underwear to everyone. Now that would be enough embarrassment all on its own, but no, it doesn't end there. He and his dad have gotten behind on the laundry so the only pair of underpants he had to wear that day are an old pair from several years ago with Thomas the Tank Engine on them. Major catastrophe for a middle school kid - especially in front of the new girl that he wants to impress. So there he is in all his glory with his pants hanging down to his knees in the back and everyone getting a good look at his Thomas the Tank Engine underpants that are several sizes too small and resemble a thong more than regular underwear. That's about the point when most people would hope for the earth to open up under their feet and swallow them, so imagine what it must feel like for a middle school kid who's a little on the shy side to begin with.

Zack's middle school class in San Antonio has a mix of kids much like any other sixth grade group. Blythe, the student council rep always wants to be the center of attention. There is a clique of popular girls already experimenting with eye shadow and trying to find eighth-grade boyfriends. The oddball, Janie, talks in movie quotes and gives the movie title and release date, too. Jose is known as El Pollo Loco, and as you can probably guess, is the class clown. Chloe likes Zack's friend Marquis, but her mother says she can't have a boyfriend until she's in eighth grade. And then there's the new girl, Abhi. Her family just moved from Minnesota and Zack thinks she is awesome. But whenever he tries to talk to her or impress her, it always goes wrong.

Zack's mishaps might not be so bad except that they always happen in front of everyone and then Jose always has to tease him about it. Nicknames like Dela-loser, Thomas the Tank Thong, Smellacruz, or Thomas the Stank Engine follow him through the halls and draw unwanted attention. And it really does seem as if everything is going wrong - the pants, the dodgeball incident, the day of the smelly cologne, Abhi's big brother coming after Zack in the lunchroom. Will it ever end? A lifetime of humiliation is crammed into one week of Zack's life and all he wants is to make friends with Abhi.

Author Jeff Anderson really captures the feeling of middle school. When Zack thinks things like, "So it was a firing squad - middle school style. I hate dodgeball more than math homework, Brussels sprouts, or chin-ups," sixth grade P.E. is neatly summed up. Or when Marquis is absent and Zack feels like he has "really come undone like an old bent up slinky," he echoes the feelings of everyone who has had to negotiate a bad day at school on their own. But as he observes, "Man, middle school can change on a dime. One minute you're shark chum and the next you're a celebrity everyone wants to be near." Nothing is permanent,especially in the crazy years between being a little kid and being a teenager. 

Highly recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy humorous realistic fiction about school, friendship, and figuring out who you are.

I received an ARC of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Fuzzy


Oh, wow! If you enjoyed the humor and school setting of Tom Angleberger's Origami Yoda series, then you must read his new book with coauthor Paul Dellinger. Max (short for Maxine, but she just likes Max and that's all) is a student at Vanguard Middle School. The school has been selected to pilot a Robot Integration Program, having an actual robot as a student. When she is chosen to act as a native guide for the robotic student, Fuzzy, Max is thrilled. But not everyone is happy about this development, including the computer program Barbara that acts as the vice-principal for the school. Barbara's lines of code and logic see Fuzzy as a disruption to learning, and students like Max fall into the same category. To get rid of these distractions, how far can and will a computerized school principal go?

As a teacher during a time of high-stakes testing and constant pressure from government at all levels to "improve student performance," I had to laugh at the #CUG in the story. The Federal School Board has come up with a program called Constant UpGrade (Get it - Up Grade?) that all the schools must follow. The computer program Barbara is there to help with that goal. Her job is supposed to be keeping track of demerits for breaking school rules, logging test scores, etc. And the students all feel pretty much the same about it. "The Constant UpGrade program was supposed to be a "revolution in education" with "cutting-edge technology" like Barbara. But it had turned out to mostly be a giant pain in the butt. The cutting-edge technology was always yelling at you, and with the constant testing, none of the classes were any fun. Since teachers got their own #CUG scores, all they seemed to care about was preparing for the next test." I just have to ask - how much time have the authors spent on school visits lately? Because we may not have computers for vice-principals, but some of what they describe in this fictional school feels all too real. And the rest feels like a dire prediction of things to come.

Anyway, I digress. My point is that just as Fuzzy's programmers put him into the school environment to try and help him learn to emulate human behavior, the authors have managed to capture middle school life very well. The pressure to do well because your academic future depends on it (with or without #CUG). The helpless feeling of being a teen or tween and having multiple adults all telling you what to do - sometimes with conflicting orders. The struggle to find a way to fit in and have friends. And that last one is something that Fuzzy really seems to be writing a lot of code for as he comes up with improvements on his programming and evolves as a thinking machine. The references to classic SciFi like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury are awesome and will perhaps send young readers looking for some of that great literature. 

Anyone who wants to see school improvement taken to a laughable extreme, who enjoys some SciFi or tech mixed in with their stories of friendship and school hi-jinx, or who is simply waiting for the next Angleberger book - please readFuzzy. You will love it (98.66% chance of success).

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

For more information about Tom Angleberger, visit his website.