Monday, September 26, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Secret Keepers


What if you found a unique and amazing object? What if it had been hidden away for the last 50 years and it was completely by accident that you discovered it? And then, what if you learned that a ruthless individual who controlled the entire city was after this object, and after you? It's hard to say what any of us might do in that situation since we don't have a sinister figure called The Smoke running our city and doing whatever he (or she), likes without any fear of the law. But that is exactly what happens to Reuben when he comes across a curious antique and draws the attention of The Smoke's right-hand man, the Counselor. From the moment the precious object comes into his possession, Reuben's life is changed forever. It is up to him and any friends he can make along the way to make sure that the change is a good one.

In a way the plot follows a similar storyline to that of "Star Wars: A New Hope." (No, seriously, hear me out.) There is the lonely boy who finds something and doesn't even know its value at first. Using this object, he acquires skills that would help him defeat the evil Counselor, and perhaps even take on the mysterious Smoke. As he struggles to protect himself and bring down the villains, he is joined by a clever and brave girl, and a fellow who has the habit of "borrowing" cars and lying. No wookies or robots, though. Sorry.

Fans of Stewart's other books, such as The Mysterious Benedict Society series, will be thrilled to have a new title with all the same features. There are clever children with abilities that help them in problem situations. There are evil and selfish adults that must be fought for the sake of everyone. And there are caring adults who try to help in whatever way they can. The action is fast-paced during the dangerous scenes, and the time in between builds the tension until the danger almost comes as a relief.

Highly recommended for middle grade readers and up, especially those who enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society or similar mystery/suspense stories.

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wishapick Book Birthday Celebration and Giveaway Tour


One (1) Winner Receives The Grand Prize:
  • An autographed copy of Wishapick: Tickety Boo and the Black Trunk
  • A CD of the Wishapick: Tickety Boo and the Black Trunk soundtrack
  • A Fitbit Alta
Value: $153.77
Four (4) Winners Receive:
  • An autographed copy of Wishapick: Tickety Boo and the Black Trunk
  • A CD of the Wishapick: Tickety Boo and the Black Trunk soundtrack
Value: $23.82

Giveaway begins September 23, 2016, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends October 23, 2016, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

Giveaway open to US and Canadian addresses only.
Prizes and samples provided by M.M. Allen and Deborah Wynne

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Highly praised classic fairy tale, Wishapick Tickety Boo and the Black Trunk, a children’s book for all ages, written by acclaimed author MM Allen; and a CD of Wishapick Tickety Boo and the Black Trunk soundtrack composed by the talented Deborah Wynne.
Darkness-utter blackness. Was this why his mother had refused to let Jack unlock his father’s old trunk? It had been two years since his dad had died, and all Jack could think about was examining whatever treasures were stored inside the beloved trunk. But when he finally lifted the lid, he didn’t just fall in –he fell through it into a pit of rattlesnakes. Trying to recall his mother’s stories about the Breathe of All Good Things –anything to help him out of his dangerous predicament-Jack wished he had paid attention rather than mock the tales as childish myths… and that he’d waited to enter the trunk with his sister, Lilly. They could have at least faced this together. Jack quickly learns two things; the villagers in Wishapick think Jack is the only one who can bring light back to Wishapick –and accomplishing this feat is the only way he can return home.
Wishapick: Tickety Boo and the Black Trunk is available on Amazon (


About M. M. Allen
M. M. Allen, author of the acclaimed children’s picture book Let’s Play Ball, is the mother of two adult children and aunt to twenty-three nieces and nephews, including ten great-nieces and great-nephews. MM is a former teacher and university lecturer. She has also worked extensively in marketing and communications with varied businesses and non-profits. MM lives in a picturesque northern California town where she enjoys writing, tending to her rose garden, and caring for her West Highland terrier, Pip.
About Deborah Wynne
Composer and lyricist Deborah Wynne created a companion CD of songs to accompany Wishapick: Tickety Boo and the Black Trunk. Wynne’s primary talents lie in choral singing, stage musicals, and composing. Her musical projects include the 2013 album Strands of Gold and 2007 musical Moment of Truth. She is an active singer and composer in Santa Barbara, California, where she lives with her husband and their two shelties, Sparkle and Gracie.

Learn More About Wishapick
Wishapick Soundtrack Be sure to check out the companion music CD, Wishapick, for purchase or download from
Book Club Questions Get to the heart of Wishapick by downloading this set of book club questions: Wishapick by M. M. Allen: Book Club Questions


FTC Disclaimer: This post is a part of the Wishapick Book Birthday Celebration in partnership with The Children’s Book Review, M.M. Allen, and Deborah Wynne.

Fall Reading 2016 She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero


There has been a big push lately for social studies classes to use primary sources when studying various events and individuals. Books such as She Stood for Freedom help to meet this demand by combining a narrative with images of historic photographs, newspaper headlines, informational flyers, and even diary entries. The narrative is broken into easily readable chunks, which all have headings to make it easy to find what the reader needs. The description of what Joan and her fellow Civil Rights workers endured as they staged sit-ins, freedom rides, and other demonstrations is clearly told without dwelling on morbid details. The combination of straightforward description and visual images makes a book that can be used with middle grades and up to support lessons on the Civil Rights Era. The book also has a Civil Rights Timeline and original artwork by Charlotta Janssen.

For those who have not heard of her, this is a wonderful introduction to the life and work of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. The book covers everything from her childhood in Virginia and trips to visit relatives in Georgia, to her time working for Civil Rights and her later marriage and career. There are photos of Joan as a child, as a young adult during demonstrations, and even a mug shot from her arrest as a Freedom Rider. I particularly like the closing section, "An Ordinary Hero." The explanation that Joan never saw herself as a hero, but only as someone doing the right thing is a great idea to leave young readers with as they finish the book. Her simple explanation, "When something is the right thing to do, DO IT! It's that simple," can be used a starting point for meaningful discussions.

Highly recommended for middle grades and up. I received an advance copy of the book for review purposes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Giveaway: Quick, Little Monkey! by Sarah L. Thompson

Enter to win a copy of this wonderful picture book by Sarah L. Thomson, perfect for fans of Janell Cannon's Stellaluna. The giveaway runs from September 17 - 24, 2016.

Reviews say:
"This fast-paced adventure in a South American forest will have readers on the edge of their seats…. The illustrations… bring heightened tension and emotion to the crisp, lilting text…. An author’s note at the end tells readers more about the story and about pygmy marmosets, including that the father provides much of the childcare. This dad and daughter escapade will easily engage audiences who like drama and action in their nature stories." —School Library Journal

"Bold pencil lines, atmospheric watercolor washes in bright greens, browns, and yellows, and double-page spreads…perfectly convey the drama and energy of jungle life. Exaggerated close-ups of Little Monkey's face capture her range of emotions, from exuberant joy as she rides on Papa's back to paralyzing terror as she faces the unknown. Exciting jungle high jinks starring one adorable little monkey and her protective Papa." —Kirkus Reviews

"As a baby pygmy marmoset rides on her father’s back, he shows her how to 'read' the jungle landscape for predators… and to stay safe…. The wide-eyed primate heroine is cute and plucky, and Judge’s… woodsy-toned watercolors create moments of high drama… an evocative story of survival of the itty-bittiest." —Publishers Weekly

Don't forget to follow the blog for news on future giveaways.

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Spring Reading 2016 Quirk's Quest: Into the Outlands


Captain Quirk is given the assignment of exploring the far reaches of Crutonia. He and his crew set off to map the land and gather samples of and information about the flora and fauna they discover. Although Quirk is sure that the other commanders are jealous, readers can clearly see them winking and shaking hands with each other as the king gives him the commission. Perhaps they know something our fearless leader doesn't, because the expedition runs into severe trouble only a few days out. By, trouble, I mean their ship is attacked by hungry giants. Things really don't improve from there - important members are lost (eaten), equipment is gone, and the ship is destroyed. The surviving crew make their way to shore and take shelter in a cave, only to meet a crazy sorceress. Did Columbus ever have days like that?

The characters look like they are visiting from Fraggle Rock, with some more furry than others. And their Sxervian Frog Brigade members could be distant cousins of the Dozers. Besides the colorful appearance of the expedition members, they also have a wide range of personalities. Quirk is very confident when they set out, but then seems completely at sea (har har), once they come under attack. Smok, the chef's assistant, turns out to be more capable than some of the senior officers. And the Yoons that the crew encounters after the attack remind me of small, furry versions of JarJar Binks.

Without any background, we will be looking at future books in the series to find out more about the kingdom of Crutonia. We will also be watching to see how the crew members develop during their mission and what the future holds for them.

I read an ebook provided by the publisher through NetGalley. 

Spring Reading 2016 Science Comics: Volcanoes: Fire and Life


A desolate world covered in ice. Scattered tribes of humans scavenging for fuel to burn for warmth. Dependence on solar power hampered by frequent cloud cover, which also prevents the sun from warming the Earth's surface. It sounds like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie, but it's actually the setting for a new graphic novel from First Second Books in their Science Comics series.

In this installment of the series, Aurora and her siblings are out on a fuel mapping expedition. The mappers explore the barren surface of the earth and look for burnables that can be gathered and hauled back to their tribe. The tribe lives underground and depends on these scavenged items to heat their living space. As they go from building to building the group come across a library. (I know - I cringed just thinking about the fate of those poor books!) Luckily, they have a scanner that digitizes all the books before they are marked for pickup. Aurora spends the night reading one of the books and learns all about volcanoes. The next day she is very excited about the possibility of using geothermal energy to supply heat for the tribe, but her siblings (Luna and Sol) and their leader Pallas don't believe her. How can there be such heat inside the Earth when the surface is frozen? It is up to Aurora to convince them that finding access to that heat is better than spending all their time scavenging for fuel.

The idea of sharing science concepts through a graphic format is not new - look at the Magic School Bus and the Max Axiom books for proof of that. This series follows in that tradition. The "hook" for young readers is the futuristic setting and the life or death consequences that depend on Aurora's knowledge of volcanoes. There is typical sibling banter and squabbling, with her brother's obsession over food causing some humorous moments. Aurora's use of an holographic display to share the images from the book and the I-cycles powered by solar cells offer a glimpse of future tech possibilities. While Rory (her nickname), tries to convince the others that geothermal energy still exists to be found, she shows them diagrams of famous volcanoes throughout history and explains the different types of volcanoes and eruptions as well as their causes.

Whether they are looking for a book on volcanoes, a story about possible future conditions on Earth, or simply enjoy the graphic novel format, young readers will have fun reading about Aurora and her quest to save her tribe.

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 It's Me, Achilles B: It's Time to Say Hello

Many of us have dogs that are part of the family. We call them our "fur-babies" or the "grand-dogs." And we've all seen (or heard stories about) dogs that are jealous when a human baby arrives on the scene and the dog is no longer the only little person in the house. But there are also those dogs who are incredibly close to their human siblings and treat the whole family as their pack. 

Achilles B. definitely thinks of himself as an equal member of the family. He talks about his parents, and his friends (the kids), and the family pet (a cat named Coco). With the direct address style that young readers enjoy in books like Junie B. Jones, Achilles tells about his family's move from Texas to Connecticut. He shares what his favorite activities are and how he helps with the family cat by chasing her around the house to make sure she gets enough exercise. He even enjoys having pancakes on snow days. (Who doesn't love snow days?)

The friendly and positive tone of his explanation makes a move to a new home seem like an adventure rather than something scary. Achilles explains that his father got a new job, so he gets to meet new kids. He also finds out that kids are alike no matter where you live; they all enjoy having fun. His discussion of how the family chose their new cat and shared out the responsibilities for her care is a good introduction to talking about being good pet owners. Young readers will probably laugh when Achilles says that he volunteered to play with her, and they may even point out that he can't feed her because he can't open the cans of cat food.

Readers may want to write out stories from the viewpoint of their own pets. How do pets see their human family? What do they think of all the things that humans do, but pets don't? With the popularity of the recent movie, "The Secret Lives of Pets," there is plenty of inspiration. Others may want to write a story about a time they moved to a new home with their family.

Whether it leads to new stories and artwork being created, or simply creates an enjoyable reading experience, the book and Achilles will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy.

I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 What a Beautiful Morning


Books that show the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren are a wonderful reflection of family life. Levine's new book portrays that close relationship between Noah and Grandpa. Whether it is walking the dog or getting coffee for Grandma, they always do it with a song. But when Grandpa starts getting confused and has difficulty remembering, Noah isn't sure how to go on. Grandma counsels him to appreciate what he still has. "Noah thought that was like trying to feel good about the toys you still had, when your favorite one got left behind at the beach." It is a surprise and a relief to everyone when they realize that Grandpa's memory for songs is still strong, and Noah can sing all the songs they have always enjoyed together.

The illustrations show the way forgetfulness or dementia can gradually creep into everyday activities. The pictures go from vibrant, warm colors to having areas that are done in shadowy gray. It might be Grandpa's head partially in shadow, or his breakfast plate when he forgets how to cut his French toast. The day he wakes up from a nap and doesn't recognize Noah is a 2-page spread in those dreary grays, a definite low point. 

The cause of Grandpa's forgetfulness is never explained, it is simply shown, along with how Noah and Grandma support him. Noah sings the tuna sandwich song at lunch, or their morning song as they walk the dog. Grandma lays out his walking clothes and swaps roles to be the one to bring the morning coffee. 

Readers who have enjoyed the way the title character in Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge tries to help his friend Miss Nancy find her lost memory will love Noah's story. Both boys are such caring individuals and become such a help to their older loved ones, one can't help but see the similarity. Families who are dealing with grandparents or great-grandparents with memory problems may want to share this book with the younger generation to help them see they are not alone. It is also perfect for class studies of family stories, and another companion book could be Song and Dance Man(with the tie-in of the music).

Highly recommended for all ages.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 The Story Book Knight

The Storybook Knight

You had me at Docherty. After the success of The Snatchabook, it is exciting to see another story from that creative team. This time they have come up with a brave knight named Leo, who would rather read than fight. When his parents send him off on a quest, he makes sure to pack lots of books with the other supplies in his saddlebags. Along with his faithful steed, Old Ned, Leo sets off to see about the dragon that is causing all the trouble. He comes across other fearsome creatures on his journey, but he recognizes them from his reading. Besides the dragon, he also faces a a griffin and a troll - all of these are hungry beings that a small mouse, even if he is a knight, wouldn't want to tangle with. But the pen is mightier than the sword and with some help from his books, Leo manages to make it back home and earn a hero's welcome.

The idea of a tiny mouse facing off against a fire-breathing dragon seems impossible, but heroes come in all sizes. And we all know that smart heroes (especially literate heroes), have the best chance of surviving danger of any sort. With all the bravery of the rats of NIMH or Despereaux, Leo is an aptly named hero with the courage of a lion. Although he doesn't see the point fighting, he still manages to come out and top and save the countryside from ruin, including big piles of fewmets (that's dragon poo in case you didn't know).

The text is not at all heavy-handed as some rhyming stories can be, and the watercolor illustrations are full of details to capture the attention of readers. This is a story that will be read multiple times and enjoyed as much as time as it was the first.

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

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Summer Reading 2016 The STEM Club Goes Exploring


STEM has been a hot topic lately, and it is nice to see more titles that address this area. The subject matter in combination with the graphic format should capture the attention of many young readers. The approach is reminiscent of a Magic School Bus adventure, minus the transforming bus and Ms. Frizzle's flamboyant personality. In this instance we have a male teacher who is in charge of the STEM Club. He drives the kids around in a minivan (that does not transform into anything else), as they visit various places where they can research STEM careers. Once they are done with the interviews, they will edit together a video to share with the school.

There are many positives about this book. Besides the timely topic, there are diverse backgrounds among the students and the people they interview, as well as a mix of male and female characters. The careers that they go on location to investigate are not discussed in isolation. Other STEM-related jobs are also pointed out by each expert, such as the veterinary student who talks about classmates who plan to work on creating healthy pet food and supplements, or the geologist who points out that an astronaut who walked on the moon and collected samples was also a geologist. Fields as different as physical therapy and video game design are all covered, based on the interests of each student in the club. And the process of creating the video is a STEM activity in itself - with kids planning, filming, and editing. There is also a glossary of STEM careers in the back of the book, from Air Traffic Controller to Zoologist.

Overall it is an entertaining read and an easy introduction into the idea of STEM careers (and the education that prepares for them). This book would be a helpful addition to elementary school libraries or classrooms.

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