Sunday, April 30, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Fairy Floss: The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy


Who doesn't love the sweet smell of cotton candy wafting through the air at a fair or carnival? And the  taste of it as it melts on your tongue is heavenly. But many people don't know that it was once a treat made in thicker candy threads. The candy maker had to spin a bowl over an open flame to create the sugary filaments. It was hot and laborious work. But at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, an electric candy machine was introduced that spun the sugar so finely it was like a soft candy cloud - cotton candy!

Young readers will enjoy seeing the introduction of the candy machine from the viewpoint of Lillie, a young girl visiting the exhibits. Illustrations capture the period clothing and setting, as well as the curious crowds gathered to see the wonders of  the World's Fair, especially the amazing inventions displayed in the Palace of Electricity. For us - toasters, dishwashers, and coffeemakers are everyday items, but to the tourists in St. Louis, they were practically miracles.  The author's note mentions some of the many names for the candy around the world, as well as facts like how many boxes of the candy were sold at that 1904 fair. There is even a list of suggestions for further reading, if this story doesn't satisfy your sweet tooth.

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

Spring Reading 2017 Ella and Owen and the Cave of Aaaaah! Doom!


Ella and Owen have their own series of highly illustrated chapter books, much like the Branches books from Scholastic - Kung Pow Chicken, Eerie Elementary, etc. These twin dragons are very different from each other. Owen likes to stay in with his books, Ella wants to go out and have an adventure. When she manages to convince Owen that if he comes along he can add to his collection of ogre toenails (Gross!), they set off to find Dragon Wizard Orlock Morlock. Perhaps he will even have a cure for Owen's cold. Along the way they run into sprites, ogres, a wicked wizard waffle, and even spells to transform them into flying bunny rabbits.

There is plenty of humor, action, and cliffhangers. The illustrations play up the personalities of the twins as well as the comic elements of their situations. Readers who are making the transition from picture books to chapter books will feel comfortable with the balance of text and pictures in this story and the others in the series. Having a brother and sister as the main characters also means the book is equally appealing to boys and girls. If readers enjoy this story, they have the benefit of looking forward to the other titles in the series, including The Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster and The Evil Pumpkin Pie Fight. What more could you ask for?

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

UT CCYAL Visit with Carole Boston Weatherford and R.Gregory Christie

 We enjoyed hearing Carole and Gregory discuss their inspirations, what it is like to collaborate on their books, and how they entered the field of children's literature.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 If You Were Me and Lived in...Germany


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 Germany includes descriptions of everyday events like bicycling with your parents or using euros to buy ice cream.  A photo of Neuschwanstein Castle  is accompanied by the information that it is considered to be the inspiration for the castle in Disneyland. Model train enthusiasts will enjoy learning about the Miniatur Wunderland in the historic Port of Hamburg. Throughout the book readers learn the German words for family members and household objects, there are examples of popular foods, and suggestions for favorite boys' and girl's names.  In the back is a glossary/pronunciation guide for words such as fussball, brezel, and puppe. 

Along with the everyday details of home, school, and pastimes, there are other facts about the country and its history, including a reference to World War II and the Berlin Wall. 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.

Spring Reading 2017 If You Were Me and Lived in...the Mayan Empire

The latest addition to Carole P. Roman's series on different historical periods throughout the world focuses on the Mayan Empire. The opening spread juxtaposes a modern office building from the Yucatan Peninsula with a Mayan pyramid, which makes a great visual impression. The distinction of Mayans having the only written history among the ancient American societies is shared. A map shows the location of the major Mayan cities. And then the many details of life such as housing, clothing, religion, food, and occupations. Young readers will struggle with disbelief when they learn that parents worked hard to make their children cross-eyed, large-nosed, and pointy-headed! They will also probably resent that children had no choice but to follow in the same social class and occupation as their parents. The descriptions of Pok-ta-Tok ballgames will be met with more approval and enthusiasm.

Back matter includes a list of Mayan contributions to the world, a list of famous names from Mayan culture, and a glossary of terms. With the wide range of facts from different aspects of life during the time period, this will be a helpful book for classes studying ancient cultures.

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. 

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Guest post from author Tracey Hecht

In anticipation of the release of The Fallen Star: The Nocturnals #3, author Tracey Hecht shares her thoughts on how books can act like movies to get kids excited about reading.


Fabled Films Press
Books That Act Like Movies by Author TRACEY HECHT

Does your seven- to twelve-year-old like to watch TV?  YouTube videos?  Movies? Of course they do! And how could they not, when screens are everywhere and content abounds? But, about three years ago I thought to myself, why can’t books come back as a centerpiece of shared entertainment? Why can’t kids enjoy books with their friends the way they do apps or YouTube videos? Why must screens have all the fun?
Can’t we squeeze a book or two into the mix?!
Enter The Nocturnals

That’s why I wrote The Nocturnals, a middle grade series about a nocturnal brigade of animals. There’s Bismark, the loudmouthed, pint-sized sugar glider; Tobin, the gentle, bumbling pangolin; and Dawn, the clear-thinking fox. In each book, the Brigade explores the night realm with a tone and style that makes you feel like you’re “watching” when actually you’re reading. Right now, we’re on the third book, The Fallen Star. the Nocturnal Brigade awakens to find that all of the forest’s pomelos have been mysteriously poisoned. As they investigate the travesty, they encounter Iris, an eerie aye-aye, who claims that monsters from the moon are to blame. With animals rapidly falling ill, including Tobin, the Brigade must find the cure before the pomelo blight threatens to harm them all.

The 3-2-1

I write all the stories in what I call the 3-2-1. For every three words spoken by Bismark (remember, he’s the loudmouth), there are two words spoken by Tobin (sweet, little pangolin that he is) and one word by Dawn (the wise fox). It’s not literal of course, it’s much more like a ratio of 30-10-5, but the rhythm of the writing and the storytelling itself has a beat and an energy that keeps it snappy and conversational like a show. The story might veer towards intriguing or threatening, thrilling or calming, sweet or sincere, but the rhythm stays the same.

Keeping It Fun

This is important: don't make reading the thing your child has to do to earn something better (a.k.a. “If you read for a half hour, you can watch TV”). This develops reading as an obligation, not as a pleasure. Try instead to build reading into the parts of your day that will make it fun, like before bed—all kids like to postpone bedtime! Or, as an alternative to doing chores: “You can help me empty the dishwasher or you can read while I do it.” Or, with a great snack and time together: “Let's make a big bowl of buttered popcorn and get in bed with our books!”

After all, books are amazing! It’s time they take center screen.

*** A big thank-you to author Tracey Hecht for this guest post. ***

If you haven't read the previous books of The Nocturnals, look for them at your neighborhood library or bookstore. And watch for the release of The Fallen Star on May 2, 2017.

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Spring Reading 2017 The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora


If you enjoy realistic fiction that deals with family, friends, community, and fighting for what you believe in - you should read The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora next. Arturo is a typical middle school student. He's happy about summer break and working in his family's restaurant to earn some spending money, while also dreading the weeks that his two best friends will be out of town. But things don't stay typical for long. For one thing, his mother's goddaughter Carmen comes into town. Carmen and her father are visiting for the summer, and they are both trying to recover from the loss of Carmen's mother. She is an intelligent and beautiful girl, so it is no surprise that Arturo develops a crush on her. Dealing with a first crush is enough of a challenge for one summer, but there is also his grandmother's failing health. His relationship with his Abuela is close, and she also gives him a box of letters from his Abuelo that capture his attention and inspire him to try new things. He draws upon the advice of his grandfather to have the courage to pursue the girl of his dreams, and to stand up to an unscrupulous land developer who threatens his family's restaurant with his plans for their neighborhood.

Filled with themes like the loss of a loved one, finding ways to preserve memories and traditions, dealing with attraction to a crush, and protecting the community from unwelcome changes, this is a story that has plenty of food for thought. There is also plenty of humor; things like his friend Bren trying to imitate his favorite rapper, his aunt Tuti's hysterical outbursts, and his disappointment at being named "junior lunchtime dishwasher" when he has hoped for a more glamorous job, all add the kind of laughs that occur in everyday life. The inclusion of Spanish phrases, descriptions of the foods served in the restaurant, and references to the Cuban poet Jose Marti immerse readers in the culture of Arturo's family and community, as well as giving a little background about the situation in Cuba that prompted his grandparents to come to America.

Middle grade readers and teachers will have a wonderful time following along as Arturo retells some of the most interesting weeks of his life (so far). As intriguing as a summer with Grandma Dowdell in A Year Down Yonder, I highly recommend it.

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

Spring Reading 2017 I Will Love You Forever


Miyanishi has a way of creating dinosaur characters that have incredibly human traits. In this latest story, the beginning is similar to that of Marcus Pfister's Dazzle the Dinosaur. A mother Maiasaura finds a lost egg and kindly brings it to her own nest to hatch it. And when it opens, that is where the tale diverges from the expected. It turns out that there is not a Maiasaura inside, but a dangerous type of dinosaur. The mother must make the choice to get rid of the baby to protect her own child, or keep it and raise it as a Maiasaur - hoping that nurture will win out over nature. 

This is a quandary that faces many parents who choose to foster or adopt; should they extend their family and take the chance that the newcomer will respond to their love and care? I can't tell you which choice the mother Maiasaura makes, because that would spoil the story for you. I can tell you that the conclusion of the story may leave you teary-eyed. 

I Will Love You Forever is the latest in the Tyrranosaurus Series to be translated. The characters and setting are created in the distinctive style Miyanishi is known for with cartoon style drawings and explosive colors. This vivid artistic presentation appeals to young readers, while the themes in the series (and this book in particular), are great discussion starters and deal with emotions and situations that more advanced readers can explore in more depth. Highly recommended for K+.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover


The Kissing Hand started a series of books featuring the lovable Chester Raccoon, a horde of fans young and old, and tons of teachers who enjoy using it for all sorts of lessons and activities. This latest book has Chester finally old enough to go on an overday (the nocturnal animal version of an overnight). His mother drops him off at his friend Pepper Opossum's home. Lots of other nocturnal animals are there, too - Stanley Squirrel, Badger, Cassie Raccoon, Sassafras Skunk, and Amber Porcupine. In typical sleepover style, they play games, have snacks, and finally get tucked in to sleep. Parents of youngsters who have been on their first sleepover will not be surprised by what happens as Chester tries to sleep in a strange place.

This will be a fun story to read with young children preparing for their own first sleepover, or to reminisce with those who have completed their first one. In classroom settings, it could be used with a study on nocturnal animals or habitats. (The list of snacks for the sleepover guests will be sure to elicit groans and calls of "Yuck!")

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Funny Girl


Editor Betsy Bird has collected some wonderfully funny writing, all by female writers. Well, there was one brother involved, but she assures us that they kept "him in line." (That would be Jennifer Holm's brother, Matt.) The book is a mix of graphic shorts, advice on various subjects, short stories (some semi-autobiographical), quizzes, and even MadLibs to predict your future. Whatever the chosen format, they are all humorous. There is Carmen Agra Deedy's story of her mother setting fire to the bathtub. Raina Telgemeier's "Killer Bee" incident. Mitali Perkins has a great "Brown Girl Pop Quiz" in which she points out that Western movies should be more like Bollywood productions. "Think of Jedi knights doing a choreographed number after the Death Star explodes," she suggests. The explanation of the Chinese Zodiac by Lenore Look includes things like lucky nail colors (if you are Rabbit, "None...The less noticeable your feet are, the better"), or unlucky career choices (for Monkey, "Involuntary astronaut in early space programs"). One of my favorites is the recurring "Fleamail" advice column by Bella and Rover, written by Deborah Underwood. This cat and dog team offer hilarious advice to other animals, once even trying out a "Pawed Cast" format.

If you know middle grade readers who are always asking for more "funny books," then you should add this to your shelf. Whether it is advice on playing imaginary games from Leila Sales or a babysitting comedy/horror tale from Shannon Hale, all the pieces in the collection fit the bill. On second thought, you had better buy multiple copies.

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 General Relativity for Babies


How can you dislike a book that shows a pacifier seemingly being sucked into a black hole? At the very least that paci is warping space around it. Anyway, Chris Ferrie has distilled relativity down to its very basic tenets and presented it as a board book. (Picture physics concepts presented in the same way that Cozy Classics share great pieces of literature.) He starts with a ball, then goes on to explain mass, the effects of mass and space on each other, how that will affect particles, and ends up with black holes causing gravitational waves. I wouldn't blame people for using this book (or the entire series) as a sort of Cliff's Notes study guide. The graphics are very sparse and clean. There is only one concept presented per page. And it really is science in this wonderful little format. I can't wait to read the volume on rocket science.

If you have a budding genius in your household, or know one, or just think board books are cool - check out this book and its fellow titles.

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

Spring Reading 2017 Dream Magic (Shadow Magic, #2)


Perhaps thirteen really is an unlucky number, or maybe your thirteenth year is unlucky if you happen to be Lady Lilith Shadow, ruler of Gehenna. (Don't read this next bit if you haven't already finished Shadow Magic.) In the first book of the series we learned that Lily's family had been killed by her uncle, who used magical artifacts in an effort to seize the kingdom. Now, as the lone survivor, she is the queen of the land and only thirteen years old.

In this second volume of her tale, Lily has still more problems to deal with. Her faithful nursemaid and companion has left the castle. The executioner Tyburn is missing. The trolls are on the march and heading towards Castle Gloom. Villagers are disappearing. A strange wizard attacks the castle and steals a magical key. Eerie crystalline spiders seem to be coming from nowhere and attacking people. Rumor has it that other kingdoms are sending assassins after Lily, because they fear her magic. How much can one girl handle?

At least she has a few trusted friends to help out. Thorn, the squire (and former poacher), is ready to do whatever Lily needs from him - even take lessons with the dancing master. Hades, the giant bat, still comes when Thorn needs him and can help with the search for the missing. Lily has befriended a young troll named Dott who was found alone in the Spindlewood. And, of course, there are all the undead. So, can a young queen, a squire, a misplaced troll, and some zombies manage to save the day?

Author Joshua Khan continues the world-building of Gehenna and the other realms in his fantasy series. We find out more of Lily's family history, more of the background of each of the other royal houses, and more of the Gehennish people and customs. Some things they have in common with us, including tales of a boy with wings made of feathers and wax or a princess who can be awakened with a kiss. Other things are very different; a doctor who sews zombies back together, royalty who become living flames if they indulge their magic too much, and flying ships, for example.

Readers who enjoy fantasy with swords, sorcery, and similar elements will find the Shadow Magic series an entertaining read. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist


Anyone who has read Keating's chapter book series, My Life Is a Zoo, can tell you that she knows her animal facts. And if there was any question of that, her book, Pink Is for Blobfish, pretty much shut down any doubters. Now she has an awesome biography of Eugenie Clark, and this book is a sure-fire new favorite in any library's collection. It has so much going for it. There is the character of Eugenie - with her keen interest in the ocean and its inhabitants. Her lifelong search for more answers and deeper understanding will resonate with young readers who have their own favorite topics. (You must know someone who can tell you the names of all the various dinosaurs, or the stats on all the characters in their favorite video game.) 

The illustrations are another enticement to pick up the book and immerse yourself in the cool blues and greens of the underwater scenes. Or you may choose to laugh out loud at the spread showing Eugenie at the aquarium, pretending that she is walking along the sea bottom as she makes her way through the other visitors among the displays.

And then there are the "Shark Bites." These are extra tidbits of information in the back matter. They cover things mentioned in the book that would have broken the rhythm of the narrative to explain in too much detail, but that readers will probably be curious about. A timeline of Eugenie's life covers all the highlights and has illustrations of Dr. Clark and her beloved sharks to liven it up. And the author's note explains why Jess chose to write the biography and offers a short bibliography for those who would like to learn even more.

Altogether a fascinating story of an intrepid knowledge-seeker, beautiful illustrations, and great support material. Highly recommended for elementary school classrooms and libraries, and for young readers with an interest in sharks or oceanography.

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective


In today's media, we are accustomed to TV shows or movies featuring female detectives, police officers, military members, or secret agents. But 160 years ago, women were not even considered for such jobs. That didn't stop Kate Warne from becoming the first female detective working for the Pinkerton agency. Yes, those Pinkertons, the ones who provided security for President Lincoln. Kate took on many cases - tracking down criminals of all sorts, and even spying for the Union during the Civil War. Not many people have heard of her, but recent books like this one by Marissa Moss are about to change that.

If you enjoy true tales of people who take their destiny in their own hands and don't let social expectations stop them from doing what they are good at, you should read this book. As the saying goes, "Well behaved women rarely make history." The society of her day may have frowned on her lifestyle, but she paved the way for other women in what had been an all male occupation. She even helped President Lincoln to reach Washington safely for his inauguration when his enemies plotted to ambush his train and assassinate him during the journey. We all owe her our gratitude and admiration.

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

Spring Reading 2017 Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods


Warren, the hotel which also bears his name, and all his friends are back for another adventure. Since he learned that his hotel can actually walk (it's a bit like a Transformer), Warren has plenty of guests to care for and life seems good. But that always seems to be when disaster strikes. An accident with a bottle of sarsaparilla causes a chain of events that leave Warren stranded in a small shop while the hotel and his friends travel on without him, unaware. What can a rather short child do to catch up with a hotel on giant mechanical legs?

This installment of Warren's adventures contains many humorous moments along with dangerous situations for our hero and his companions. Among the perils they face are a coven of witches, a mimic who can assume anyone's form, an angry sap-squatch (no, that's  not a typo), and even a snake-oil salesman.  But with Sketchy's perception and speed, Mr. Frigg's research skills (at times he reminds me of Giles from "Buffy"), Beatrice and Petula's magical abilities, and Warren's own ingenuity and determination, there isn't much that they can't accomplish together.

If you enjoy zany stories reminiscent of Roald Dahl, you should read the Warren the 13th books.

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Giveaway Celebrating Megan McDonald's National Schools Webcast

Register for the Megan McDonald National Schools Webcast!

Uber-RARE event alert! Candlewick Press is hosting a webcast with best-selling children’s book author and Judy Moody and Stink creator Megan McDonald on May 3, 2017, at 1 p.m. ET. And your class is invited to participate—for FREE!

Register and submit your questions for Megan here.

While you are waiting for the webcast, please enter the giveaway for a chance to win a boxed set of Judy Moody books. Good luck!

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