Saturday, March 31, 2018

Spring Reading 2018 Terrific Tongues!


I recently watched a webinar on nonfiction titles and heard some interesting statistics. The speaker talked about a study that showed children enjoy expository text as much as or more than narrative, and that over 40% actually prefer expository style. Books of that type tend to be "all about" books that cover a subject and share all sorts of facts and details. 

Well, luckily for those young readers, there are books such as Terrific Tongues. With a playful yet informative approach, the author describes tongues that act like straws, mops, swords, and even windshield wipers. The format of the book starts with a proposition, "If you had a tongue like a ------, you might be a..." The illustration shows a monkey sporting a tongue to match the description, and then the following page reveals the animal that actually possesses such a tongue. The revelatory page gives details about the specific animal explaining how it uses its unique tongue, and the illustration shows that tongue in action.

Readers have a hint that this books will be more than just a dry recitation of commonly known facts just from the cover. Sure, there is an image of a frog on a lilypad flicking out its long tongue. But- that tongue is taking hold of the exclamation mark at the end of the title, not something that frigs generally try to eat. And the amusing monkey who introduces each new animal is shown doing things like licking his face clean with a washcloth tongue, or being shot from a bow attached to his arrow-like tongue. The humor combined with the extraordinary facts will surely fascinate young readers. Back matter includes more information about each of the animals in the book and their tongues, as well as details about eight more types of amazing tongues not covered in the main text.

This is perfect for readers who enjoy nonfiction, books about animals, and odd nature facts. The picture book format also makes it great for a read-aloud about animal adaptations. Highly recommended for elementary age students, classrooms, and libraries.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Spring Reading 2018 When God Made Light


David Catrow's exuberant illustrations bring Matthew Paul Turner's text to life in a wonderful homage to the inner light of each child. When God Made Light captures the impression of light as a living thing that "flickered and dashed...blinked and flashed" when it began to spread. The children on the pages enjoy using all the beautiful colors that light brings out of darkness to paint costumes. They go outdoors to soak up the sun's light and taste the fruit that grows in the warmth. They dance under the moonlight and search for fireflies. And as the day slowly comes to a close and eyes start to droop, there is a gentle reminder: "And if you ever feel scared in the darkness of night, remember the shadows are no match for God's light."

Anyone familiar with Catrow's style will immediately recognize the round-cheeked and bright-eyed children in the illustrations. The many variations of light he includes throughout the book capture the ways we experience light indoors, outdoors, by day and by night. The variety perfectly depicts the many examples of light that Turner writes about. As he says, "When God made light, a universe lit up." This book certainly will light up the lives of readers, helping them appreciate all the warmth and brightness they experience daily in so many ways.

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

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

Spring Reading 2018 The Boy from Tomorrow


Take a mother who could give "Mommy Dearest" a run for her money, two daughters trying to survive and find happiness, and a boy from the future. Lavinia Clifford is a spiritualist, using her spirit guides to provide clients with solace and information from beyond the grave. Her children are a bothersome fact of life, punished for every infraction by being locked in the linen cupboard all day, or worse. But when the girls sneak out their mother's spirit board, they are amazed to connect with a boy living in their own house 100 hundred years in the future from them. Alec is dealing with his parents' divorce and the move to a new home and new school. Making friends, visiting with the counselor his mother wants him to see, and worrying about his mother's unhappiness are all hard to bear. So the conversations with the sisters from the past are as much a pleasure for him as they are for the girls. Can these friends separated by a century actually help each other?

The blend of historical fiction for the Clifford sisters with the current setting of Alec makes some fascinating contrasts. Wax cylinders for phonographs as compared to iPods, or black and white moving pictures compared to today's brilliantly colored films with lavish soundtracks make the difference between the two time periods very obvious. The details about seances, research into the spiritual realm, and the various tools used are also relics from that time and will seem very odd to modern readers. 

The bittersweet (almost) certainty that they will never meet haunts us as we read about their growing friendship. How will it all turn out? Can there be a happy ending for all of them? You will have to find out for yourself.

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

Spring Reading 2018 Reading Beauty


Most readers have experienced it, and heard their friends talk about it. That story that pulls you in and makes you lost touch with the world around you. We call those books enchanting, mesmerizing, we say they have put a spell on us. In the case of Gabe and Ellie, it happens to be the literal truth.

These two friends have much better things to do than read. There are soccer and turtles and chewing gum, and "Reading is BORING." Of course those are words that you should never say to your school librarian, and Ms. Molly gets her revenge. The spell she casts will throw Ellie into a "deep read for all eternity!" Sixteen minutes later, the paper cut on Ellie's finger seals the spell and she becomes a reader. For a week she reads everywhere, all the time. Gabe is sad that he has lost his best friend. She is not even interested in a new flavor of gum - nothing can pull her away from the books.

But when it seems that she has fallen into the deep read and will never come out again, Ms. Molly does mention one thing that can save her. Will Gabe be able to accomplish this impossible task and rescue his friend? (I'll give you a hint - this is the sort of fairy tale that has a happy ending.)

The author has taken her love of fairy tales, books, and young readers and woven them together into a magical story of children finding the helpful adult and perfect book to transform them into lifelong readers. Being able to rescue the beauty without having to resort to anything gross like a kiss (Ewwww! as middle graders would say), is a feat of prestidigitation all on its own. The illustrator's depiction of Ellie under the spell shows her glasses filled with an hypnotic swirl that reinforces the pull that the books have over her. And the spread showing Gabe trying to reach Ellie resembles the piles of artifacts within the Room of Requirements at Hogwarts. (After all, a library is the closest thing most Muggles have to such a room.) 

Highly recommended as a read-aloud, or a gift for readers who enjoy stories about the power of books and the retelling of classic tales with updated details. I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2018 The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee


My friends often tease me that I should try out for a spot on Jeopardy because my brain is full of odd trivia and facts. I have never auditioned because I know that my trivia resides in a few favorite categories and that the show covers a wide range of possible subjects. India Wimple does not have that problem. She and her family love the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee and watch it together. India correctly spells each word the contestants are given and her family gets the idea that she should audition for the show. 

There are lot of obstacles between India and winning the competition. Her family lives in the tiny town of Yungadilla and her father is generally paid in IOUs and barter, so they have to find a way to pay for the travel to the various tryout rounds. The travel itself is fraught with problems - engine breakdowns, tires stuck in mud, navigating strange towns, and medical emergencies all threaten to keep the Wimples from getting India where she need to be. Even if she arrives at each round, there are still all the other competitors to outspell.

India and her family are very believable characters. India is a brilliant speller and devoted to her family, but shy. Her younger brother Boo is supportive and funny, but suffers terrible asthma attacks. Her parents and grandmother all believe in her and do their best to bolster her courage and help her prepare for the competition. Most of the other children in the contest are more 2-dimensional, but provide plenty of entertainment with their antics. And the a few of them play a larger part, including Rajish and Summer Millicent Ernestine Beauregard-Champion (yes, she's as stuck-up as her name makes her sound).

Each chapter begins with a word card such as a competitor might use. The words range from 
calamitous to trepidation, and always have something to do with the events of the chapter and India's feelings about them. Once readers recognize this pattern, the words and their foreshadowing lend extra suspense to the story. If a chapter begins with the word "skulduggery," it is hard not to tense up and wonder what sort of underhanded activity is coming soon.

This is a wonderful middle grade book, perfect for read-alouds or for logophiles and spellers to enjoy on their own. There are all the themes of rising to a challenge, overcoming hardships, family closeness, and making new friends. Highly recommended for all school libraries, classrooms, and children's collections in libraries everywhere.

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Inky the Octopus Spotlight Tour

Inky the Octopus by Erin Guendelsberger
On-Sale: 4/3/18
ISBN: 978-1-4926-5414-8
$17.99 HC
Juvenile Fiction/Picture Book
Inky the octopus escaped miraculously from the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2016. The lid of his tank was left slightly open by mistake one night, and Inky squeezed through the opening. He slid down the side of the tank, slithered across the floor, and crammed through a six-inch-wide drain hole that led out to sea. How was he able to do it? Octopuses like Inky are known to be great escape artists, able to sneak through openings as small as a coin. Octopuses have a beak on their underside where their eight arms meet. The beak is the only hard part of the octopus’s body, so an octopus can contort itself to fit through nearly any space wide enough to fit its beak. Also, octopuses have no bones! Having no skeleton or backbone makes squeezing through small spaces easier. Inky isn’t the only octopus to pull off an amazing escape. In fact, he isn’t even the only octopus from New Zealand! Sid the octopus tried to escape from the Portobello Aquarium in New Zealand several times before aquarium workers decided to release him back into open waters in 2009. Sid’s predecessor, named Harry for Harry Houdini, used to sneak out of his tank to eat crayfish from a neighboring tank. Perhaps Inky is eating crayfish now as he enjoys life in the open sea!


Inky is bored with aquarium life—he wants to start a new adventure in the ocean! But just how can an octopus in a tank get to the open seas…?

Inky is not just a character from a tall tale – he’s the real-life escape artist from the National Aquarium of New Zealand. One morning in April of 2016, the aquarium’s keepers discovered that Inky was missing. His tank-mate Blotchy stayed behind, but the keepers traced Inky’s tracks to Hawke’s Bay. This story chronicles the adventure that the real-life Inky might have taken on his escape to freedom in the open ocean!


Erin Guendelsberger writes stories and poems. Her work has appeared in picture books and magazines. She studied writing at Hamline University and Bowling Green State University. She now pursues adventure in Ohio with her husband, daughters, dog, and cats.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Spring Reading 2018 Poco and Moco Are Twins


This fun and interactive book uses "fold-outs, cut-outs, and other special features" to engage young readers. These two sheep are twins and have many things in common, but also have their differences. One is a boy, one a girl, one is messy while the other is neat, etc. The page showing that one is chubby and the other is thin has illustrations of the twins standing in their socks and underwear, with wool only covering their heads. Other pages show them playing hide and seek, climbing trees, and playing in the bathtub. The spread of the tower they make with building blocks has the reader turn the book sideways to appreciate how tall the tower is.

This might work better as a book in a family home or public library rather than in a school setting. This is due to the pages that tell the gender of the twins. The illustrations show Poco standing on a stool in front of the toilet, with an arc of dotted lines to signify that he is using the bathroom. Moco is shown seated on the toilet. Some families are very sensitive about the privacy of bathroom activities and might be upset about these illustrations, even though no body parts are shown. Teachers and librarians know their community and can make the decision that will best serve their students.

It is a colorful and entertaining book. The flaps and other features add an element of play to the reading, and the activities of the two little sheep are very familiar to children. The point that twins do not have exactly the same preferences or talents is shown in various ways, while readers can also see how they may be alike.

A good read for preschool and early elementary children. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2018 Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead


I know that fans of Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead will want this book as soon as they see those names on the cover. For those who are not fans yet (and they will be), let me tell you about this story. Livy is visiting her grandmother in Australia. She hasn't been there to the family farm since she was five, and she doesn't remember that trip. But her mother has brought Livy and her baby sister Beth Ann to visit Gran and all of Mom's friends. When she goes up to see her bedroom, Livy discovers Bob. Who and what is Bob? Good question. He is the friend that has been waiting in Livy's closet for her return - over 5 years! Bob believes he is a zombie, because that is what Livy called him when she found him during her last visit. But is he? Or is he something else, maybe an invisible friend?

As Livy and Bob become reacquainted (Bob knows that word because he had a dictionary in the closet and he taught himself to read), they each find out what the other has been doing while they were apart. They also try to piece together what Bob is and where he came from. In the background of their story, readers see the bigger landscape of farmland suffering from drought and a town slowly fading away. Even if Livy can help Bob find his way home, who will save Gran's farm and those of the neighbors?

Warm, touching, laugh-out-loud funny at times, and very easy to lose oneself in...this is a story that will probably grace bookshelves next to The Tale of Despereaux and Charlotte's Web

I read an ebook provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Spring Reading 2018 Potions and Parameters (Secret Coders #5)


Hopper, Eni, and Josh continue their efforts to take down Dr. One-Zero before he can control the entire town. And that is just what he plans to do with his "green pop." He has the students creating gallons of the stuff during their chemistry classes, and readers already know from previous books that drinking the soda can hypnotize people into what the villain calls "true happiness." How does he plan to use this stockpile to take over everyone in town? 

When the Coders use the Turtle of Light, the most powerful programming tool that Professor Bee has, they manage to find Hopper's missing father and some of the professor's other students. But while they are preoccupied, One-Zero gets his hands on the Turtle. With Eni's parents threatening to transfer him to another school (because Hopper and Josh are bad influences), Hopper's mother worried about her safety and distracted by the health of her newly rescued husband, can the Coders stay together long enough to put an end to One-Zero and his plans for good?

Like the other Secret Coders books, Potions and Parameters has plenty of explanations of coding concepts as Professor Bee teaches the Coders the skills they need to fight the villain. And there are pauses so that readers can work out the coding challenges themselves. For middle graders who enjoy graphic novels and have an interest in robots and coding, this is the perfect series.

Highly recommended for elementary school libraries and classrooms. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2018 The Promise


A true story of survival passed down in the family, The Promise tells of how sisters Rachel and Toby survived the loss of their parents and their own imprisonment in Auschwitz. When the girls lose their parents to the Nazis, all they have left are 3 gold coins hidden inside a tin of shoe polish. They manage to hang onto the tin and stay together as they promised their parents, until one morning when Rachel is too sick to report to their assigned work detail. When Toby finds her sister gone from their barracks that evening, she risks everything and uses the gold coins to get her sister back.

The haunting digital collage illustrations show Toby the night their parents are taken. Her curly shoulder-length hair is held back neatly by a ribbon and she wears a beautiful dress. That image is a stark contrast to the shaved heads and ragged dresses of the girls during their time in Auschwitz. The angry faces of the guards and the snarling teeth of the German Shepherds hint at the atmosphere inside the camp. But the kindness of other prisoners is also portrayed as girls share their meager soup or wrap their own blankets around Rachel as they try to help her get well.

For those looking for an introduction to World War II and the Holocaust, this personal story provides a window into that time without including graphic descriptions or images. While the disappearance of sick and elderly prisoners is mentioned, there are no specifics given. And the text tells that Toby is whipped for rescuing Rachel, but the beating is not shown. The book has a happy ending, and there are even photos of the sisters from after the war and later in life.

Recommended as a read-aloud for classes studying World War II, or as part of classroom and library collections for groups who have that time period in their social studies curriculum. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea


Many students in the United States have participated in a science fair, but how many of them choose a project that will actually impact their own lives? In this story set in Bangladesh, Iqbal decides to create a smokeless stove so that his mother and younger sibling will not have to breathe in smoke from the cook fire all day during the monsoon season. With the help of his teacher, he finds some article online about various options for his stove, then takes them home and builds a solar cooker with his sister's assistance.

The story offers many options for discussion. There are science topics like health concerns, sustainability, and recycling. The story also mentions cultural aspects of life in Bangladesh such as Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and foods like semai, as well as the customs of women doing the cooking and gathering the firewood. And there are guidance topics such as concern for others and the environment, problem-solving, and cooperation. Whether a class was studying green energy sources, other cultures, or character education, this book could be used as a great read-aloud.

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

Winter Reading 2018 Scientist, Scientist, What Do You See?


Chris Ferrie (author of books such as Goodnight Lab and Quantum Physics for Babies), has created another instant classic. Modeling his book on Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Ferrie takes readers through a roll-call of famous scientists. A dozen distinguished figures from Charles Darwin to Katherine Johnson are shown. Iconic equipment or calculations are placed within the illustrations, such as Einstein's "E=mc2" or George Washington Carver's peanut plant. Science geeks may notice that Curie's page shows two Nobel prize medals, Grace Hopper's computer has a moth fluttering nearby, or that Ada Lovelace is "writing computer code for thee." 

A section "About the Scientists" shares details about the most notable contribution of each figure. It is gratifying to note that there is a diverse mix of men and women, as well as racial and ethnic backgrounds represented in the scientists included in the book. The "little scientists" that Katherine Johnson sees looking at her are also included in the back section. Speaking directly to the readers, the text states, "You can be the next person to change the world."

This is a fun book for science-minded parents to read with their youngsters, but also would make a wonderful introduction to a unit on famous scientists. Perhaps with a biography project to research one of the figures mentioned in the book?

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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Girl with a Camera: Margaret Bourke-White, Photographer: A Novel


This fictionalized account of Margaret Bourke-White's life is full of interesting tidbits of history. Her choice of college is determined by which schools accept women, and which of those schools have arrangements with other colleges that allow their students to take classes at these partner schools. The choice of herpetology for her course of study went against the common expectations for women in those days, as did her later change to photography. Reading of her efforts to break into the field, the way in which she was treated as a young girl who didn't know her own mind or what she was doing, creates a frustration that is a pale reflection of what she herself must have felt. 

Despite all the odds against her, Margaret did manage to become a recognized photographer. Along the way she saw and documented many important pieces of history. Her photo of the building of the Fort Peck Dam was used as the cover of the first issue of Life magazine, but also showed the New Deal at work. She captured the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the Louisville flood, Josef Stalin, the factories of Soviet Russia, faces of the US South under Jim Crow, and World War II. The descriptions of what she had to do to be in position for those events is a testimony to determination. And that doesn't take into account the personal side of her life, which was also full of drama.

Meyer's use of material from Margaret's autobiography, some of her personal papers, and other sources has insured that the main facts are correct and that the flavor of Margaret's personality comes through clearly.

For those interested in the world during the 1920s and 30s, or in fascinating women who stand up to the pressures of society and pursue their dreams, this is a wonderful choice. Highly recommended for middle school and up.