Friday, October 23, 2020

A Perfect Read for the Season


Embassy of the Dead
by Will Mabbitt; illus by Taryn Knight
272 pages; ages 8-12
Walker Books, US (Candlewick) 2020

If Jake had been paying attention to his surroundings, he might have avoided a whole lot of trouble. If he hadn’t been texting while walking, if he’d stuck to his regular route home from school instead of taking the shortcut through the alley … if he hadn’t taken the package from the stranger.

But then, if he’d been paying attention, we’d never have this delightfully creepy, semi-scary story of a kid who comes into possession of a severed finger and a series of really unfortunate events that include:
  • a grim reaper
  • a ghost at a girl’s school
  • the very unhappy (but not departed) dead
  • a car chase involving a camper van
  • underage driving
  • the Embassy of the Dead
  • and political intrigue and corruption
What I like about this book: I love the first page that contains this warning: By signing you hereby accept all responsibility for any death, dismemberment, or condemnation to the Eternal Void that results from reading. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Cordially, The Embassy.

Whatever you do, do not sign that agreement! Better to just skip those first pages and dive into the story without acknowledging the Embassy at—

Well, hello there. The previous reviewer has mysteriously disappeared. How unfortunate. And look, a delightful tale about a bad boy who steals a package not meant for him, steals his dad’s van, and rudely barges into the Embassy without an invitation or proper credentials. Live people are not allowed in the Embassy. Especially kids. And once we capture him we can finish with our scheme to defraud the living.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.


Friday, October 16, 2020

And now for a scary story...

Rise of ZomBert
by Kara LaReau; illus. by Ryan Andrews
144 pages; ages 8-12
Candlewick, 2020

It was a cold fall night in the town of Lambert, and the moon was full.

Oops. We need a sound track to set the mood for the rest of this review. (less scary; more scary)  

The only sounds were the buzzing of the streetlamps and the scattering of dead leaves across the windy, empty streets … and, in a lab on the outskirts of town, the creak of a cage door.


When nine-year-old Mellie and her best friend, Danny, are out shooting a scene for Danny’s newest zombie movie, they discover a scraggly, smelly cat behind a dumpster outside the YummCo Foods factory. This cat is the ugliest cat they’ve ever seen, but Mellie feels that there’s just ... something about him. She names him Bert and hides him in her room because she knows her parents won’t let her keep him. And she checks out books from the library so she can learn everything she needs to know about having a cat.

But soon it’s clear that Bert is not like any other cat. For one thing, he decapitates all her stuffed animals, leaving a mess of stuffing and headless toys. Before long he is leaving the headless corpses of birds and mice for her. The book says these are gifts, but Danny is convinced the cat is a zombie.

What I like about this book: It’s just plain fun to read! There are plenty of true cat facts, and the occasional chapter from Zombert’s point of view. We learn that he’s never been given a name, and that’s a point for Mellie. On the other hand, he can’t figure out why she buries the gifts he leaves without even tasting them. What a waste! There’s also a bully, and a chase scene featuring bicycles and people in haz-mat suits. And, of course, the underlying question: What is really going on? And what does YummCo Foods have to do with it?

My assessment: Rise of ZomBert + a candy bar = the perfect Halloween treat.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.


Friday, October 9, 2020

Spooky Facts

Halloween is steeped in legend and tradition. Story has it that a man named Stingy Jack was thirsty, but didn’t have enough money to pay for a soda (yep, like any folktale, the teller gets to choose the details). Anyway, Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. Then Jack then put the Devil-coin into his pocket, along with a silver cross that kept the Devil from transforming back. He tricked the Devil a few more times, and each time he made the Devil promise to never claim his soul. So when Jack died, he wasn’t fit for heaven, but couldn’t go the other way. So he ended up roaming Earth with only a burning coal to light his way. He put the coal into a turnip to serve as a lantern. From then on, he became “Jack o’ Lantern.” To this day, people carve scary faces into turnips, beets, potatoes – even pumpkins – to scare away scary Jack and any other spirits of the night.


Weird But True Halloween: 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly
by  Julie Beer and Michelle Harris
208 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2020

Unlike Irish folklore, this book is filled with facts. Three hundred freaky stats, tidbits, and trivia about Halloween. Did you know that there is an underwater pumpkin carving contest? Or that the U.S. Defense Department has a zombie apocalypse plan? That there are more Halloween emojis than there are states in the US of A?

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Halloween is also National Knock-Knock Joke Day. So if you’re feeling too old to dress up in costume and beg for treats, you can knock on your neighbors’ doors and share a good joke.

Knock Knock!
Who’s there?
Ice Cream.
Ice cream who?
Ice cream every time I see a ghost!

Your Turn:

Get ready for Halloween by digging up a few of your own facts and legends. Here’s one place to find some, and here’s another

When you do carve your pumpkin, save the seeds for roasting. Here’s how.

Make up your own Knock-Knock Jokes to tell when you head out on Halloween night. Who knows? You might start a new tradition in your neighborhood.


Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Scary Spiders...

 This month I’m getting ready for Halloween. So I’m featuring almost-scary stories all month long. Today it’s ….

Stink and the Hairy Scary Spider
by Megan McDonald ; illus by Peter H. Reynolds
160 pages; ages 6-9
Candlewick, 2020

If you have not yet met Stink, then you’re in for a treat. This paper-folding origami whiz seems like a normal second-grader, and he just happens to be Judy Moody’s brother. In this tale, Stink discovers a pink-toed tarantula – which would be cool, except he is afraid of spiders. Especially giant hairy scary spiders! When his best buddy, Webster talks him into rescuing the spider – it’s a lost pet – Stink is forced to face his fear.

What I like about this book is that author Megan McDonald has packed as many cool spider facts in it as she can. For example, did you know that one acre of land can have up to one million spiders? In case you’re wondering, an acre is less than the area of a football field. You can get a good idea for its size by pacing off a rectangle 66 feet on one side by 660 feet. 

And if spiders ate people (which they don’t), all the spiders in the world could finish off all the humans populating Earth in a single year. 

I also like McDonald’s use of similes. For example, Stink is as quiet “as a trapdoor spider waiting to catch a beetle.” There’s also a “meet the spider” page and (because you know I love it) Back Matter! This time you get to learn how to fold an origami critter… not a spider, though, because origami spiders are hard!

Stink isn’t the only one scared of spiders. Entomologists, scientists who study insects, are also afraid of spiders. You can read the study – plus find out what else entomologists are afraid of – here (free pdf of study).


Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. ARC provided by the publisher.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Are you Distinguished enough?


The Society of Distinguished Lemmings
by Julie Colombet
40 pages; ages 6 - 10
Peachtree Publishing, 2020


theme: animal societies, humor, being different

Deep in their underground burrow, the lemmings follow a strict set of rules and are always very busy with social events. 

They put on plays, give concerts, play sports, and gather at large dinners. But this life isn’t for everyone, and Bertie heads up the tunnel and outside where he meets a …. BEAR! Bertie would love Bear to join the Society of Distinguished Lemmings, but can’t do anything right.

What I like about this book: When all the other lemmings decide to go swimming, Bertie discovers some unfortunate facts in his book, A Short History of Lemmings. I love that Bertie and Bear discover a different way to be “distinguished”.

Beyond the Books:

What does it mean to be distinguished? Check out the definition and a few synonyms and decide whether “distinguished” fits your style.

You can learn more about lemmings here.

Many kinds of animals live in societies. Think about ants and bees, wolves and elephants. You can learn more about animal societies here.

If you were creating a Society of Distinguished (fill in the blank) what rules would you have? And would you let bears join?

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Ways to Make Sunshine

Ways to Make Sunshine 
by Renée Watson; illus by Nina Mata
192 pages; ages 7 - 10
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020

I’m always up for reading a new book by Renée Watson, so her new middle grade novel definitely made it into my summer reading tote. Ways to Make Sunshine is the first book of what looks like a fun series for the younger MG crowd.

Ryan Hart is a fourth-grader who is trying to grow into her name. When someone says Ryan is a boy’s name, she responds, “My name is Ryan and Ryan means ‘king’ and that means I am a leader—” Oooh, I just love this girl!

Ryan loves to cook. Her brother, on the other hand, prefers plain food. He does not, as Ryan puts it, have “adventurous tastebuds.” While Ryan may enjoy adventures in the kitchen, she isn’t so excited about the adventure of moving to a new place. Then she discovers a tin left on a closet shelf, filled with wondrous artifacts, and sets off on a mission to discover who the previous owner was.

I love the slice-of-life moments, like when grandma is straightening Ryan’s hair before Easter Sunday services, the scenes at the market, and friendship worries. Then there’s the angst of what to do for a talent show when your talent is cooking. Scrambling eggs on stage just won’t fly.

I can't wait for the next book in the series!

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Good Night, Mars

Night Night, Curiosity
By Brianna Caplan Sayres; illustrated by Ryan o’Rourke
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2020

theme: Mars, space, bedtime story

The first line in this story is a speech bubble. As Mom walks out the door she says, “I’m taking off for work! Have a good night!”

While Mom and other NASA scientists prepare for a Mars landing of the rover, Curiosity, Dad flies the little girl up the stairs for a bedtime story. As he tucks her under covers, she imagines what it might be like for a rover to touch down on a strange planet.

What I like about this book: I love the girl’s imagination. She and Curiosity fly through space and, once landed, set off on an adventure of discovery. They send pictures and messages back to Earth, an echo of what is going on over at NASA. I also love the illustrations of her and Curiosity on Mars, rendered in tones of sandy Martian reds.

Beyond the Books:

Postcards from Curiosity! Last month, Curiosity celebrated 8 years of exploring Mars and sent home some postcards. Make your own “postcard from Mars.

A new rover is headed to Mars. On July 30, NASA’s Perseverance Rover launched from Cape Canaveral. NASA scientists expect Perseverance to make a Mars landing on February 18, 2021. Check out this video of the launch. And here’s more information about the new rover.

Design a rover using things from your recycling bin, Legos, or whatever you have at hand. Think about how it will travel across uneven ground, and how cameras might be attached.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.