Monday, November 30, 2015

The Devil's Dreamcatcher

The Devil's Dreamcatcher
by Donna Hosie
272 pages; ages 15 & up
Holiday House, 2015

This is the sequel to The Devil's Intern - which you may remember involved a lot of paper shuffling and a time turner. And a guy named Mitchell Johnson.

This time we're following Medusa Pallister, currently a trainee patisserie chef with aspirations to become an intern in Hell's accounting office. Because it would get her out of the kitchen. And because it would mean reporting to Septimus, the Devil's right-hand man - a former Roman general and pretty hot guy. Getting the job would also mean working with the other intern, Mitchell Johnson, someone she thinks she remembers from 1967... an apparition she thought was an angel.

She actually saw two more apparitions - they turn out to be Elinor and Alfarin, members of Team DEVIL. When Medusa becomes part of the team she thinks she'll finally get some answers. Instead, she gets big problems: the Devil's dreamcatcher has been stolen and the team must find it before his most horrific thoughts are loosed upon the world.

To do the job, they need to coordinate with Team ANGEL, from Up There. And they are not to be trusted. There are files to read and memorize, strategies to iron out, and the mission which seems impossible. There are also banshees, skin walkers, and unspeakables - plus death-defying feats and lots of complications.

Perfect for people who like the TV series "Dead like Me", Gina Damico's trilogy about young reapers: Croak, Scorch, and Rogue, and spy thrillers. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Dojo Daycare

Dojo Daytrip
by Chris Tougas
32 pages; ages 3-7
Owlkids Books, 2015

theme: adventure, bravery

The ninjas are going on a field trip!
"With Master leading, arm in arm, they leave the bus to tour the farm."

Living near a farm that hosts school field trips, I know that this is an exciting experience for kids. They can check out pumpkins, feed the goats... but what do ninjas do when they visit a farm?

Let me just say that lots of the spreads feature YIKES! and YEE-OW! Things that shouldn't happen do happen, involving chickens, scarecrows, a bull, and some crazy ninja stuff... Until their master is in peril and they must remember their ninja creed (always help) and rush to save him with ninja speed.

What I like about this book: It reminds us to pay attention and not forget the lessons we've learned. At the same time,  you just know these guys are going to get into all kinds of trouble. All I can say is: if you're going to hang out near the goats, make sure your pockets are zipped. Especially if your homework is folded up in there.

Beyond the book. Ninja were professional spies during the age of the samurai. You can learn about ninja history here. And you can learn more about Japanese history here.

If you want to learn the way of the ninja, you need to master the skills of walking silently, and camouflaging yourself using nature. This takes practice!

You also need to be able to run really fast and know how to disappear in a flash. Running is easy - just tie your sneakers and head outside and run every day. Eventually you'll get faster. Disappearing - not so easy.

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match

Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match
by Karen Rostoker-Gruber & Rabbi Ron Issacs; illus. by CB Decker
32 pages; ages 4-7
Apples & Honey Press, 2015

With less than two weeks to Hanukkah, it's time to polish the menorah, lay in a supply of candles, find that yummy sweet potato latke recipe you used last year, rescue the dreidel from the goat ... and squeeze in some time to read a new story.

I love the way this one begins: Donkey's legs shook so hard he could barely stand. Tonight, on the second night of Hanukkah, Farmer Kobi had invited Polly to his farm for a date.

Farmer Kobi's farm is part of a moshav, a cooperative farming community in Israel. On this, the second day of Hanukkah, he is a bit late finishing up his chores and the animals are worried because Polly could show up any minute. Things are under control, though, because the sheep have checked on the baa-baa-ghanoush and it's ready.

Things seem to go well until Farmer Kobi heads to the kitchen, leaving Polly in the sitting room with his animals. She thinks they should be outside, not hanging around the dining room table. Things come to a head when Polly storms out, snapping that if she wanted to be with animals she'd go to the zoo.

She was definitely not the perfect match, the animals decide. Before they can feel too sorry for Farmer Kobi there's a knock on the door... Has Polly returned? Will Farmer Kobi meet his match? Will they get to eat the falafel balls and latkes before all the food gets cold?

Karen Rostoker-Gruber is pretty busy getting ready for the holidays at her home, but was gracious enough to answer Three Questions when I dropped in via email.

Sally: Why did you want to write this book?

Karen: I had written a story earlier called "Farmer Ted's Dinner Date" to follow my first book, Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo. For a number of reasons, it ended up on the back burner until I talked with my Rabbi, Ron Isaacs. He told me that there were a lot of Jewish values in the story, so I did a lot of thinking.

A lot of my family members live in Israel and some live on the most famous moshav there--The Nahalal Moshav.  There are no children's books about life on a moshav, so I contacted my cousins in Israel and asked them to send me photographs of the tractors that they drive, the houses that they live in, the clothes that they wear, animals that they have, and things that they keep in their pantry. Then I rewrote the book. The editors loved the story, but they wanted the date to take place during Hanukkah.

Sally: You really play around with language. Talk about the word play.

Karen: When my daughter was about 3 or so, I began the quest for the purr-fect puns for my characters. If I was working on a cat book, I'd look through the whole dictionary and list words like purr-fect, purr-fectionist. If it was a book with a cow, I’d jot down  moo-vies or moo-ve over. In "Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match," I needed puns for geese, goats, and donkey.  First I write the dialog as if people were talking, making sure that it flows easily and is not labored, then I stick in animal puns where I can. 

Sally: Favorite Hanukkah food?

Karen: My mother’s latkes. We have them every Hanukkah.  I used to help her make them, now my daughter helps her. Here’s what you need:
pound bag of Yukon gold potatoes (wash--don't peel them)
1 1/2 onions
3 eggs
1/4 cup matzo meal
1 tsp baking soda

Shred the potatoes. Then take 1/3 of all of the potato shreds and turn them into mush (a food processor works well).
Mix together the 2/3 shredded potatoes and the 1/3 mush with 3 eggs, 1/4 cup matzo meal, pepper to taste, and 1 tsp baking soda.
Put the oil in a frying pan and get it hot. Then use a tablespoon to measure out each latke, and fry until it’s brown it on both sides. Put latkes on a paper towel to drain.

You can find out more about Karen and her books at her websiteReview copy from the publisher.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Oscar Lives Next Door

Oscar Lives Next Door ~ A story inspired by Oscar Peterson's Childhood
by Bonnie Farmer; illus. by Marie Lafrance
32 pages; ages 4-8
Owlkids Books, 2015

theme: friendship; history; music

Opening: Daddy is a Pullman porter on the railway. He is dog-tired by the time he gets off the train at Windsor Station. "It's good to be home," he says softly as he lays his head on his pillow. But he doesn't fall asleep, because Oscar lives next door.

Oscar root-a-toot toots on his trumpet and daddy says, "We're moving!" But Millie and her family never do - and it's a good thing, because Oscar is her best friend. They do everything together, until Oscar gets sick. So sick that when he finally recovers his lungs aren't strong enough to blow on his trumpet. But he finds another way to make music and becomes a jazz legend.

What I like about this book: The author makes it clear in her notes that this is a work of fiction inspired by the story of jazz great Oscar Peterson. Millie is fictitious, and so are some of the antics she and Oscar get into. But the story of Oscars battle with tuberculosis and his music are all based on fact. Not only that but she presents the flavor of the period - the early 1900s - and the neighborhood of Montreal so well that you feel like you're there.

I love the way she uses sounds: bing bang bops and pitter patters and rolling thunder and neighing like horses...  and I like the feel of the illustrations. They're warm, welcoming, filled with life.

Beyond the book: Oscar Peterson died in 2007, but his music lives on. You can head out for a virtual "night on the town" -  Here's a recording from a 1964 performance in Denmark . Want to hear more? then head over here.

Jam Session for little ones: Join an online "jam session" game where you can add instruments to the mix.

Make your own instruments. Line up some bottles with different amounts of water in them and blow across the top, turn a bucket upside down and start drumming, or make your own didgeridoo. Or slide some jingle bells onto a ribbon, tie it around your ankle, and make music while you dance.

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, November 16, 2015


by Diane C. Mullen
288 pages; ages 12 - 16
Charlesbridge, 2015

"I'm getting my tag up. all over my Minneapolis hood." Everyone notices the St. B, Liam thinks ~ even the empty walls wait to see what he has to say.

Fourteen-year-old Liam is, as he puts it, a kid who lets his Sharpie do the talking: on concrete benches, on the sides of dumpsters, on the plexiglass cases in the rail station. Liam feels most comfortable when he's tagging. Graffiti art is how he expresses himself and he dreams of painting something big, that will take up an entire wall.

But it's been a rough year. He's been kicked out of the private school (where he had a scholarship) and was threatened with a gun for painting graffiti over another gang's sign. Worried that he might turn out like his older brother, Liam's mom sends him to a small town in Michigan to live with her friend who is an art teacher and sculptor.

Liam loves the opportunity to do art, but he is unimpressed by the quiet small-town life. When he sprays his tag around Lakeshore, people are upset and Liam needs to make amends. He wants to be remembered as an artist - not some punk picked up by the police.

What I like about this book are the short chapters, written mostly in dialogue. It's written in prose but has the feel of a novel in verse. I also like that Mullen explores graffiti as an artistic form, and includes asides about Picasso and Basquiat (who I'd never heard of before reading this novel).

This is a great book for any kid who loves art, and maybe for art teachers as well. Review copy from the publisher.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tortoise and Hare's Amazing Race

Tortoise and Hare's Amazing Race
by Marianne Berkes; illus. by Cathy Morrison
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale books, 2015

Henry Hare was always bragging. "I can run faster than anybody..." and he wonders how Tortoise can ever get anywhere because she moves so slowly.

Tortoise says she plans ahead and stays on track, but Henry challenges her to a race. The finish line: the top of the hill, 1760 yards away - a mile.

Starting at 6 am the race is on. From there on, the race is measured in fractions of total distance, and also in feet. So the language of math becomes part of the tale. I don't need to tell you the ending because you already know it: slow and steady wins the race.

At the back are four pages of activities for creative minds: things to measure, using different measurement tools, an introduction to "greater than" and "less than" and a letter scramble puzzle.

Review copy from the publisher.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sounds of the Savanna

Sounds of the Savanna
by Terry C. Jennings; illus. by Phyllis Saroff
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale, 2015

 "Dawn kisses the grasslands of the savanna, A lion roars." So begins a day on the savanna. His roar carries through the early morning air, to a lake miles away where a lioness hears him and roars her reply.

As the sun rises, we glimpse elephants at the watering hole, vervet monkeys skittering through the tall grass, and baboons coming down from the rocky cliffs.

Mid-afternoon sun beats down on the savanna, baking the land and the animals living there. Author Terry Jennings paints a complex web of interactions within the landscape: predators and their prey, youngsters learning to hunt, parent and young ... all within the context of a day on the savanna.

Animals make sounds for a lot of reasons. If they are in danger, they might give an alarm call to alert others to danger or to bring help. Males make sounds to warn others "this is my territory", and babies make sounds when they are hungry. Since this book is all about sounds, Jennings includes four pages at the back that are full of explorations for curious minds: experiments with sound and vibration, a predator/prey sorting game, and more details about sounds that animals make.

Listen to sounds of the savanna here. And if you're looking for educational materials, check out these teaching activities from Arbordale. Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 6, 2015

One Day ... The End

One Day, The End ~ Short, Very Short, Shorter-than-Ever Stories
by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; illus by Fred Koehler
32 pages; ages 4-8
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

theme: imagination, adventure

opening: For every story there is a beginning and an end, but what happens in between makes all the difference.

Remember when you were a kid and you told silly stories like: One day I went for a walk. The End? Here is a book full of such stories... but with a difference: the stuff that goes in between One Day and The End is shown in illustrations.

For example, the first story starts: "One day... I went to school. I came home. The end." Less than a dozen words (go ahead and count 'em; I'll wait.). The artwork tells a much fuller tale: following a cat, racing to get to class before the bell rings, a lab experiment gone awry, an ice cream truck....

What I like LOVE about this book: It leaves so much room for storytelling and imagination, but provides a visual framework for that imagination to run wild. I like that it has the main character in each story doing things, and that there are other "characters": dog, cat, teachers, other kids, parents. I especially like the last story: "One day... I wanted to WRITE a BOOK. So I did. The End."

Beyond the Book: Really? You have to ask?

Write your own story. Get a huge piece of paper. At the top (or at one end) write "One Day". At the bottom (or at the other end) write "The End". Now fill in the middle with words or pictures. It's your story - you can tell it any way you want to.

Draw your own illustrations for the stories. Starting with "One day I went to school. I came home" - what sort of things would you draw to show this story? And do you have to stick to the truth or can you imagine silly things like Dr. Seuss did in his classic, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street?

Tell silly short, shorter-than-ever stories around the dinner table. Or around a campfire, or sitting on the sofa or before bedtime. That's how the author, Rebecca Dotlich got started. She was babysitting her young grandson and after a long and busy day he asked her to tell him a story. She was tired, so she said, "One day, I lost my dog. I found him. The end." That made him laugh and laugh - and ask for more.

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Cupcake Queens

Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Cupcake Queens
by Christine Pakkala; illus. by Paul Hoppe
168 pages; ages 7-10
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

OK - you caught me! I'm trying to squeeze one more Halloween book in before I start thinking about turkey and pies - but with that pumpkin on the cover, who can blame me! Pumpkin pie is my all-time fav - and the only kind I ever make.

We met Lola last year, around Earth Day. She still ends up at the back of the line and gets called on last... all because her last name starts with Z. But in this new installment, we discover there is no problem so small that Lola can't make it bigger with a fib, a whopper, a "ball-face lie".

It's nearing Halloween and she and her friends are trying to decide on costumes. Usually, Lola's mom sews her up something cool, but this year mom is too busy sewing dresses to sell for her blossoming home business. So when a friends mom scores three cupcake queen costumes, it's awesome. Except - there are four friends. And when Lola gets caught in a lie, her friends start wondering just who can trust whom. Add to that a school play with lots of lines Lola is sure to forget, and the difficulty of admitting you're wrong, and you've got a recipe for a delightful book.

Today is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and we're hanging out with other MMGM bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.  Review copy provided by publisher.