Friday, November 8, 2019

Dear Mr. President...

Dear Mr. President
by Sophie Siers; illus by Anne Villeneuve
40 pages; ages 5-8
Owlkids, 2019

theme: siblings, sharing, conflict resolution

Dear Mr. President, I’m writing you a letter from my bedroom.

Sam shares a bedroom with his older brother who, he thinks, perfectly fits the President’s description of “undesirable” people. He wonders if, maybe, he needs to build a wall. After all, TV news coverage has been covering the idea of building a wall.

In a series of letters from Sam to an un-named President, we learn about the problems of sharing space with his older sibling. Parents suggest negotiating peace. And eventually – after a scary nightmare – Sam and his brother reach an equitable solution.

What I like about this book: It makes adult readers think about how the daily news is perceived by children. And, in this case (since the author resides in New Zealand) how one nation’s news is perceived by people far away. I like how Sam experiments with building a wall in his yard, and how he studies defensive walls such as the Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall – and one wall that came down: the Berlin Wall. And I really like the diversity of signatures Sam tries out when he signs his letters; I’m pretty sure the “a” in one is really a pepperoni pizza.

Beyond the Books:

What sorts of walls do you find in your neighborhood or town? Are there walls designed to keep people out? To keep people in? To protect gardens? Here are some famous border walls.

If you’ve ever thought it would be cool to build a wall out of giant Lego-type blocks, check out this video.

Looking for more books about walls? Check out this earlier post 

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

Friday, November 1, 2019

A perfect book for Day of the Dead reading...

by Raina Telgemeier
256 pages; ages 8-12
Graphix (Scholastic), 2016

Graphic novels don’t usually find their way into my library book bag, but this one has depth to its story. Plus it’s about Día de Muertos.

Catrina (Cat) is moving to the coast of Northern California with her family in hopes that the cool, salty air will help her sister, Maya’s cystic fibrosis. But Cat will miss her friends. On one of their explorations they discover an arcade on a boardwalk – an arcade that is closed, dark, dusty. Then they hear … footsteps … and it’s a guy who asks if they are there for the ghost tour.

Wait! Ghosts? Real ghosts?

Sure, he says. They hang out in the area – and on Día de Muertos the townspeople gather for a party and invite the ghosts to take part. You can almost hear Cat roll her eyes. At least until she meets some of the ghosts on their own turf. The ghosts really bother her; to find out why you’ll need to read the book.

While Cat does everything she can to avoid ghostly contact, Maya constructs an ofrenda (altar) for their grandmother. Then Cat meets an elderly ghost at the celebration - Is it her her grandmother?

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 from the library.

Monday, October 28, 2019

It's a Spider Parade!

Posting on a Monday? Isn't that a bit unusual?

Not this week - because it's


Every Halloween Week, for the past eight years, Susannah Hill has encouraged writers to stretch their imaginations and write a very tiny "Halloweensie" story. The rules are simple: 100 words or less, using the words potion, cobweb, and trick somewhere in the story. Here's my entry. I hope you enjoy it. When you're finished, head over to Susannah's blog and read the other stories (here's the link).

 photo by Luis Fernández García; Creative Commons 

Spider Parade     (88 words)

Pack up the popcorn and pink lemonade—
Today is the day for the Spider Parade!

Lynx spiders slink by with silence and pouncing,
Followed by wolf spiders howling and bouncing.

Floats rumble by showing spider-built homes
constructed by weavers of cobwebs and domes.

Black widows push carts stocked with dead flies and notions,
shoelaces, ribbons, and poisonous potions.

Long-legged harvestmen dance in formations,
Wait! They are not spiders—
just distant relations!

The last float is gone,
the last drum done beating,
                    Let’s put on our costumes for tricking and treating.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Away with Words

Away with Words: The Daring Story Of Isabella Bird
by Lori Mortensen; illus by Kristy Caldwell 
36 pages; ages 6-10
Peachtree Publishing, 2019

theme: adventure, women’s history, biography

Isabella Bird was like a wild vine stuck in a too-small pot. She needed more room. She had to get out. She had to explore.

But… Isabella suffered from illnesses. Maybe fresh air would do her good? Her father put her atop his horse and together they rode through the country side. Isabella dreamed of becoming an explorer. Later, she went on a sea voyage to Nova Scotia, hoping the sea air might help. She explored North America by steamboat, train, and horseback.

And when she returned home to England, she wrote about her adventures. Later, she set out again, climbing a volcano, hiking through Tibet … even causing consternation in a Chinese town. Each time she returned to share her adventures with readers eager to expand their horizons – even some readers who thought women should stay at home!

What I like about this book: I’m a sucker for adventure. Plus I’d read a couple of Isabella Bird’s books a few years ago. So it was fun to see some of her words on the pages of this picture book. Like other travelers of the time, Isabella kept a journal and sketched pictures. She noted distances traveled and wrote about the people she met.

I also like the way the illustrator portrayed Isabella and her travels, and the use of panels on the page. And there’s back matter: more about Isabella in an author’s note, a timeline of her travels, citations for quoted material, and a bibliography for armchair explorers who want to follow in Isabella’s footprints.

Beyond the Books:

Read more about Isabella Bird over at Amy Poehler's Smart Girls

Be an explorer! Take a sketchbook and pens, colored pencils, and a water bottle (and maybe a snack) and head off on an adventure. It might be to a park you’ve never visited before, or the very back of your yard where tall grass grows and there might be tigers… Draw pictures of plants you discover. Talk to someone and write down what you learn. Have fun!

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, October 18, 2019

Carter Reads the Newspaper

Carter Reads the Newspaper 
by Deborah Hopkinson; illus by Don Tate
36 pages; ages 6-10
Peachtree Publishing, 2019

theme: biography, black history,

Each February we celebrate Black History Month. It’s a time to honor heroes like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But there’s one hero we sometimes forget.

That hero is Carter G. Woodson. He didn’t help people escape from slavery. He didn’t protest in the streets or lead bus strikes. Instead, he changed the way people think about history. When told that Black people had no history, Carter was appalled. Of course they did! His parents, born into slavery, had shared their family stories. He listened to stories of Civil War veterans who had fought for their freedom. He read the newspapers and discovered more stories of black men and women – people who were left out of the history books.

So in 1926, Carter began his own fight: to include Black Americans in the history books. He established Negro History Week – which later became Black History Month.

What I like about this book: I always love true stories about empowerment and perseverance. I am drawn to heroes who fight for truth, freedom, and justice. And because I’m a journalist, I’m a bit partial to stories that show the power of information.

I like Don Tate’s illustrations, beginning with the end papers. Open the front and you see sketched portraits of historical Black people: Nat Turner, Phillis Wheatley, Elijah McCoy. Back end pages feature more recent Black Americans: Mae Jemison, Katherine Johnson, Colin Kaepernick.

I like the back matter: resources for learning more, notes from the author and the illustrator, a list of Black leaders pictured throughout the book (with a snippet of bio facts), and a timeline of Carter Woodson’s life and accomplishments.

If you are looking ahead for books to feature this coming February, put this one on your list.

Beyond the Books:

Newspapers provide the first draft of history. So challenge yourself to read the print edition of a local newspaper each week. I read mine at the library.

Ask your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents to share stories of when they were kids. Write your own newsy article about them.

Visit a local history museum, or find a local history book in the library. What was your town like 50 or 100 years ago?

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, October 11, 2019

The Jumbie God's Revenge

The Jumbie God's Revenge 
by Tracey Baptiste 
pages 272; ages 8-12
Algonquin Young Readers, 2019

Corinne La Mer leapt from one tall coconut tree to another. Nothing but air surrounded her and there was only the sand and a few sharp rocks below.

By the end of the first paragraph, author Tracey Baptiste has grounded us so firmly into the setting that one can almost smell the salty breeze and feel the warmth of the Caribbean sun. Even if you haven’t read the first two books of the Jumbies series, you will feel at home in this story.

Corinne’s island is hit by a June storm – an early hurricane – and she knows in her bones that this is no ordinary storm. It must be the work of the Jumbies. If you don’t know what a jumbie is, just ask Tracey. They are tricksters from Caribbean folktales, she says, “a group of malevolent creatures who [are] hell bent on harming or at least tricking any human who dared to cross their path.”

So Corrinne sets off to find Mama D’Leau, the half-woman, half-snake who protects and rules the ocean. But Mama D’Leau is just as worried about the storm. Even worse, Mama D’Leau is frightened. What, Corinne wonders, would scare a jumbie?

When a second, more ferocious storm wrecks the island, and villagers flee to the mountain for safety, Corinne discovers that the storms are caused by the angry god, Huracan. Confronting this god is too large a task for a single girl. In addition to her friends, Corinne needs the help the jumbies – but can she trust them?

What I like about this book: I like the story of courage, the theme of community, the action-packed adventure. And the luscious language. Take a listen:

Everything about the white witch looked like it was near expiration: the sun-bleached pattern on her dress, the threadbare wrap that tied her head, the few drooping twists of short white hair that refused to be contained in her headwrap.

If I gave stars, I’d toss a basketful into the sky for this book. It’s a great read-aloud for the week before Halloween, or a cold, gray, rainy week – make a pot of hot cocoa, put on a CD of ocean waves lapping on the beach, turn on your best warm yellow lights, and enjoy a magical adventure.

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 4, 2019

The Dark Lord Clementine

The Dark Lord Clementine 
by Sarah Jean Horwitz
336 pages; ages 9 - 13
Algonquin Young Readers, 2019

Last month I was checking out the pile of books in my To Be Reviewed basket… and was just about to put this in the “later” stack when I flipped it open to read the first sentence. Good thing I did, because… well, I’ll let the book speak for itself.

Clementine Morcerous awoke one morning to discover that her father had no nose.

And really! How could I put it down after that!

I love the premise: Clementine’s father, the Dark Lord, is wasting away. And if he disappears completely, she is the only one to carry on his name – and his life’s work. But Clementine isn’t nearly as dark as her dad. We can see this when she’s in the garden and there, away from the spiky, carnivorous, bloodsucking plants, she’s raising flowers. Dark Lords do NOT raise flowers!

What I like about this book:

  • There is mystery. What is happening to her father? Who is responsible for chipping bits off him?
  • There is fear. How will Clementine get on with managing the estate should her father’s magic disappear?
  • There is a longing. While on a trip to town to buy bread and candles and other necessities, Clementine hides in the trees behind the schoolyard to watch the kids play. Wouldn’t it be fun to have friends?
  • There is a challenge. Someone wants to usurp the Dark Lord’s power. Or are they really after something else?
  • There are unexpected allies. Like Sebastian, who wants to be a knight and had seen Clementine hiding in the forest. And while there is no sword in the stone, there are plenty of swords stuck in the ground, courtesy of the Lady of the Lake, who has really bad aim.
  • There are adventures.
  • And there is an inside glimpse of the sorts of intellectual property disputes that rage between Evil Overlords.
  • Mostly, there is a lot of fun!

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 27, 2019

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy 
by Mackenzi Lee 
464 pages, YA
Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins), 2018

When I heard someone mention the title of this book, I hoped it might be nonfiction. You know, a tell-all about famous women pirates.

But I was delightfully surprised to find it an adventure tale spun in the eighteenth century starring a young woman who desperately wants to become a doctor. That is SO not socially acceptable for her family’s station, besides which no hospital (or physician) will accept her as a student.

Plus there’s her name, Felicity Montague: a star-crossed name if ever there was. And this intriguing first line: “I have just taken an overly large bite of iced bun when Callum slices his finger off.” We learn that Felicity works in the bakery that Callum owns. And he’s a bit distracted as they wash the dishes, which is how he ends up slicing the tip of his finger off. Felicity, who has been reading medical treatises for so long, is now faced with an actual medical emergency.

And not to put too much of a damper on her relationship with the baker, she reveals that “with a chunk of his finger missing, Callum is the most interesting he has ever been to me.” Then we dive into Felicity’s mind. She is thinking about the 27 bones four tendon, three nerves, two arteries, and other aspects of hand anatomy. Callum, on the other hand, would like Felicity as his wife. She could do worse than marry a baker, he posits…

We know she’s going to leave before she knows it. She’s got a brother in London. Surely he’ll take her in. Before long, Felicity is up to her eyeballs in intrigue. My favorite part is where she runs off to join a pirate expedition to protect sea monsters – a far cry from applying to medical studies. But science is science.

The writing is fun to read! For example: “…traveling with Johanna and Sim will be like trying to wrangle kittens into the bath…” This is the kind of writing that leaves the sting of sea salt on your face and your hair tangled in knots by the wind.

And then – there’s Back Matter. As many of you know, I love back matter, and Mackenzi Lee does not disappoint (though I will point out the distinct lack of end notes). She talks about women characters in historical fiction and then addresses the aspirations of her three women characters. And she shares stories of real-life women in history who inspired each of them. And so we learn about women in medicine, scientist, and piracy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Review copy discovered @ my library.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Astro-Nuts to the Rescue!

Astro-Nuts Mission One: The Plant Planet 
by Jon Scieszka  ; illus by Steven Weinberg
220 pages; ages 8-12
Chronicle Books, 2019

If you’re looking for a funny, smart book that combines climate change with a zany space adventure, then look no further. AstroNuts begins with a count-down to an emergency blast-off. Emergency, because “humans finally crossed a BIG RED LINE – putting more than 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO-2 (carbon dioxide) into my beautiful atmosphere.”

Yep, the story is told by planet Earth, and boy does Earth have a story to tell. It’s about four super-powered animal astronauts who launch into space to search for a Goldilocks planet. You know… not too hot, not too cold, juuuust right! ”Like I used to be,” says Earth. “Before you got here.”

Need a quick lesson on climate change and why 400 ppm is so important? Read this and this.

So, our mutant heroes arrive at a planet full of plants. No dangerous animals, but… viney vines wind around the rocket. Alas, our trusty Astronuts are captured by intelligent vegetation and imprisoned in a plant cell (complete with a map blueprint diagram).

Will they escape? Will they go on another mission? Will they find a Goldilocks planet before we humans set off a huge extinction brought on by our inability to moderate our addiction to fossil fuels?

And now, a word from our sponsor - Earth.

What I like about this book: I love the point-of view. I love the occasional astronaut reports, the glitch computer, and “Official NNASA transcripts”. The illustrations are fun, the presentation combines elements of comics, and there’s a bit of atmospheric chemistry tossed in. Plus I love the way the Astronuts harness the golgi apparatus and a bunch of mitochondria to escape the plant cell. There are plenty of space references some readers will appreciate and new words, such as “snotrocketing” (verb). And no, it’s not in the glossary.

There’s also a couple pages at the back of the book that describe how the collage illustrations were created. And a challenge for readers to create their own collage artwork, along with a link to an Astronut website where you can download some helpful printouts.

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 13, 2019

Hide and Seek ~ Splish and Splash!

If you’re looking for some fun books featuring animals, these might fit the bill.
themes: animals, colors, adaptations

If You Played Hide-And-Seek with a Chameleon 
by Bill Wise; illus. by Rebecca Evans
32 pages; ages 8 - 12
Dawn Publications, 2019

If you played games with animals, would you win or lose?

Come to the Animal Fair and play games with twelve different animals – from basketball to twister. There’s the pie-eating contest with a hippo. Of course you’d lose that because a hippo has the biggest mouth of all the land animals. And of course, if you play hide-and-seek with a chameleon, you’d lose! Because … chameleons!

What I like about this book: Each game is matched with an animal whose natural traits would give it a great advantage. Shoot hoops with a giraffe? Race against a cheetah? A paragraph of animal facts accompanies each game, explaining why you have no chance against your animal competitor. Except the snail; you might have a chance against a snail.

I like the bright and fun illustrations that invite you to imagine yourself as part of the games. And I really like the back matter – four pages of fun facts, a challenge to look closer, and great STEM activities.

Splish, Splash, Foxes Dash! Canadian Wildlife in Colour 
by Geraldo Valério
24 pages; ages 2 - 5
Owlkids, 2018

Red, yellow, blue, here they come… Canadian animals in colour!

Brown features a duck, dabbling under the water. Green caterpillars munch green leaves. Pink prawns pirouette.

What I like about this book: The language is fun: dabble, pirouette, perch and peck. The colors are bright, and the illustrations are created using paper collage. Text on the page is simple and direct. But don’t fear; there is Back Matter! That’s where you’ll find out more facts about the animals featured in the book.

Beyond the Books:

 Go on an animal color-safari. If you can get to a zoo, great! If not, walk through a pet store. Look at the colors and patterns of the animals.

Make collage art to show one of your favorite animals doing something it would normally do. Use up old magazines, newspapers, and gift wrap to create your art. You can check out some of Geraldo Valério’s art at his website – just click on a book.

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

Friday, September 6, 2019

My Name is Wakawakaloch!

My Name Is Wakawakaloch! 
by Chana Stiefel; illus. by Mary Sullivan
32 pages; ages 4 - 7
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2019

theme: names, friends, problem-solving

Wakawakaloch was in a volcanic mood. Everyone was bungling her name.

Schools in our neck of the woods are just getting started this week, and teachers are faced with learning new names.  So I thought this might be a fun book for the new year!

In this book, the kids at school mangle Wakawakaloch's name. They call her Walawala or Wammabammaslamma. But those aren’t her names, and Wakawakaloch gets so mad that she wants to change her name to something easy to pronounce. Besides, she can’t ever find a T-shirt with her name printed on it. Gloop would be a good name, right?

What I like about this book: I love the language: the image of Wakawakaloch being volcanic. I like the mis-names that kids give her. And I like when Wakawakaloch sees images of her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother’s acts of bravery, and understands how powerful her family's name is. Not only that - she comes up with a way she can help other kids with unusual names. It involves T-shirts.

I also like the end papers with illustrations of children and how to pronounce their names. No Wakawakaloch, but there is a Chana (like the author) and, according to the handy-dandy guide, the way to pronounce her name is Kh-ah-nah. Make sure you begin with a throat-clearing “ch” ant the beginning!

Beyond the Books:

Check out this brief interview with Chana, and watch the book trailer.

Names are important. Where does your name come from? You might discover an exciting family tale when you ask about your name.

Write down the way you say your name. And when you meet new friends, ask how to say their names. You don’t want to bungle it up!

Today (or as soon as it starts up again) 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 my friends at Blue Slip Media.

Friday, August 2, 2019

A Break to Indulge in Summer Reading

Sally’s Bookshelf is taking a break from book reviews to indulge in summer reading. While Sally's gone ...

  • Check out your library's summer reading program. 
  • Grab some books for the next road trip.  
  • Build a fort (and read in it).
  • Read a good bug book - and then go find some bugs.
  • Write haiku in sidewalk chalk.
  • Learn to identify trees - then tie a hammock between a couple of them and read.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Operation Frog Effect

Operation Frog Effect
by Sarah Scheerger
320 pages; ages 8-12
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2019

Some books have a prologue. This book starts its story on the jacket cover with a letter to the reader from some kids:

It's us, Ms. Graham's class. We didn't mean to mess things up. But we did. We took things too far, and now Ms. Graham is in trouble--for something we did. We made a mistake. The question is, can we fix it? Ms. Graham taught us that we get to choose the kind of people we want to be and that a single act can create ripples. So get ready, world--we're about to make some ripples.
Kayley, Kai, Henry, Aviva, Cecilia, Blake, Sharon, Emily (and Kermit, class frog)

The thing is – everyone makes mistakes. This book explores what happens when your mistakes hurt someone else. It begins with a rescued frog who becomes a resident in Ms. Graham’s fifth grade classroom. And is told through the perspectives of eight students through the pages of their journals:

  • Blake ~ who would rather draw than write words (and makes excellent frog noises)
  • Emily ~ who is feeling hopeful about her first day of school, but heartbroken when she thinks her two best buddies are leaving her out
  • Kayley ~ who seems to have her nose in a snit most of the time
  • Sharon ~ who writes in verse
  • Henry ~ who sees the world through the eyes of a film director (or screenwriter)
  • Kai ~ who writes his journal entries to the frog
  • Cecelia ~ who misses her abuelita tremendously and writes letters to her, including “words to practice” that are translated to Spanish; besos y abrazos!
  • Aviva ~ BFF of Kayley but wants to include Emily but then what will Kayley think?

It’s fifth grade and for some kids, the academic pressure is on - which leads to stealing (or borrowing) ideas for the egg drop challenge. There are lunch table exclusions (and inclusions), making new friends (and worrying whether that means you have to leave old friends behind), and desk-top letter boxes. There are group projects that sometimes go sideways – which is how the gang of eight end up in hot water.

Mostly, fifth grade is about learning who you are – and the kids in Ms. Graham’s class get an A for effort. This book came out near the beginning of the year, but makes a perfect summer read.

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. Reviewed a copy from my library system

Friday, July 19, 2019

Taking Cover

Taking Cover, One Girl’s Story Of Growing Up During The Iranian Revolution
By Nioucha Homayoonfar
160 pages, ages 12 &  up
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2019

“I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.”

This book opens like an action movie: a young girl is snatched off the street, pushed into the back of a car, and taken to an apartment building that’s under construction. There she’s locked in a room.

For what? Showing the tiniest bit of skin. A sliver of her wrist. A crime, in the eyes of the “Moral Police” and the religious leaders who, after the revolution, control Iran. Post-revolution, the country has become a place where women and girls have lost the rights to work, attend school, have an opinion.

Though it sounds like a dystopian novel, this is a true story of one girl’s life – Nioucha – and what happened to her country after the fall of the Shah.

But Nioucha didn’t always live in Iran. She spent her early life in Pittsburgh, PA until she was five years old. That was when her father wanted to move back to his home country, back to relatives and a vibrant civilization that he missed.

Things were fine, at first. But when Nioucha was eight years old the Shah went into exile and the country moved in a different direction. Where she was once free to run and play and go to school, now her world is circumscribed by rules. Her loss of rights begins simply: she must wear a scarf. Girls must attend a separate school from boys. There is mandated religion class. She can’t be seen in public with a boy who is not related.

This is a book about how easy it is to lose your freedom. Lose your voice. So Nioucha uses her words and stories to give voice to those who are still taking cover. And maybe to warn us about just how easily we could lose the rights we take for granted.

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, July 12, 2019

A Possibility of Whales

A Possibility of Whales
by Karen Rivers 
288 pages; ages 8 - 12
Algonquin Young Readers, 2019 (paperback)

On her fourth day at the new place, Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher walked down the long, lumpy trail to the beach that lay at the bottom of the slope.

We learn a lot about Natalie, or Nat (as she’s called):

  • Nat is 12 years old
  • she’s moved a lot – dad’s job
  • the Baleine in her name is silent – a secret between her and her mom
  • her dad is famous – he’s an actor
  • Nat loves possibilities – and there are many

Life as the daughter of a famous actor is challenging, and Nat wants just to be Nat. Not XAN Gallagher’s daughter. She also wants to know what kind of mom abandons her baby? “Even in nature, when animals were faced with actual danger, mother animals stuck by their babies,” she once told a friend. The friend who she left behind. The friend who, we learn, did One Terrible Thing.

Nat has found other friends. Harry, who she meets in the girl’s bathroom at her new school in Canada. Harry who is a boy on the inside regardless of the fact their birth certificate says they are a girl. Harry, who plans to write a book to help other kids feel OK in their own skin.

There is Bird, a woman she knows only on the phone. A secret friend, and maybe her mom…

What I like about this book: I like the chapter titles. For example: “The things you find when you aren’t looking.” I like the postcards that Nat writes to Solly – or at least attempts to write. I like that Nat collects words from a diversity of languages to help her understand how she feels about things, and how to describe things. And I like the adventure to Baja with Harry’s family, where Nat discovers that she is definitely not ready to grow up.

Because of her middle name, Nat loves whales. I think she’d be a whale if she could. She loves to watch them, listen to their calls.

Want to learn more about baleen whales? Check out this NOAA website.

You can listen to a recording of a humpback whale here.

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, July 5, 2019

Celebrate Independence Day & Weekend

Drop by for a book next week. 
But this weekend head out to celebrate the Fourth of July!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Pack your duffle for "Camp Average"

Camp Average 
by Craig Battle
240 pages; ages 8 - 12
Owlkids, 2019

I spent many memorable weeks at summer camp – hiking, doing arts and crafts, canoeing, and learning archery – and later as a camp counselor. Author Craig Battle has spent his share of weeks coaching rambunctious boys at a sports camp. Years later he began wondering, what if a camp director pushed kids to become more competitive?

The first chapter sets the tone for this fun summer romp. We see yellow buses bumping their way over a potholed dirt road into camp [I’m pretty sure all roads into camps are required to have a minimum number of potholes]. From inside the buses comes a loud chant: “We’re number two!” as the buses roll to a stop at Camp Avalon – or Camp Average, as the kids call it. There’s a mess hall, the baseball diamond, the lake, and counselors wearing bright orange camp T-shirts. There are pranks, the annual telling of the camp legend, and camp food.

As the kids settle in to their cabins, readers settle in for some fun summer reading.  Except all is not well at Camp Average! Because in the morning, when Mack and his buddies head to the main field, they discover it has been transformed. As Craig writes, “…it looked less like their old camp and more like something straight out of the NFL Scouting Combine, the event where college football players showcase their skills for professional coaches.”

And Mack and his friends do not like this one bit. They were looking forward to a summer of fun on the waterfront, and friendly ball games against the other camps. Now they are pushed to show athletic aptitude. The guys decide they need to nip this competitiveness in the bud – but how?

Over the summer the kids deal with interpersonal challenges as well as challenges on the field. I don’t want to give away the fun, but let’s just say that it’s harder to intentionally lose games than you’d think. This is definitely one book you’ll want to pack in your duffel for summer reading!

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 ARC provided by the publisher.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Shelter dogs and midnight mischief

It’s Summer Solstice... a night of mischief and fun. Also the shortest night of the year. So why not spend part of it reading some fun picture books!

themes: family, friends, imagination

Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog
by Lisa Papp
32 pages,  ages 4 - 8
Peachtree publishers, 2019

I ask Mom every single day.
In the morning.
In the evening.
Even when we’re out…

Madeline Finn wants a dog – and finally Mom says yes! Now Madeline has to feed her new puppy, take him on walks, and make sure he has a safe home. Later, when she visits the animal shelter she notices that all the animals seem a little sad. What can she do to make them feel loved? “Mom,” she asks, “does anyone read to the shelter dogs?”

What I like about the book: This is a sweet story about how one small person can make a difference in the world – at least in the doggy world. I also like how that one act has a ripple effect, engaging even more people. I like that the story is grounded in compassion. And I love the warm and soft feeling that Lisa Papp’s illustrations generate.

In the Middle of the Night: Poems From A Wide-Awake House
by Laura Purdie Salas; illus. by Angela Matteson
32 pages; ages 4-8
WordSong, 2019

Sun and moon have traded places – 
Time for games! Time for races!

Did you know that when you fall fast asleep the things in your house wake up and play? I’ve always suspected this, and now Laurie Purdie Salas has collected the data – er, I mean she’s written a slew of poems imagining the shenanigans that go on while you sleep. Stuffed animals flip and skate, scraps of paper fold into planes and dive into the air… even the lunchbox is on a midnight mission.

What I like about this book: Pure imagination! Fun poems that will have you looking at the objects in your home in a new way – and may even have you documenting where and how you left them before nodding off for the night. I am sure my coffee cup goes on adventures as it is never where I thought I left it!

Beyond the Books:

Read to a dog – or two. Find out if your local shelter has a reading program, and how else you can help out. Here’s how one Shelter Buddies reading program works.

What do the things in your house do at night? Find out – and then share your discoveries by writing a poem or short story, or drawing a picture to show what goes on when the lights go out.

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

Badger's Perfect Garden

Badger’s Perfect Garden
by Marsha Diane Arnold; illus. by Ramona Kaulitzki
32 pages; ages 4-8
Sleeping Bear Press, 2019

theme: gardening, nature, friendship

One spring morning, Red Squirrel found Badger surrounded by dozens of jars.
The jars were filled with seeds. The seeds looked hopeful, just like Badger.

Badger wants to plant a perfect garden. That means getting the soil perfectly smooth. And planting perfectly straight rows. All of this takes a lot of time, but finally Badger’s garden is planted. All he needs is rain…. but then a HUGE storm washes away the seeds.

All is lost. Or is it?

What I like about this book: I love the idea that Badger is planting seeds that he has collected from local plants. And that his friends help him plant the garden. (As a gardener, I have yet to plant perfectly straight rows or get my soil perfectly smooth.)  Having your garden washed away by a severe storm is becoming a more likely event these days, but I was a bit astonished that Badger didn’t head back out and replant.

That doesn’t matter, though, because what happens is even more fun. As most of us know (when we stop to think about it) seeds will grow wherever they find themselves. But what I really liked was that "the seeds looked hopeful!"

Beyond the book

Plant a garden. One year a skunk dug up a section of our yard (searching for beetle larvae). My kids turned the now grassless area into a flower garden. Here are some resources for gardening with kids: How to Plant a Garden, and Gardening Basics (with lots of info).

Seek flowers that are native to your region. Check with your local county extension, or find a list of native plants at National Wildlife Federation and Xerces Society

Go on a flower walk to learn more about what’s growing in your neighborhood. Here’s a list for a scavenger hunt.

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 publisher.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast

Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast
By Sophie Gilmore
32 pages; ages 5-8
Owlkids Books, 2019

theme: kindness, animals, imagination

There once lived a child the crocodiles called Little Doctor.

Little Doctor treats the creatures with care, bandaging and splinting and washing off scrapes and cuts. Then one day Big Mean shows up. Big Mean is every bit as big as her name implies, and when Little Doctor tries to take her temperature, Big Mean resists. But Little Doctor persists… and accidentally lands inside Big Mean’s big, toothy mouth – where she discovers something important. I don’t want to spoil this wonderful and sweet story, so please, please find a copy and read it for yourself. You’ll definitely want to read this story again and again.

What I like love about this book: The story seems so simple, and yet is a mile deep. It is about persistence, compassion, and respect. It also alludes to our human impact on the creatures who share this planet with us. I like that this story is inspired by a real-life crocodile doctor in the author’s family. And I really like the illustrations. They show us a lot about Little Doctor's life, from the way she dresses to the cool skeleton hanging from the ceiling of her room. They invite you to spend time on the page, poring over every detail.

Beyond the book:

Learn more about crocodiles here and here

Make a crocodile – you'll find a collection of many croc-crafts for kids here.

Plastic pollution is killing marine wildlife – even crocodiles. Learn more here. And here’s a list of ways you can reduce your use of plastic.

My colleague, Maria Marshall reviewed this book a couple months ago – you can find her thoughtful comments here.

Head over to Archimedes Notebook for some crocodilian nonfiction.

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

Friday, May 31, 2019

Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure

Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure
by Alex T. Smith
208 pages; ages 8-12
Peachtree, 2019

Mr. Penguin is a dapper gent, what with his hat and bow tie and satchel. He has just started a new business: Professional Adventurer. But it wasn’t going according to plan and he’s down to his last fish finger sandwich.

“It was supposed to have been nonstop Adventures—people ringing up with mysteries for him to solve, missing diamonds to find, jungles to run through under a shower of poison-tipped darts….” Instead, his phone stayed silent. And if he didn’t get an Adventuring job soon, there would be no more crabsticks!

Fortunately, the phone rings! Mr. Penguin’s services are required to find a Lost Treasure somewhere in the Museum of Extraordinary Objects. Accompanied by his sidekick, a karate-kicking spider named Colin, Mr. Penguin heads off on a crazy Indiana Jones-style quest.

What I like about this book:

The wacky characters, from Edith the pigeon lady to Mrs. Bones and her brother Montague.

The clues, including a carved saber-toothed ostrich tusk.

An X that literally marks the spot!

I like how Alex Smith uses color to help tell the story. Most pages include illustrations in black, white, and orange – great penguin colors. But as the adventurers descend into the darkness of the basement, the pages are gray with white text.

I like that there are lessons to learn. If a large knobby tree trunk floats by at exactly the same time you need to cross a river, you might want to check for teeth!

And I like that there is always a way to save the day, though it will invariably require a personal sacrifice. So carry extra candy bars – or fish finger sandwiches, as the case may be.

Beyond the Book: Have some fun with these Mr. Penguin activity sheets!

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, May 24, 2019

The Becket List

The Becket List: A Blackberry Farm Story 
by Adele Griffin; illustrated by LeUyen Pham
208 pages; ages 7 - 11
Algonquin Young Readers, 2019

Rebecca Branch is a city kid, born and bred. From subways to sidewalks, she knows how to navigate her habitat. But now that third grade has ended, her family is moving to the country to live with Grandma at Blueberry Farm. Family includes mom and dad, who are veterinarians, older sister, Caroline, who is on the cusp of teendom, and Rebecca’s twin brother, Nicholas, who is his own person.

Rebecca is looking forward to being a country kid. She wants to get a “country dog” even though Mr. Fancypants has been a faithful canine companion. And she decides to change her name to Becket because, she points out to her family, “Rebecca doesn’t fit me…”  Still, she does bring some of her old life with her, like an entire moving box filled with penguins. The stuffed kind, not the live, fishy, flippery kind.

One of the things Becket does is start a list about How To Be a Country Kid. The other thing she does is shout out “beautiful alerts” to remind people to enjoy the natural beauty around them.

Becket wants to be of use, so she adopts farm chores: feeding Grandma’s donkey, mule, and 97 chickens – including the mean Lady Godiva. There’s summer camp, a lemonade business, and tractor-driving lessons. But mostly, there’s a story about family and friendships and growing up.

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, May 17, 2019

Birds! Birds! Birds!

themes: birds, family, don't give up

Why Should I Walk? I Can Fly!
by Ann Ingalls; illus. by Rebecca Evans
32 pages; ages 3-8
Dawn Publications, 2019

Why should I walk? I can fly.
I've made up my mind to try.

A little bird. A big sky. And mama's nudging him out of the nest. This is a mistake - he's sure - why can't he fly like ... chickadees, for example. And not being able to fly puts him in danger!

What I like about this book: It's told in first person, from the baby Robin's point of view. Who knew first flight could be so scary? For sure, kids will identify with his timidity in embracing something so drastically different.

If the text doesn't get you soaring, the illustrations will. They are bursting with humor and do a wonderful job revealing the Robin's emotions. Maybe it was fated that Rebecca Evans create the art for this book - when she was a first grader she rescued two injured baby sparrows and helped them learn to fly.

I also like that there's back matter: a "fact or fiction?" page, some thoughts about teaching baby birds to fly, and STEM activities.

Ruby's Birds
by Mya Thompson; illus. by Claudia Davila
36 pages; ages 3-7
Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2019

School's out. Mom and Dad are at work.

Ruby's home with grandma and Alex, the parrot. She's bored. But downstairs neighbor, Eva, asks if she wants to go to the park. They walk past the one with slides ... all the way to Central Park. To the woods, where Eva looks up and listens. Turns out that Eva's on a mission to find a Golden-winged warbler, and enlists Ruby's help.

What I like about this book: The birds that illustrator Claudia Davila sneaked onto each page - you have to search for them! I like that Ruby learns how to identify the warbler and shares her knowledge.

Of course, there is back matter! That's where you'll find more information about birds in the city. There's a handy list of birds that are in the book - birds you are likely to find in your town or city. And there's "Ruby's Tips for taking a nature walk"!

Beyond the Books:

Draw a Bird. It could be a robin (here's one way to draw a robin) or a pigeon (here's how to draw a pigeon like Mo Willems). Or you can download coloring pages from Why Should I Walk? to use as inspiration.

Learn more about the birds living in your town or city. Need info? Check out Celebrate Urban Birds and Feathered Friends for activities and identification.

Learn to identify birds by their songs and calls. Here's a "tweet cheat sheet" for Eastern Birds, and here's one for Western Birds - by amazing cartoonist, naturalist, and science writer Rosemary Mosco.

Take a close look at a feather. If you find feathers on the ground, spend some time looking at them. Draw their shape and color them. Try to figure out who lost a feather. The best way to examine a feather is to get a chicken feather or other feather from a craft store so you can spend time looking at it with a magnifying lens. Here's a feather activity guide. (note: it is illegal to collect and keep feathers you find on the ground. You can draw them and, if you have a hand lens with you, take a closer look at them.)

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

How to Care for your T-Rex

How to Care for Your T-Rex
Ken Baker; illustrations by Dave Coverly
36 Pages, Ages 4-8
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 2019

themes: pets, love, humor

When you take good care of your T-Rex, your T-Rex will take good care of you.

Like any other pet, a T-Rex requires the right sort of care and feeding. Exercise is an important part of their daily routine, because they sure do eat a lot – 300 pound of meat a day! From rise-and-shine to brushing teeth and goodnight stories, this book gives handy tips on caring for your reptilian companion.

What I like about this book: I love the cartoony art – it is so fun. And I love the speech balloons that add dialog without all that bothersome “he said, she said.” But most of all, I like the situations that T-Rex and his boy find themselves in. Like trying to teach T-Rex a few simple tricks that any dog worth its salt knows. Sit. Shake. Roll over. And other stuff you should teach it, like manners. And some things you simply can’t teach it, like how to rescue a cat from a tree.

But you know what I really like? I’ll wait while you take a guess…
I really like that it has Back Matter: a bunch of T-Rex facts that will delight any kid and surprise parents who haven’t kept up on dinosaur research.

Beyond the Book:

Can you run as fast as a T-Rex? Figure out how fast you can run. Then convert it into miles per hour. A T-Rex can run 12 miles per hour. Can you keep up?

Check out the trailer for the book here.

What do you think a baby T-Rex looked like? Draw a picture. Then check out this video from the American Museum of Natural History.
We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review ARC provided by the publisher.

Friday, May 3, 2019

How to Walk an Ant

How to Walk an Ant
by Cindy Derby
40 Pages; ages 4-8
Roaring Brook Press, 2019

theme: imagination, bugs

My name is Amariyah, and I am an Expert Walker.

As in, she walks things. But not dogs. Not goldfish either. Amariyah walks ants – and she’s going to share her top tips so you, too, could walk ants for fun and profit!

What I like love about this book: I appreciate the matter-of-fact approach Amariyah uses. Step one, find an ant. Step two, politely introduce yourself. I see that this is where I have gone all wrong. Not once in my entire life have I properly (and with best manners) introduced myself to an ant.

I like the footnotes – yes, you most certainly can have footnotes in a picture book!

I like that Amariyah carefully explains how to secure a leash so as to not harm the ant. Not around the antennae, but between the thorax and the head. Not sure where that is? No problem – Appendix 2 illustrates ant anatomy. Yes, you most certainly can include appendices in a picture book!

I love that Amariyah calculates estimated ant travel times and touches on the potential problems of entanglement when walking multiple ants. It’s like herding cats, only with more legs.

But what I really love is that Amariyah encounters another insect walker, and after a tragic accident (resulting in bug burials) they start a joint venture. And yes! there is Back Matter.

Beyond the Book:

Go on an Ant Walk - with no strings attached. Just find some ants and follow them. You might want to draw a picture of what your ants look like (what color they are, how many legs, whether they have big heads with scary jaws). Definitely make a map to show where your ant goes. 
How many kinds of Ants live in your neighborhood? Here's an ant chart to help you out.

Make up a song for walking ants (or any other animal)... 

More ant activities here!

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review ARC provided by the publisher.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Reading this book is better than nibbling the ends off a Cadbury Royal Dark chocolate bar. And if you haven't read it yet - I know, how can you miss reading a Newbery medal winner! - then now's your chance. It's being released next Tuesday, April 30, in paperback. So fill up your mug with hot tea, grab a chocolate bar, and give yourself permission to go on a mini-vacation so you can enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted reading.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
By Kelly Barnhill
400 pages; ages 10 – 14
Algonquin Young Readers, 2016 (2019 paperback)

Here's the scoop (from the back cover):
Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest to keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is really kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge with unpredictable consequences, just when it’s time for Xan to go collect another child. Meanwhile, a young man is determined to free his people by killing the witch. And a volcano, dormant for centuries, rumbles within the earth… 

Of course, the story is so much more complex than one can blurb on a book jacket. Or back cover. And, say my writerly friends and colleagues, the story seems so much darker for adults than for children. It could be that we older folk have forgotten the portals to the world of magic, have forgotten the secret handshake and password. 

What I like love about this book:

As an emerging fiction writer who can't nail my character to a sheet of lined notebook paper, I fell in love with Kelly Barnhill's cast of characters:
  • A Grand Elder who is nothing more than a bully and a thug, scheming ways to consolidate and keep political power
  • A reluctant Elder-in-Training who prefers carpentry to politics
  • A witch who is short and squat and "a bit bulbous about the belly" - not only does she resemble people I know, but there's that fun bit of alliteration
  • A swamp monster with attitude - who else would have the chutzpah to roll his eyes at a witch?
  • A tiny dragon who believes it is Simply Enormous
  • An abandoned baby, enmagicked by accident
I love the way folk tales of the bog-people are woven through the book. And the origin story: In the beginning there was only Bog.

I love that the book is filled with more than magic; there are ethical questions that make you pause and ponder.

And I love the way each chapter has a title. Some could have come from my own experience, like this one: "In Which a Map is Rather Useless".

Beyond the Book: Check out Barnhill's essay, in which she finds things she did not expect! 

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, April 19, 2019

Get Geeked Out!

Geeked Out, a Lame New World
by Obert Skye
224 Pages, Ages 9-12
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 2018

I love a new series - especially when it contains the end of the world, the breakdown of society, and STEM connections. Plus zombies. And, as Obert Skye demonstrates, there is no better place to find all of these things than in a middle school. 

The Otto Waddle Jr. High Government Outpost, to be exact. Society may be in danger, but middle school must go on! At least that's Tip's perspective. 

Like middle schools everywhere, Otto Waddle is blessed with the usual cliques and clubs - though perhaps a bit more extreme than we're used to. There's Jocks, Sox, Goths, Loners, Freaks, Pens, and a few more. Then there's the Geeks. Tim's group of friends who are thinkers, not fighters: Owen, Xen, and Mindy. All members of the AV club who are tired of being picked on. So they plot a prank. It involves a pinata and lots of grease from the lunchroom. I won't go into the gross details; suffice it to say the prank goes horribly wrong.

Punishment is dealt. Vengeance sought. And somewhere along the line the friends decide to take a stand. They form a secret group, the League of Average Mediocre Entities (LAME). Because, seriously, who couldn't use a few heroes. What they lack in superpowers they make up for with science! All they lack are capes.

What I like about this book - besides the geek elements - is the laugh-out-loud humor and comic-style illustrations. This is the perfect book for car reading whilst driving to soccer/karate/orthodontic appointment...  You can read an excerpt of the book here. But I guarantee you're gonna want to read more.

And guess what! Volume two is coming out at the end of this month. Titled Bigger, Badder, Nerdier, it is guaranteed to be... ah. It's right there in the title! Because Otto Waddle Junior High School is worse than ever. Now that Tip and his LAME buddies finally come into their superpowers mediocre powers they have new bad guys to deal with.

You'll find an excerpt of the new book here.

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.