Friday, December 11, 2020

Back to the Wild Wood with Oddmire Book 2


The Oddmire, book two: The Unready Queen
by William Ritter 
320 pages; ages 8-12
Algonquin Young Readers (Workman), 2020

Things are finally getting back to normal for the human and goblin brothers Cole and Tinn. After their previous adventure in the Wild Wood they are back home and going to school (mo-o-om! we can walk to school by ourselves!). Working through lessons. Discovering girls. And, for Tinn, trying to learn how to control his goblin magic. Fortunately, he’s got a goblin mentor who teaches him howling and the stuff of goblin culture he missed by living amongst humans. Learning magic might be like learning how to swim… or at least learning to listen to the universe and accept what it provides when you need it.

Relations between the fay folk and humans is already stretched, but when a new guy arrives in town and begins hiring roustabouts for his drilling rig, things blow up. When the humans cut down the Grandmother Tree, a giant destroys the drilling rig.

It takes little effort for a sour old man to convince the townspeople that the Wild Wood’s magic is evil. And it looks as though the pixies and other magic folk have been doing more than the usual mischief. Are they trying to start a war with the humans? Or is someone going to great lengths to make it seem that way?

Cole, Tinn, the Wild Wood witch’s daughter Fable, and Evie (whose very presence causes Tinn to stutter) are drawn into the conflict even after promises made. For Cole and Tinn: promises to stay out of the Wild Wood. For Fable: promises to stay within the Wild Wood. At the end of it all the question remains: is it possible for people of two vastly different cultures to live together in respect and tolerance and understanding?

This is the story of:
reluctant heroes
a young queen who does not want to be a queen
a changeling trying to find himself 
a brother feeling left out
an artist who wants to see the magic
But mostly the strong bonds of friendship and family.

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.

I'm taking a winter break ~ so have a Joyous Solstice and a Merry New Year!
See you in January.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes

Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes (Book 4) 
by Trudi Trueit 
216 pages; ages 8 - 12 
Under the Stars (National Geographic), 2020

In this most recent addition to the Explorer Academy series, we travel across scorching sand and through steamy jungles across Africa. Cruz Coronado and his friends are on their fourth mission (we met them previously here and here). Now the Explorer Academy students have been called upon to help deliver medication that can treat and prevent a virus from spreading through the mountain gorilla population in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.

In the process, they discover that protecting the world’s threatened species can be a dangerous business.

Before they even begin the mission, Cruz is in trouble. While on an archaeological trip in Turkey, he decided to explore a cave by himself (breaking rule #1) and without telling the group leader (there goes rule #2). Now he’s at the bottom of a well, possibly pushed by an enemy trying to steal his journal. In Indiana Jones style, he manages to escape his predicament and get back to the group only to be tossed into yet another misadventure.

What I like about this book: In addition to mountain gorillas, the students get involved in creating a conservation plan for pangolins. There is a novel disease, requiring quarantine (this book hit the shelves days after our state began closing things and asking people to isolate). There are high-tech gadgets, nanobots, codes, puzzles, and tons of conservation science.

And no, I will not spoil the adventure. Suffice it to say this page-turner is laced with enough STEM stuff to (maybe) qualify for science class credit. Or at the very least inspire a few homeschooling kids to head out on a few explores of their own.

What’s really cool? There is a Field Journal for kids who want to be more involved in the Explorer Academy. Just sign in – there’s a Recruit Intake Form at the beginning – and pack your bags because the pages in this book take you on missions. You’ll explore your favorite spots, boldly plot future world travels, decipher a code, design a drone, and record your innermost thoughts and feelings along the way.

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 copies provided by Media Masters Publicity.

Friday, November 27, 2020

How to Build a Kitten Caboodle (maybe)


Clara Humble and the Kitten Caboodle 
by Anna Humphrey; illus. by Lisa Cinar 
232 pages; ages 8-12
Owlkids, 2020 (paperback; originally published 2018)

Clara and Bradley are best friends. They liked the same things (creamsicles and comic books) and went on adventures together. “But things took a turn for the worse when we began building the Kitten Caboodle…” she reflects.

To be honest, things had been changing. Bradley took up a new hobby (treasure hunting) and developed a friendship with another guy from treasure hunter camp. Still, Clara expected him to be just as excited as she was about their new project. She had discovered a lovely, and very pregnant, stray cat. In addition to food and water, the cat and her kittens needed shelter.

There was only one problem. Okay, there were a bunch of problems. But here’s the big one: the cat and kittens had taken up digs beneath a bench in the overgrown churchyard. And Clara wanted to build them a Kitten Caboodle – she had heard her dad talk about kitten caboodles. And she borrowed (without permission) tools and boards from her dad. And a construction company is getting ready to demolish the church to build new apartments.

Can Clara and Bradley keep the cats secret? Will Clara’s internet cat video raise enough money to save the day? Who does the mama cat belong to? And what the heck is a kitten caboodle anyway?

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, November 20, 2020

A Collie Called Sky

 Jasmine Green Rescues: A Collie Called Sky 
by Helen Peters; illus. by Ellie Snowdon 
160 pages; ages 7-9
Walker Books US,  2020

By now you know I have a soft spot for dog stories. Even better if they are rescues. 

Jasmine Green’s mother is a veterinarian and her father is a farmer. So when she finds an animal in need, not only does she know what to do but she also has room to care for it. One day Jasmine discovers a tiny pup hiding under a hedge on her family’s farm. The pup is dirty and hasn’t had anything to eat or drink in a long time. He is so weak he can barely lift his head.

Of course, Jasmine takes him home. With help from her mom and other vets she nurses the puppy back to health. This includes more than providing food and pats; Jasmine has to figure out to help the collie regain strength in his legs so he can stand. 
Meanwhile, the vet clinic is trying to locate the pet’s owner. Jasmine can only keep the dog if, after the allotted time, no one steps forward to claim him. 

What I like about this book: I love Jasmine’s compassion for animals, and her relationship with her family. She has a goal for her life: create an animal rescue sanctuary. I also like how she solves problems. There is, of course (this being a story of a collie) the obligatory rescue scene. And there are lots of ethical conundrums: should an owner who mistreats an animal be allowed to reclaim the dog? 

This book is part of a series, as Jasmine has also rescued a pig and duck. Look for another book this spring – Jasmine Green Rescues: A Goat Called Willow.

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, November 13, 2020

AstroNuts Blast Off Again!


AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet 
by Jon Scieszka; illus. by Steven Weinberg
228 pages; ages 8-12
Chronicle Books, 2020

Wildfires, floods, more hurricanes than we can name in a summer … in the midst of Climate Chaos wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a solution? Maybe a superhero to help us out?

Fortunately, the four super-powered animal astronauts who launched into space last year – and got captured on the Plant Planet – are belted in and ready for blast-off. Well, at least three of them have fastened their seatbelts.

Again, Earth narrates: “Time is wasting. And my climate is getting worse … And a lot of your human activities are messing with my water, which, as you know, is 71% of my surface.” 

So with ice melting, sea levels rising, coral reefs dying, and plastic pollution blemishing the oceans, the four brave and accident-prone heroes set off to seek a water planet. Something with enough land for terrestrial species. Something not too hot, not too cold, just right. A goldilocks planet.

Upon their arrival at a water planet they are heartily welcomed by a committee of clams. They are wined and dined and toured around (the best parts of) the planet. The clam committee (why, is that Senator Clam McConnell I see?) insist that their planet is perfect in every way. So why are they terribly eager to trade planets? Why are they plotting to cut off AlphaWolf’s paw? And why won’t they let the Astronuts conduct their scientific study of the planet?

And now, a word from our sponsor - Earth.

What I like about this book: I love the nuggets of science tucked into the nooks and crannies and sometimes splashed across entire spreads. I love the glitch computer and NNASA reports. And I really love that the clams have one leg, and represent historical figures: Susan B. Clamthony sports a delightful full-length boot and remains as activist as ever.

As with the first book, there’s a couple pages at the back that describe how the collage illustrations were created. And there’s 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, November 6, 2020

On Wings of Words


On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson
by Jennifer Berne; illus. by Becca Stadtlander
52 pages; ages 5-8
Chronicle Books, 2020

theme: biography, poetry, nature

 Soft moonlit snow draped the Dickinson house in white.

Emily Dickinson explored her world with her eyes and her ears and her thoughts. Bees, butterflies, birds … she found words for everything she discovered. And she wrote it down in poetry. She found words for the dark and scary things, too. She called her poems letters to the world. Some people thought Emily was weird, but she didn’t care – she just kept on scribbling poetry.

What I like about this book: I love the snippets of Emily’s poems lettered on the pages. And how, says author Jennifer Berne, in her poetry you can “hear Emily’s voice echoing through the years” and speaking to all of us who, with pen in hand, look deeply and write about what we discover.

Beyond the Books:

Read some more Emily Dickinson poems here and here.

Go on a poetry hike. When you see something you want to write about, take a few minutes to jot down some words. Emily Dickinson wrote about insects she saw, and birds tugging worms from the ground. Use all your senses - what you see, smell, feel (touch), hear – to write about your nature discovery.

Try writing different kinds of poems. Here’s one place to start.

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 30, 2020

A Really Rotten Halloween Story

Rotten Pumpkin 
by David Schwartz; photos by Dwight Kuhn
32 pages; ages 3-5
Creston Books, 2013

theme: Halloween, nature, STEM

Here I stand, bright with light, proud and round. 

This is a tale of the demise of a Halloween pumpkin. Jack, the pumpkin, is the first of 15 voices to tell the tale. He begins with his glory days, as a bright Jack-o-lantern. But once that flame is spent, he’s tossed unceremoniously back to the garden.

From there, various animals – and fungi – take over the tale. A mouse, squirrel, and slugs tell how they nibble, gnaw, and scrape the pumpkin shell. Insects and mold continue their cheerful tale of how they do in the rotting pumpkin.

But not everything rots away. A single seed survives and, covered with soil enriched by the rotted goo, sprouts. 

What I like about this book: The photos that document Jack’s decomposition are amazing to look at. Dwight Kuhn helps readers see beauty where others might just see a moldy mess. And David’s use of the different voices to tell the story allows us to think about nature in a different way. There’s also Back Matter! A glossary and three investigations that a curious nature lover might want to do with their past-prime Jack-o-lantern.

Beyond the Books:

If you forgot a seed or two when scooping out the gloppity gloop from the middle of your pumpkin, now’s a good time to rescue them. Rinse them off, let them dry, and then put them in an envelope. If you know what variety of pumpkin you have, write that on the envelope. Otherwise “pumpkin 2020” will do. Next spring, plant them and see what comes up.

Write a letter to – or from – your pumpkin about it’s very short life. Feel free to pull in some local animals to tell their side of the story.

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 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.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Chapter Books for the End of Summer

What I did on my Summer Vacation: in addition to reading picture books and a stack of novels (which I’ll share over time), I read bunches of chapter books. Here are a couple that are perfect for newly independent readers.

Charlie & Mouse Outdoors 
by Laurel Snyder; illus. by Emily Hughes
48 pages; ages 6-9
Chronicle Books, 2020

Charlie and Mouse are brothers – and if you know anything about brothers then you already know that 1+1 is more than 2. In this fourth book of the series, Charlie and Mouse take a quick hike, defeat a big lion, hide in a small tent, and have a marvelous outdoor adventure.

But first they have to survive a long and boring drive. “Why don’t you make up a story,” says Dad. Charlie tries. But it’s hard, so he looks out the window for inspiration. Then flights of fancy take over and soon he’s got imaginary animals engaged in battle.

What I like about this book: There are four chapters, each focusing on a specific part of Charlie and Mouse’s outdoor adventure. The language is perfect for children ready to move from beginning readers to a book with chapters. And the illustrations are engaging. Plus there’s plenty of room for a kid’s imagination to soar.

King & Kayla and the Case of the Unhappy Neighbor
by Dori Hillestad Butler; illus. by Nancy Meyers
48 pages; ages 7 - 9
Peachtree Publishing, 2020

What I love about the King & Kayla series is the way they begin. Each book starts, "Hello! My name is King. I'm a dog. This is Kayla. She is my human." And then they are doing something – and no matter what they are doing it is King’s favorite thing! In this book they’re heading out for a W-A-L-K (I’m spelling it out in case you’re reading this aloud and your fur-pup is sitting right there).

Then King learns that his little buddy, Thor is blamed for digging up a neighbor’s garden and getting into the trash. King is on the case!

What I like about this book: King investigates clues. The garbagy mess doesn’t look like the sort of thing Thor would leave, and Cat with No Name warns him to watch out for the new guy. Meanwhile Kayla and her friend are using science and detective logic to solve the mystery. I love that Kayla makes lists of what they know and what they don’t know. This is a fun book for beginning readers who like puzzles.

You can peek at more King & Kayla books at an earlier review here. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Friday, August 28, 2020

What's That Noise?

What's That Noise?
by Naomi Howarth
32 pages; ages 3 - 7
Candlewick, 2020

theme: Arctic animals, friends, problem-solving

Early one morning, while the sun was rising over the icy plains of the Arctic, a long, low rumbling sound woke Magnus from a very deep sleep.

What could it be? Hare has a good pair of ears. Maybe he can hear better. No luck, so they ask other friends to help figure out what the rumbling is. Could it be the trees creaking, the ice cracking, the wind moaning?

What I like about this book: It is a fun and noisy book, and I love the surprise at the end. I also like how the back endpages are put to use presenting more information about the Arctic animals featured in the book.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about animals that live in the Arctic. Here's a good place to start.

Check out these Arctic Animal Sounds here.

Make a Mask of an Arctic Animal. Want to be a polar bear? Here's how to make a mask. Here's instructions for a Puffin mask. Or be creative and make a walrus mask or a snowshoe hare mask.

In September we'll join 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, August 21, 2020

Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention

Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention 
by Pip Jones; illus. by Sara Ogilvie
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
Peachtree Publishing, 2020

theme: STEM, invention, problem-solving

Izzy Gizmo and Fixer were making a racket inventing a So-Sew to fix Grandpa’s jacket, when
went the bell on the door, and a golden note fluttered down to the floor.

That golden note is an invitation to the annual invention convention. Even though her inventions don’t always work, Izzy and Grandpa set off to Technoff Isle. Izzy has an idea, but other competitors take the best tools and supplies. When Izzy discovers a trove of cast-off broken tools that only need repair, she comes up with a new invention.

What I like about this book: Things go wrong, as they do when one is inventing something new. And Izzy ignores what her buddy, Fixer is trying to tell her until… it makes sense. Oh, and did I forget to say that Fixer is a crow whose wing Izzy repaired using her inventive ideas?

Beyond the Books:

Think of something you use and ask: How could we do this better? How could we do this faster? Write or draw your ideas.

Start with materials in your recycling bin. Think of ways you could use plastic bottles to bring light into a tree fort or shelter. Or how you could use those discards to capture the wind. Draw or write your ideas.

Make an Inventor Took Kit. Fill it with needle nose pliers, wire strippers, screwdrivers, alligator clips, wires, batteries, small motors and solar panels, rubber bands, electrical tape, maybe a hot glue gun.

In September we'll join 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, July 3, 2020

Time for Summer Reading...

Perhaps I got a bit carried away last month... when the libraries were closed and I worried I would run out of books.

Plus I still have a bunch of books in my "to be reviewed" basket. So .... 

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.
See you in August. Happy Book Adventures!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Dogs at Work and Play

Sally’s Bookshelf is Going To the Dogs – all month long. Today I’m sharing two spring releases from National Geographic Children’s Books.

theme: dogs, nonfiction

Doggy Defenders: Cadi the Farm Dog 
by Lisa M. Gerry; photographs by Lori Epstein
48 pages; ages 4 - 8

Cadi is a border collie. She lives on a farm with her family, the Bakers.

Like everyone else on the farm, Cadi has a job to do. Her job: take care of the cows. When she’s not herding cows, Cadi checks up on the other farm animals – the goats, ducks, chickens – and helps keep an eye on the vegetable garden.

What I like about this book: Cadi is much like our neighbor’s farm dog, Spencer. He “helps” with so many things, but his big job is making sure the chickens are safe. So I totally love seeing a book about farm dogs. I also like the back matter. One spread features a Q&A with Jessie Baker, the farmer and another is “Cadi’s Animal Care Tips” to help young readers learn how to be better friends with animals. This book is part of the Doggy Defenders series featuring Dolley the Fire Dog, Stella the Search Dog, Tiger the Police Dog, and Willow the Therapy Dog. I’m looking forward to more books in the series.

Just Joking Dogs 
by National Geographic Kids
208 pages; ages 8 - 12

The title says it all: it is page after belly-laugh page of dog jokes. Here’s a couple:

What kind of dog works in a library?
A hush puppy!

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Pup who?
Pup-eroni pizza.

And there’s even a joke for our neighbor’s farm dog:
Why did the dog cross the road?
He was following the chickens.

Beyond the Books:

Make up your own dog joke or two. If you need help, ask a dog! If you don’t have a dog, ask your friend’s dog. A stuffed dog will do in a pinch.

Next time you’re out and about, pay attention to the kinds of dogs you see. You might see dogs playing Frisbee in a park, or taking their humans for a walk. Or you might see dogs on the job, such as a farm dog or service animal.

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 Media Masters Publicity.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Sit. Stay. Read.

Sally’s Bookshelf is Going To the Dogs – all month long. So today I’m pulling one of my favorites – a great summer read that was published last August.

by Bobbie Pyron
304 pages; ages 8 - 12
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019

I am a Bobbie Pyron fan. What can I say? I love her dog stories and can never resist just one more… and this one hit close to home. Because that’s what it’s about, at its core: finding home.

Piper, who’s not-quite-twelve, and her family arrive in a new city by bus. The buildings are tall, sunlight fills the sky, and mountains in the distance nearly poke through the blue and into heaven. A new start, but when her family arrives at the address for Hope House, they find a hotel-like emergency center – and daddy has to live apart from them, in the men’s residence.

Baby is luckier – he gets to live with his person, Jewel, in a park. Every day presents a new chance to explore the city. They have a corner where Jewel sits, and some people give her money or food, and others yell at her to get a job. But always, they have each other and the park. Life is good, but something is not right with Jewel.

Using alternate points of view, Piper and Baby, Pyron dives into a tale of what family means. What friendship means. And what kids can do to make the world a better place, even when they don’t have a home to call their own.

What I like about this book: I love the sense of place. Bobbie sets the story in a place so real that you can find it on a map. And even though it’s been years since I lived there (and downtown landmarks have changed) I could visualize the paths she walked through the park and the corners where Jewel and her comrades fly their signs.

I love how real each character is. And, as a once and future Girl Scout, I really love that Piper gets involved with the “Firefly Girls” - and that their service project embraces finding a way to reconnect Jewel with Baby while raising awareness about mental health issues and homelessness.

If I gave out stars, Stay would get an entire Kibble’s box worth.

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 my personal library.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Dog Finds the Gold!

This month Sally’s Bookshelf is Going To the Dogs! This week we’re going on an adventure – to the California Gold Rush.

Bo-Bo's Cave of Gold (At the Heels of History)
by Pam Berkman and Dorothy Hearst; illus. by Claire Powell
192 pages; ages 6 - 9
Margaret K. McElderry Books (S&S), 2020

It’s 1852 in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. Sage has been kicked out of the pack. “You’re weak,” snarls the pack leader. “We have no place for a dog who puts some scraggly two-legged creature ahead of her own pack.”

Now, a moon’s cycle later, she is accosted by a mouthy parrot. It nips her tail. It jabs her paw. It calls her names (silly, sad-faced, soggy dog!) – and eventually leads Sage to a stream where a boy is trying to move a big rock in a river. The boy, Sheng, is searching for gold, with his father and uncle. With his mind on finding gold, the boy gives the dog a new name: Bo-Bo, little treasure. But will Sage/Bo-Bo be strong enough to help?

A bear escapes, some bad guys want to jump Sheng’s family claim, and Sheng and Bo-Bo must find gold to pay back a debt. Of course there’s a cave, rattlesnakes (what would a western be without snakes?) and a treasure map.

What I like about this book: It is fun to read! And it’s an engaging story – especially if you love stories about heroic dogs. I also like that there is back matter. An author’s note spills the beans about the facts behind the story, and raises a few questions. For example: prospecting is hard work, and most folks who flocked to the gold rush never struck it rich. And yes, thousands of men traveled from China to the gold fields. They left China to escape war and famine, only to face racism in America. Not only did Chinese prospectors have to pay a “foreign miners” tax, white prospectors harassed them and sometimes stole their claims.

The authors also discuss the impact of the Gold Rush on Indigenous people and African Americans, as well as what a dog’s life would be like in California at that time.

Bo-Bo's Cave of Gold  is second in the series that began with Filigree's Midnight Ride (I reviewed that one in December). There will be more in the series - great stories for kids who love dogs and long for adventures that Might Really Have Taken Place....  Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Such a Good Boy!

This month Sally’s Bookshelf is Going To the Dogs! So of course I'm starting with one called Such a Good Boy! Because, really, how could I resist? Look for doggy books all month long.

theme: dogs

Such a Good Boy
by Marianna Coppo
48 pages; ages 5 - 8
Chronicle Books, 2020

This is Buzz. Come here, Buzz! Good Boy.

Buzz has a good life. He lives in a fancy house, eats nutritious food, and is pampered well cared for. He takes his people for walks every day, and on Sundays he gets to go to the dog park! As long as he stays on a leash… because those other dogs could be mean or scary. And then one day, Buzz finds the right door open and he’s free!

What I like about this book: I love that Marianna Coppo asks really important questions, like what does it mean to be a “good boy?” And what sorts of considerations go into life-altering decisions such as whether to return home or explore the outside world? And I like the end pages: the front endpapers are filled with trophies and doggy toys; the back papers are filled with sticks, puddles, and adventure.

Yoga Animals: A Wild Introduction to Kid-Friendly Poses 
by Paige Towler
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2020

While not a dog story, this book does introduce kids to the Downward Dog pose, along with several other “wild” yoga poses. Rhyming couplets, paired with photos of animals, will have kids bending and stretching, reaching and curling, and definitely moving. A great companion for quarantine, because yoga doesn’t take much room. Plus, it helps reduce stress – something we can all use. Kids will learn to bend like a gorilla, balance like a flamingo, slide like a cobra, and stretch like a puppy.

Beyond the Books:

What does it mean to be a “good” dog – or kid? What are the sorts of things that are considered “good” behavior in your home?

Design a park for dogs to play in. What sort of things would you want in a park if you were a dog? If you need some ideas, check out these dog parks.

Stretch like a puppy. If you have never done a downward dog pose, here’s how to do it. And sure, go ahead and bark! Such a gooood boy!

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 29, 2020

Perfect bedtime stories

These two books from Chronicle are perfect bedtime reads. Quiet enough to relax, but with enough curiosity to make you think.

theme: family, friendship

Over the Moon
by James Proimos; illus. by Zoey Abbott
44 pages; ages 3 - 5
Chronicle Books, 2020

When a baby floats down a river, she doesn’t think about her place in the world.

And when two wolves sit on the river’s edge, it’s a pretty good bet that one of them is thinking about dinner. So what happens when a baby floats by? The wolves scoop her up and take her home and “teach her about good and evil, dark and light, right and wrong.” Even though one of the wolves is still thinking about dinner.

What I like about this book: This is such a sweet story, perfect for sharing before bedtime. I like how the girl learns to live as a wolf, and then one day discovers something new! Other children. She wants to join them, and when she leaves even the second wolf sheds a tear. But family is family, so she will return because she has learned about good and evil, light and dark…

Tiny T. Rex and the Very Dark Dark
by Jonathan Stutzman; illus. by Jay Fleck
48 pages; ages 3 - 5
Chronicle Books, 2020

It is our first campout in the backyard, and we are nervous.

Tiny (a T-rex) and his stegasaurus buddy, Pointy, are going to camp outside. But even mighty dinosaurs get scared if they can’t sleep with their “nighty-lights”. It is very dark outside, and hard to be brave when you are scared of Nom-bies and Crawly-creeps.

What I like about this book: Tiny and Pointy come up with a plan. It involves a hiding fort, Christmas tree lights, and plenty of snacks. It is a good plan until – something goes wrong and everything is very dark! But Tiny finds some night light …. in a place he hadn’t expected.

Beyond the Books:

Draw a plan for a hiding fort – and then build it. Think about materials you have at hand: blankets, pillows, tables and chairs…

Imagine what your life would be like if you were adopted by wolves - or some other wild creature. Draw a picture or write about your adopted family. What makes them "the best"?

If you’re going to sleep outside, you need to make s’mores. You need: marshmallows, chocolate candy bar, and graham crackers. If you have a campfire, toast marshmallows and put them on a slice of candy bar between two graham cracker halves. Otherwise, put a marshmallow on a graham cracker half and pop it into the microwave for 10 seconds or so. Then put on the chocolate and the other cracker half and yummmmm!

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 publisher.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World 
by Karen Rivers 
304 pages; ages 8 - 12 years
Algonquin Young Readers, 2019

I love a good Karen Rivers middle-grade novel, so I read Naked Mole Rat Saves the World as soon as it came out last fall. And then put it on my desk to be reviewed. And stacked stuff on top.

This week, during an archaeological excavation of my office, guess what I unearthed? The cover is still bright blue, the lettering still shiny, bold yellow.

Twelve-year-old kit (yes, lower case k) was born small enough to fit in her mom’s hands - like a naked, wrinkled, hairless animal baby. Her life is full of normal twelve-year-old stuff: roller-skating, star-watching, volunteering at the animal shelter, and hanging out at the flea market with her best friend, Clem. kit lives with her mom, and her mom lives with a lot of fears: cancer, bad guys, crowds, traffic, spiders … the list is long and always growing.

kit's life is perfectly normal until one day ... it isn’t. The day Clem, part of an acrobatic family, falls during a TV performance. kit, watching her friend on TV, has a panic attack. Her eyesight gets blurry, her hand looks like a squashed grey leaf with wrinkly skin … she’s turned into a rodent. Maybe. Or maybe she imagined it. She even googles “hyperventilating and turning into a rodent” on her computer – is it some sort of superpower? (and if so, seriously? being a naked mole rat?)

In chapters that alternate between kit’s point of view and Clem’s, we are pulled into a story about growing and changing. kit is full of questions: why do people change? does everyone change? do we all turn into different animals, and is that a part of puberty?

But mostly, this is a story about friends who grow apart, then back together, and how hard it is to navigate through life.

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 15, 2020

Armchair Traveling with books

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was pretend I was exploring new places. These two books provide plenty of armchair traveling, from a small town to around the world.

Theme: geography, community, storytelling

All Around Bustletown: Spring
by Rotraut Susanne Berner 
14 pages; ages  2-5
Prestel, 2020

Usually I begin with the first lines of a picture book. But this book is a wordless board book filled with such detail that you’re sure to find a new story each time you open it up. Spring has come to Bustletown, and Grandma is off for a hike. George is cleaning the house, Clara is riding a scooter through town, and … what is the fox doing?

What I like about this book: From one spread to the next, you can follow the various characters around Bustletown – to the farmer’s market, the metro, the town square, the park. Along the way, you might notice that the new Kindergarten is finally under construction.

The cool thing: this book is part of a series showing the seasons of Bustletown. So if you have all four, you can see how the town is changing over time. In Winter, a steam shovel was breaking new ground for the Kindergarten, In Spring the bricklayers are putting up the walls. By Summer they’re putting solar panels on the roof and planting gardens, and Fall shows children getting ready for a parade. Each spread contains so many potential stories that kids will want to return to them again and again.

Little Kids First Big Book of Where
by Jill Esbaum
128 pages; ages 4-8
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2020

You know when you open a National Geographic book, you are heading off on an adventure. This one takes you all around the world in four chapters exploring natural wonders, animals, inventions, and cool places to visit. The pages are filled with colorful photos, pop-up facts, interactive questions, hands-on activities, and a map-themed activity at the end of each chapter.

What I like about this book: Each spread introduces a topic with a question:

  • Where is the Longest River? (Is it the Nile or the Amazon?)
  • Where does the loudest insect live? (with instructions for how to make your own loud insect noise)
  • Where was pizza invented? (with a list of interesting toppings from around the world)
  • Where are the twistiest roads?

And of course, there is Back Matter! Tips for parents to help their children travel, whether in real life or virtually. Activities range from geography to math to art to science.

Beyond the Books:

Explore your town – or your neighborhood. If you have a camera, take photos of certain places at different times of the year. Or draw a picture of what you see. Are new buildings going up? Are people planting gardens or selling tomatoes? How do things change from spring to summer and from summer to fall and winter?

Explore the world. Look at a globe or atlas and make a list of places to visit.

  • Make yourself a Passport. You’ll need a cover, and some interior pages. On one page you need your photo and address. The other pages are for collecting “stamps” from the countries you virtually visit.
  • Using books, old National Geographic magazines, or online resources, visit one of the countries on your list of places to see. See if you can find any virtual museums to visit. If you can find a map, trace your travels. When you’re finished visiting, have someone in your family draw a Visa stamp in your passport. Then head off to explore another place on your list.

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 8, 2020

Want a Pet? Invent one!

by Vicky Fang; illus. by Tidawan Thaipinnarong
32 pages; ages 3 - 7
Sterling Children's Books, 2020

Invent-a-Pet won’t be released until June, but I wanted to share it before it got buried in the book basket.

theme: problem-solving, STEAM, pets

Katie was an ordinary girl who longed for an extraordinary pet.

Goldfish are too common. Katie wants something unique. Spectacular! So when a machine shows up at her home, Katie tries it out. There are three openings for feeding things into the machine, conveniently labeled “input”. And there’s a lever to pull. So Katie puts in a soccer ball, a blade of grass, and a carrot just to try it out. Then she pulls the lever and out pops a green, round bunny. Aha! she thinks. Now she can make the perfect pet.

What I like about this book: I like that Katie tries to create the perfect pet. She puts in things that she thinks will create a dragon – but other creatures come out. “How does this thing even work?” she asks. I like how Katie uses deductive reasoning to figure out how each input controls a specific variable: size, color, animal. I like how she changes one variable at a time on the machine and keeps notes until she figures out how the machine works. And I like seeing her final “equation” (or set of inputs) for the perfect pet.

I managed to catch up with Vicky by email for One Question:

Sally: What ingredients would YOU put into the Invent-a-Pet machine - and what would your unique pet look like?

Vicky: Ah, I love this question! And surprised I hadn’t thought of an answer before!
A football. A striped grey sock. A ball of yarn.
PUFF! A small, striped, grey kitten!
(Really, I've never had a kitten and I'd like one. And I think they're perfectly extraordinary just the way they are.)

Beyond the Books:

What, for you, makes an animal the “perfect” pet? Draw a picture of your perfect animal companion.

Design a machine to create the perfect pet. Raid the recycling bin and try building a model of your machine. Then write down a list of potential features of pets (size, color, habitat, diet, kind of animal) and then determine what three variables (inputs) to add to your machine.

Vicky is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

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, May 1, 2020

Like the Moon Loves the Sky

Like the Moon Loves the Sky
by Hena Khan; illus. by Saffa Khan
40 pages; ages 3 - 5 years
Chronicle Books, 2020

theme: family, love, multicultural

Inshallah you are all that is gentle and good.

From the first page to the last, this book shares and celebrates author Hena Khan’s daily for her children. It also shares the joy of a mother-child relationship. Each line is grounded in a verse from the Quran, while illustrations show a child growing up as we go page by page. It is a lovely bedtime story, and reading it is like curling up in a warm hug of unconditional love.

What I like about this book: I love that this book is straight from the heart. Inshallah – god willing – we would wish all of these things for our children: that they grow into strong and kind beings, travel to new places, know that they are loved. I think it is a perfect story for sharing Muslim family traditions, and for families looking for diverse picture books – even when it’s not Ramadan.

I love the author’s note that Henna includes at the beginning, in which she explains the phrase “inshallah” and how people of many faiths reflect on a greater force than themselves. She shares how, as a parent, her prayers and wishes for her children are often intertwined.

And did I mention the narrative of the illustrations, showing the child growing over time? Illustrator Saffa Khan, who is a print maker, uses digital art for the book – every bit as bold and colorful as her prints.

Beyond the Books:

Explore printmaking. Printmaking is a way of producing art by transferring an image from one surface to another. Think: woodcuts, engraving, linoleum blocks. Here are some fun ways to make prints using things you might find around the house.

Try your hand at writing a prayer or meditation or wishes for your family. Maybe you hope they stay as strong as trees, or are able to learn new things with the flexibility of a willow bending in the wind.

Learn about Ramadan with this video. And check out the kid-friendly crafts here.

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.