Friday, March 27, 2015

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Rescue on the Oregon Trail by Kate Messner (time travel)


ABOUT THE BOOK

Meet Ranger! He's a time-traveling golden retriever who has a nose for trouble . . . and always saves the day!

Ranger has been trained as a search-and-rescue dog, but can't officially pass the test because he's always getting distracted by squirrels during exercises. One day, he finds a mysterious first aid kit in the garden and is transported to the year 1850, where he meets a young boy named Sam Abbott. Sam's family is migrating west on the Oregon Trail, and soon after Ranger arrives he helps the boy save his little sister. Ranger thinks his job is done, but the Oregon Trail can be dangerous, and the Abbotts need Ranger's help more than they realize.


REVIEW

Time travel has long been a staple of the science fiction/fantasy genre both for adults and for children.  But this is the first time I've read a book that focused on an animal time-traveling.  It creates an interesting conundrum for the animal since Ranger, a dog, can't explain to himself or to his new companions what happened and where he came from.  I liked the fact that Ranger's skills in tracking and finding are clearly explained by his search-and-rescue training.

The time travel elements are kept simple which is appropriate for a book for the 7-10 age group.  More sophisticated readers might desire more explanation but for young readers it's best not to get bogged down in details.  The book moves smoothly and quickly through the plot which will keep children turning pages. This new series I think will be a fun way to introduce young readers to just how interesting the past can be, in this case the pioneers who traveled across the plains to find a new life for themselves.  The author includes many of the dangers that these pioneers faced such as buffalo stampedes, dangerous river crossings, and disease (including death).  And yet the troubles Ranger and his adopted family face don't overwhelm the book.  And Ranger despite his new attachments never forgets Luke and his original home.

The book works well as a read-a-loud and would make for an excellent introduction to historical fiction while including a science fiction twist that will draw readers into the story.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Wisdom of Merlin by T.A. Barron Review with Interview and Giveaway!


ABOUT THE BOOK

A book of advice from Merlin, the greatest wizard of all time

Based on an address he gave to students at the University of Oxford in 2013, T.A. Barron, author of the New York Times bestselling Merlin Saga, channels the wizard Merlin and offers advice on how to live a meaningful life. Divided into sections, each revolving around a magical word, this book poetically explores the concepts of Gratitude, Courage, Knowledge, Belief, Wonder, Generosity, Hope, and Love.

A gem of inspiration, this is the perfect graduation gift, sure to encourage readers of all ages to live life to the fullest.


REVIEW

This is a thought-provoking little book told in Merlin's voice.  Here we learn the power of gratitude, courage, knowledge, belief, wonder, generosity, hope, and love.  Each section contains a short scene with Merlin followed by Merlin explaining the importance of the chosen concept.  This makes for a sweet gift book that reminds us all of the importance of the values we choose to exhibit in our own lives.  A book that demonstrates beautifully just what a meaningful life can be.

INTERVIEW


What led you to a writing career?

I’ve always loved writing and telling stories.  I wrote stories and poems since I was a kid, even writing and illustrating a silly little magazine in middle school called “The Idiot’s Odyssey”.  My first novel, written after college during a year of far-flung travels in Asia and Africa, didn’t exactly get a great reception:  It got rejected by every publisher who saw it (32 of them).  Ten years later, when I was president of a business in New York, I still yearned to write.  Often I’d get up at 4 a.m. to write, and I’d also scribble ideas during meetings or in the back of taxis. Finally I had to make a choice – to do what I love best, because life is just too short not to follow your passions. So I had the fun of shocking my partners by telling them that I was going to quit my job, move back to Colorado, and see if I could try to write something that somebody might like to read.  Well, that was 24 years ago – and 30 books ago.  More good things have happened in that time than I could ever have guessed.  But the best thing of all is to know that I’m doing something I truly love.  So I feel deeply grateful that life has worked out this way!

Why did you decide to write about Merlin and what intrigues you most about him?

It all started with a dream. Back in 1993, I dreamed of a boy, half-drowned and barely alive, who washed ashore on a strange rocky coastline. He was weak, nauseous, and terribly confused. Not to mention utterly lost and alone. But he was also something else – the boy who would someday be called Merlin, the original wizard who has inspired stories worldwide for centuries. Merlin has incredible depth, and the reason he endures is because he speaks to so many of our basic human struggles – such as how do we find the courage to reach for our highest aspirations, how do we give our lives meaning, and how do we live peacefully with the natural world that sustains us. For the young Merlin I write about to grow into that exulted wizard of Arthurian lore, he has to learn several things along the way. He must learn about love, grief, compassion, transformation, power, and humility.

This young boy who becomes the greatest wizard of all times is, most of all, a story that I hope people of all ages will enjoy.  But it’s also a metaphor – that all of us, whatever our backgrounds, have a magical person hidden down inside of ourselves.  Just like that boy who washed ashore on the first page of the Merlin Saga, each of us feels “washed ashore” at some point in our lives.  And each of us, just like that boy, has some special magic of our own!

Tell us about the Barron Prize and what you've learned from it?

The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which I named in honor of my mother, celebrates outstanding kids of all descriptions who have made a positive difference to people and our planet. The whole purpose of the Prize is to turn the spotlight on these amazing kids who are really making a difference – in the hope that their stories will inspire other kids to do the same. 

Why is this important?  Today’s young people get all kinds of conflicting messages about the difference between a hero and a celebrity.  In our culture, we hear lots about celebrities – and very little about the unsung heroes who really hold our world together.  To my mind, parents and teachers and other individuals who go that extra mile to help others really are heroes.  So are the kids we honor with the Prize.

Young people deserve to hear about real, live kids who are making a difference – kids who have discovered that they have the power to act on their ideals. The Prize is now in its 15th year,  and every year we honor 25 kids from all around North America.   I am amazed by the quality of these kids – their courage, compassion, and perseverance is truly inspiring. These are young people who have faced their own struggles;  just like Merlin they have been washed ashore in one form or another in their lives. But they pick themselves up, dry off, and go right back to work helping other people. They make the world a better place somehow, and they do it not because there was some school project or to get a merit badge but because they just simply wanted to help. If anybody had ever told these kids “You don’t matter” or “You can’t make a difference,” they never believed it! And you see that result today. These kids see their lives as a kind of energy – and they just want to take that energy, give it to the world, and try to make all our lives a little better. 

What's something about yourself that most people don't know?

I still write all my books by hand.  Yes, even those big fat novels like The Great Tree of Avalon I scrawled with my left hand holding a blue felt pen.  Why, in this high tech age, would anyone do such a crazy thing?  Because the chemistry just works for me.  Maybe it brings me back to the creative mindset of when I was a boy sitting under a ponderosa pine tree on my family’s ranch in Colorado.  Writing by hand slows me down – which helps me to hear better the language of people and also to describe better the poetry of places.  That’s why, in my writing room in our house in Boulder, Colorado, I’m often writing by hand all day long (and then icing my wrist at night).  After my first draft is fully composed, I will then transfer that to a computer and do my editing electronically.  While I know this system isn’t the most efficient, it has worked for me for 24 years – and 30 books – so I’m sticking with it.

GIVEAWAY

1 copy of The Wisdom of Merlin
US only

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Sona and the Wedding Game by Kashmira Sheth


ABOUT THE BOOK

Sona's big sister is getting married and she's been given an important job to do. She has to steal the groom's shoes. She's never attended a wedding before, so she's unfamiliar with this Indian tradition as well as many of the other magical experiences that will occur before and during the special event. But with the assistance of her annoying cousin Vishal, Sona finds a way to steal the shoes and get a very special reward.

Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR

 
Kashmira Sheth is the author of the picture books Monsoon Afternoon and My Dadima Wears a Sari, as well as the award-winning young adult novels Blue Jasmine and Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet. She lives in Wisconsin.

You can visit Kashmira Sheth’s website here.

Author PhotoABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

Yoshiko Jaeggi's work has appeared in Cricket Magazine. She is the illustrator of Monsoon Afternoon and My Dadima Wears a Sari. She lives in Maryland.

REVIEW

I always look forward to books like this one because they introduce me to traditions outside of my own.  And Sona and the Wedding Game is a delightful introduction to some of the traditions related to Indian weddings.  I appreciated the author's note at the end that explained her own experiences with Indian weddings, where the idea for the book came from and the fact that different areas and people of Indian practice differing traditions.

Sona is excited to be a part of her sister's wedding, but when she is told that as a part of the ceremony she is supposed to steal the groom's shoes, she becomes uncertain about her role.  But with the help of a mischievous cousin, she just might pull it off and bargain for something she wants to boot. The details of the wedding are smoothly integrated into the telling of the story making it flow really well.  The detailed illustrations are fascinating and offer a glimpse into the work that goes into making the wedding such an amazing event.  A fun, informative book about children being children within the traditions of their culture.  I also thought it was an interesting note that Sona isn't completely familiar with the Indian wedding traditions because she's never been to one before.  This reminds the reader that so much of what we consider culture is learned and that if it isn't taught it will in time be lost.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW and Party Guide w/ GIVEAWAY: P. Zonka Lays an Egg by Julie Paschkis


ABOUT THE BOOK

Extraordinary hen P. Zonka spends her time taking in the beauty around her: shiny green grass, buttery yellow dandelions, deep blue sky. The other hens can't understand why she never lays eggs like they do. Finally, P. Zonka gives in and lays an egg. To everyone's delight, she produces a wondrous egg containing all the colors and designs that she stores in her imagination.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR

Julie Paschkis attended Cornell University and the School for American Craftsmen at RIT, where she earned a BFA. She taught art to grade school children for several years while working on her own art and illustration. Julie now works full-time painting, creating commercial illustrations, and illustrating children's books. Some of her books include Albert the Fix-It Man; Where Is Catkin?; Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella; and Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary. She lives in Washington.
You can visit Julie Paschkis’s website here.

P. ZONKA'S EGG-STRAVAGANZA

Check out the event guide for throwing a pysanky party!

REVIEW

My favorite part of this book is definitely the bright, beautiful, delightfully wondrous and yes, spectacular illustrations.  The theme of 'stopping to smell the roses' certainly doesn't hurt anything though.  While all the other chickens lay eggs regularly, P. Zonka does not, she prefers to wander the barnyard admiring the sky and the flowers, and the sky.   But when the other chickens push her into giving egg-laying a try, the results surpass everyone's expectations.  The rooster named Gloria was a nice humorous touch. But my favorite part was still looking at the gorgeous illustrations. Perfect for sharing at Easter or anytime really.  I also loved the connection to Ukrainian holiday traditions.

GIVEAWAY

1 print copy of P. Zonka Lays an Egg
Continental US only


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 23, 2015

MMGM: The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett


ABOUT THE BOOK

Miles Murphy is not happy to be moving to Yawnee Valley, a sleepy town that’s famous for one thing and one thing only: cows. In his old school, everyone knew him as the town’s best prankster, but Miles quickly discovers that Yawnee Valley already has a prankster, and a great one. If Miles is going to take the title from this mystery kid, he is going to have to raise his game.

It’s prankster against prankster in an epic war of trickery, until the two finally decide to join forces and pull off the biggest prank ever seen: a prank so huge that it would make the members of the International Order of Disorder proud.

In The Terrible Two, bestselling authors and friends Mac Barnett and Jory John have created a series that has its roots in classic middle-grade literature yet feels fresh and new at the same time.


REVIEW

Out of the many, many books I've read over my lifetime, I can safely say that I've never read one quite like The Terrible Two.  Which isn't two surprising considering Mac Barnett is one of the authors.  His books are always a bit wacky, in a fun way of course.  I'm not particularly big on pranks myself, I think they cause too much trouble, but I did quite enjoy this book.  The magnitude and quality of the pranks that Miles and his opponent conjure up are quite impressive.  It would be easier to be sympathetic to the target of most of these pranks (Principal Barkin) if he wasn't such a unlikeable character.  This is definitely one of those kids versus adults sort of books, which child readers will love and will lead adult readers to roll their eyes at the absurdity of it all (and maybe chuckle a little off to the side).  The illustrations add a nice touch, emphasizing the ridiculousness of it all.



Friday, March 20, 2015

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Brixen Witch by Stacy DeKeyser


ABOUT THE BOOK

An enchanted coin. A witch's curse. And rats, rats everywhere! What's a boy to do?

When Rudi Bauer finds a witch's coin, he unleashes her curse. Can he defeat the witch and her evil servant? Will Rudi--with help from an unexpected ally--set things right before it's too late?

REVIEW

Fairy tale retellings have been popular for a long time, especially familiar tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast.  The Pied Piper is a fairy tale that isn't as well known nor is it retold as often (I know of only three retellings including this one). Like many retellings, The Brixen Witch uses the basic storyline involving the main characteristics of the original fairy tale but also includes a number of differences.

The similarities between this story and the original Pied Piper include rats (lots of rats!), a fiddler demanding a large payment, and the leading away of the children.

The differences are what makes this story stand out.  Rudi makes for an interesting main character as it's his mistake that helps create many of the problems that occur.  The inclusion of the witch and her servant throws in a lot of complications and motivations that don't exist in the original story.  I personally found the witch to be the most intriguing character, especially once Rudi meets her. The other secondary characters though play important roles, especially the adults in the village.  Adults don't always play a strong role in fairy tale retellings, but they do in this one.  I especially loved the way the story ended, in an unpredictable way.  Lots of fun here for readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings with a bit of spice.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

COUNTDOWN TO A MEANINGFUL LIFE: One Last Word




“Countdown to a Meaningful Life”
One Last Word: Love

For seven weeks, we have focused on seven magical words that took your readers and followers on an inspiring journey. You thought with the seventh word, the campaign was over… but think again.

There is one last word that flows through each of the seven magical words and which Merlin considers “the most magical word of all”: Love.


Excerpt from THE WISDOM OF MERLIN:

·         “Love is an invitation, not a command. But if you truly open yourself to its power, you will be swept away as if you had plunged into a mighty river.”

·         “Love is a rope that can stretch itself infinitely. It can connect you to one person or many people. Its strength can link you forever to a place, a time, an experience, or an idea.”

·         “How do you express love? Through words and music and touch—really, through any kind of communication. The most powerful way, though, is simply how you live.”


One final quote from T.A. Barron:

“All we have—all we have—is our time and our souls.  Why not make the most of both of them?”

The Impact of Love on History:

·         The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships- According to Greek mythology, the Trojan War was fought when the exquisitely beautiful Helen fell in love and ran away with Paris of Troy. To reclaim his wife, the King of Sparta went to war with Troy for ten long years, eventually winning Helen back from Paris.

·         Love and the British Monarchy- One of the greatest love stories in British history is between Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. Having made Albert her king in all but name, the couple reigned as one for 40 years. It was a time of technological innovation and advancement in human rights for Great Britain.


Great Gifts of Love:

·         The Taj Mahal - Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb and monument to his beloved wife, the Taj Mahal took 20 years and thousands of workers to build.

·         Boldt Castle - George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, ordered the construction of a grand castle as a present to his wife, Louise. Situated on a heart shaped island, the unfinished castle was left abandoned after Louise unexpectedly passed away. 
We thank you for taking this journey with us!

While this is a great post with some great stories.  I have a different take on what love really is and giant buildings and wars aren't it.  For me love is about the little things, comforting someone when sick, standing by someone during the really challenging times, and respecting and honoring that person at all times through gifts of time and service. Please feel free to share your own thoughts on what you feel love to be.

Stay tuned for next week's post with a review and guest post.

THE LITTLEST BUNNY series Spotlight plus Giveaway


ABOUT THE BOOK

Each book in The Littlest Bunny Series features art and text created especially for a specific state or city, including all 50 states as well as cities in Canada.

Join Flop as he travels in an air balloon full of Easter eggs and visits some of your favorite landmarks, including famous sites like the Statue of Liberty in New York, California’s Hollywood sign, the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan, Georgia’s Fox Theater, Churchill Downs in Kentucky, and many more. Books also feature an Easter egg hunt game that invites kids to search for hidden eggs on each page.

REVIEW

The personalized nature of The Littlest Bunny in Utah intrigued me from the start.  The process sounded like a lot of work and undoubtedly it was, but much of the book clearly remains consistent from book to book.  The addition of landmarks from Utah and specific references to cities did add a nice touch and will thrill young readers. The hidden Easter eggs will be eagerly sought for by the kindergarten crowd making for a great counting activity.  The illustrations are adorable and while the landmarks seem to be digitally added to the pages (it would be impractical to do it any other way), they blend surprisingly well and don't detract from the main story.  The bunny is really cute and bound to appeal to youngsters.  Beyond the egg seeking activity it would be fun to take a look at a real map of Utah (or the appropriate place) and find the locations mentioned.  Lots of fun to be found here.

GIVEAWAY

The giveaway includes 1 book of the winner’s choice from the 77 Littlest Bunny regional titles available.
See list below.
US/Canada Only

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Colorado .................... 978-1-4926-1057-1
Connecticut ............... 978-1-4926-1060-1
Delaware .................... 978-1-4926-1063-2
Edmonton ................... 978-1-4926-1066-3
Florida ......................... 978-1-4926-1069-4
Georgia ....................... 978-1-4926-1072-4
Hawaii ......................... 978-1-4926-1075-5
Idaho ........................... 978-1-4926-1078-6
Illinois ......................... 978-1-4926-1081-6
Indiana ........................ 978-1-4926-1084-7
Iowa ............................. 978-1-4926-1087-8
Kansas ......................... 978-1-4926-1090-8
Kansas City ................. 978-1-4926-1093-9
Kentucky ..................... 978-1-4926-1096-0
Alabama ...................... 978-1-4926-1015-1
Alaska .......................... 978-1-4926-1018-2
Albuquerque .............. 978-1-4926-1021-2
Arizona ....................... 978-1-4926-1024-3
Arkansas ..................... 978-1-4926-1027-4
Bentonville ................. 978-1-4926-1030-4
Boise ........................... 978-1-4926-1033-5
Boston ......................... 978-1-4926-1036-6
Calgary ....................... 978-1-4926-1039-7
California .................... 978-1-4926-1042-7
Canada ........................ 978-1-4926-1045-8
Charleston ................. 978-1-4926-1048-9
Chicago ....................... 978-1-4926-1051-9
Cincinnati ................... 978-1-4926-1054-0
Las Vegas .................... 978-1-4926-1099-1
Los Angeles ................ 978-1-4926-1102-8
Louisiana .................... 978-1-4926-1105-9
Maine .......................... 978-1-4926-1108-0
Maryland ..................... 978-1-4926-1111-0
Massachusetts ............ 978-1-4926-1114-1
Michigan ..................... 978-1-4926-1117-2
Minnesota ................... 978-1-4926-1120-2
Mississippi .................. 978-1-4926-1123-3
Missouri ...................... 978-1-4926-1126-4
Montana ...................... 978-1-4926-1129-5
Nebraska .................... 978-1-4926-1132-5
Nevada........................ 978-1-4926-1135-6
New England.............. 978-1-4926-1138-7
New Hampshire ........ 978-1-4926-1141-7
New Jersey................. 978-1-4926-1144-8
New Mexico .............. 978-1-4926-1147-9
New York .................... 978-1-4926-1150-9
New York City ........... 978-1-4926-1153-0
North Carolina ......... 978-1-4926-1156-1
North Dakota ............ 978-1-4926-1159-2
Ohio ............................ 978-1-4926-1162-2
Oklahoma ................... 978-1-4926-1165-3
Omaha ........................ 978-1-4926-1168-4
Oregon ....................... 978-1-4926-1171-4
Ottawa ........................ 978-1-4926-1174-5
Pennsylvania ............... 978-1-4926-1177-6
Philadelphia ................ 978-1-4926-1180-6
Pittsburgh ................... 978-1-4926-1183-7
Portland ...................... 978-1-4926-1186-8
Rhode Island .............. 978-1-4926-1189-9
San Francisco ............. 978-1-4926-1192-9
South Carolina .......... 978-1-4926-1195-0
South Dakota ............. 978-1-4926-1198-1
St. Louis ...................... 978-1-4926-1201-8
Tampa Bay & St. Petersburg ... 978-1-4926-1204-9
Tennessee ................... 978-1-4926-1207-0
Texas ........................... 978-1-4926-1210-0
Toronto ....................... 978-1-4926-1213-1
Tulsa ............................ 978-1-4926-1216-2
Utah ............................ 978-1-4926-1219-3
Vancouver .................. 978-1-4926-1222-3
Vermont ...................... 978-1-4926-1225-4
Virginia........................ 978-1-4926-1228-5
Washington ................ 978-1-4926-1231-5
Washington, DC ........ 978-1-4926-1234-6
West Virginia ............. 978-1-4926-1237-7
Wisconsin ................... 978-1-4926-1240-7
Wyoming .................... 978-1-4926-1243-8
 
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