Wednesday, October 26, 2016

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Atlas of Animal Adventures by Rachel Williams and Emily Hawkins


From the team behind the best-selling Atlas of Adventures. Head off on a journey of discovery, with this book that collects together nature’s most unmissable events from between the two poles, including epic migrations, extraordinary behaviors, and Herculean habits. Find hundreds of things to spot and learn new facts about every animal.


Wide-Eyed Editions has created a rather delightful atlas that works well for reading straight through or for just browsing.  Not only is the book crammed with fascinating information about various animals around the world, but the illustrator clearly meant the illustrations to be enjoyed.  When I read about hippos, for example, I do not expect to see a hippo floating on it's back or wearing a bib, or wearing a grass skirt.  Clearly the illustrator had way too much fun with this.  However, I am pretty sure that children will delight in looking for these little fun touches and learning a lot about world geography and animals along the way.  Each continent is covered with a few animals from each continent receiving special attention (their own two page spread).  If you have animal lovers at your house or library this book is bound to be a hit.

BLOG TOUR: Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern by Seth Adam Smith


Chased by a vengeful witch, hunted by an undead corpse, and guided by a secretive preacher, a boy must protect a magical lantern that can either save Boston . . . or destroy it.

In October of 1730, young Rip Van Winkle sneaks into a graveyard and comes face-to-face with the ghost of William Blaxton, the first settler of Boston. Warning Rip that the city is in danger, Blaxton gives him a mysterious gift: a pumpkin lantern with power over life and death. Before fading into midnight, the ghost tells Rip to take the lantern to Feathertop, a mythical pumpkin-headed scarecrow.

Pursued by Mistress Hibbins, a witch of terrifying power, and hunted by the nightmarish Midnight Minister, young Rip must rely on the aid of Jonathan Edwards, a stern and secretive preacher, and Nathaniel, a talkative, know-it-all raven. Guided by the magical light of the lantern, Rip races across New England to find Feathertop, save Boston, and become a most unlikely hero!

From the bestselling, award-winning author Seth Adam Smith comes The Pumpkin Lantern--a fantasy novel influenced by the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lloyd Alexander, and C. S. Lewis. Loaded with humor, action, suspense, and fascinating American history, The Pumpkin Lantern is also a poignant fable about faith, family, and the power of life over death.


Unfortunately, I have not yet had the time to finish reading this book.  What I have read however, I have enjoyed.  The first chapter is a doozy with Abigail and Josiah Van Winkle rescuing a baby from an open grave.  Young Rip it turns out has a special affinity with plants.  This particular ability allows Rip to do things that would be considered supernatural and must be kept secret from the Puritan community.  But Rip can't help but reach out to those in need, both human or plant.

Further thoughts will be added when I complete the book.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

BOARD BOOKS: Stanley's Shapes/Stanley's Colors by William Bee


Its another busy day for Stanley and friends. Stanley and Little Woo are learning about colors and vehicles. There's a red car, a yellow motorbike, and even a pink balloon!


Stanley is an adorable little hamster who actively travels around in his variously colored vehicles.  The colors are bright and appealing and sure to catch a youngster's eye.  The variety of vehicles provides another fun part of the story.  Stanley fixes his red car, delivers a flower in his orange truck, and loves riding his yellow motorcycle among other things.  There is much to talk about here with a young child providing an enjoyable reading experience that also helps children learn to start thinking and talking about what they read.  I loved the last page which shows all the different vehicles and colors and asks the child to identify as many as they can.


Its another busy day for Stanley and friends. Stanley and Little Woo are on vacation learning about shapes. Join them as they spot circles, squares, triangles, and more!


Stanley and Little Woo go on vacation while learning about rectangles, triangles, and circles.  Their suitcases are rectangles, the tent is a triangle, the golf shop's window is a square, and the wheels on the bicycles are circles.  I appreciate the fact that the book introduces shapes in the context of a simple story.  This provides plenty of materials for multiple readings as children notice different things as they read.  One thing I love about this sort of board book is the potential for discussing the different parts of the story, the shapes, the vacation activities, etc.  And then on the ride home, all the shapes can be found in Stanley's car giving children and parents a chance to recognize all the shapes at once.  This book can provide an enjoyable reading experience for parent and child.

Monday, October 24, 2016

MMGM: Took by Mary Downing Hahn


“Folks say Old Auntie takes a girl and keeps her fifty years—then lets her go and takes another one.”     Thirteen-year-old Daniel Anderson doesn’t believe Brody Mason’s crazy stories about the ghost witch who lives up on Brewster’s Hill with Bloody Bones, her man-eating razorback hog. He figures Brody’s probably just trying to scare him since he’s the new kid . . . a “stuck-up snot” from Connecticut. But Daniel’s seven-year-old sister Erica has become more and more withdrawn, talking to her lookalike doll. When she disappears into the woods one day, he knows something is terribly wrong. Did the witch strike? Has Erica been “took”?


Mary Downing Hahn has become one of my go to authors for middle grade scary books.  I've found her books fit into the solidly middle ground in terms of scariness.  Took is another example of such a book.  In this book we have an eleven-year-old boy whose family has just moved from a city in Connecticut to a very small town in West Virginia.  The old farmhouse they move into doesn't really fit into Daniel's idea of where he would like to live, nor his sister's either.  But after his father lost his job, downgrading was a must.  What Daniel doesn't know is that his family has had a spell put upon them leading them to this house.  And things go downhill immediately.  Neither Daniel nor his sister, Erica, are welcomed at school, in fact they are bullied from the first minute.  The kids' parents are unhappy and the conditions at home sink lower and lower.  As Daniel watches his sister especially sink into despair and obsession with her doll, he wonders if the stories he's been hearing about a young girl disappearing 50 years ago are related.  But he's reluctant to believe these stories until his sister runs off after they have a fight, and doesn't return.  Can Daniel find a way to get his sister back or while she remain 'took' like the strange young girl he finds in the woods?

Hahn does a great job of leading gradually to the climax where the story explodes with tension.  As the tension with Daniel's family builds, the reader has a pretty good idea of where things are headed, but of course can't do anything to stop it.  The obsession Erica has her with look-a-like doll becomes especially creepy as the story develops.  The question becomes, how is Daniel going to save his sister and his family from 'Old Auntie' and her pet 'Bloody Bones'.  Like all scary books though, the appropriateness of this book will depend on the reader and what he/she is ready to handle.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

BLOG TOUR: The Wishing World by Todd Fahnestock


In the Wishing World, dreams are real. You can transform into your own hero, find wild and whimsical friends, and wield power as great as your imagination. But Lorelei doesn't know about any of that. All she knows is that a monster took her family.

It happened during a camping trip one year ago. Hiding inside the tent, she saw shadows, tentacles and a strange creature. By the time she got up the courage to crawl outside, the monster--and Lorelei's mom, dad, and brother--were gone.

Lorelei is determined to find her family. When she accidentally breaks into the Wishing World, she discovers a way. It's a land more wonderful than she could have imagined, a land of talking griffons, water princesses, and cities made of sand, where Lorelei is a Doolivanti--a wish-maker--who can write her dreams into existence.

There's only one problem: the monster is a Doolivanti, too. What he wishes also comes true, and he's determined to shove Lorelei out, keep her family, and make the whole Wishing World his. To save them, Lorelei must find the courage to face him, or her next wish may be her last.


TODD FAHNESTOCK won the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age Award for one of his short stories, and is the author of the YA bestseller Fairmist as well as The Wishing World. Stories are his passion, but Todd's greatest accomplishment is his quirky, fun-loving family. The Wishing World began as a series of bedtime stories for his children.

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Fantasy fiction is unique in that it opens the door to other worlds and other possibilities.  The ideas expressed in such stories are only limited by one's imagination.  And children have an ability to use their imaginations in such creative ways.  The basis for this book revolves around that idea.  The Wishing World that Lorelei enters seeking her missing family revolves around the dreams of children.  When Lorelei realizes that her parents are imprisoned by the Ink King within the boundaries of this magical world, she's willing to do anything to get them back.  

WIth the assistance of Gruffy, a griffin, Pip, a talking toucan, and Squeak, a wise mouse, Lorelei sets out to get her family back.  But there is more to this land than she knows and if she's not careful, her newly discovered power as a Doolivanti could harm this strange new world.  But Lorelei can't bare thinking of leaving without her family no matter the cost.  The creatures she meets along the way touch her life in unexpected ways as she touches theirs.  But dangers both before and behind threaten everything Lorelei is hoping to accomplish.  The unusual nature of the story and the fantasy world make this a rather compelling read.  The fact that the book is just over 200 pages is a nice bonus for those readers who aren't ready for the  often too long fantasy tomes available.  There is also some humor in some of the things that strong-willed Lorelei says and in the fact that she can't understand what Squeak, the smart mouse says.  

In addition to the creative nature of this story, I admired the fact that some rather important themes are imbedded in the story without being intrusive.  Once she starts to realize the power she holds, Lorelei is left having to make some really hard decisions, decisions that she really struggles with making.  The power of imagination to create or destroy also becomes clear as Lorelei faces off with the Ink King and the world he has built.  The Wishing World makes for an entertaining and thoughtful read with moments of laughter, tears, and hope aplenty.

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Extreme Wildfire by Mark Thiessen


In one moment, there’s a simple spark, and then roaring flames surge 200 feet into the air, devouring forests. Trees, from root to canopy, are burned to the ground. Airtankers and helicopters hover above, executing an air attack. Brave firefighters, equipped with flame resistant suits, leap from helicopters onto the treetops and descend to the blazing forest floor.

In this book, young readers will learn about the ecological impacts of wildfires, the ins and outs of fire science including tactics for prevention and containment, cutting-edge technology used to track wildfires and predict fire behavior, and about the impressive skill, survival tactics, and bravery required to control a wildfire. Also included are expert tips, fun facts, and breathtaking photos taken by the author.


Fire, a topic both fascinating and terrifying, takes center stage in this new book by National Geographic Kids along with the men and women who fight it. Thiessen tells stories about his own experiences getting firefighter certified and some of the fires he's witnessed.  I think that personal touch makes this book all the more compelling.  The variety of stunning photographs doesn't hurt the pull of the book either.  In addition to the stories about real fires, Thiessen also presents information about training, the different types of firefighters, strategies for fighting fires, as well as the basics of wildfires (such as that they require three things to occur: heat, fuel, and oxygen).  Other topics addressed include: fighting fires from the ground, fighting fires from the air, and the ecology of wildfires (why they aren't always bad, and how nature recovers).  The last section of the book talks about how we have to live with wildfires and what we can to do to avoid them when possible. This is a great resource for those interested in firefighting and a fascinating account of a natural phenomenon.

SERIES THURSDAY: Long Road to Freedom/Race to the South Pole by Kate Messner


Ranger is a time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training. In this adventure, he goes to a Maryland plantation during the days of American slavery, where he meets a young girl named Sarah. When she learns that the owner has plans to sell her little brother, Jesse, to a plantation in the Deep South, it means they could be separated forever. Sarah takes their future into her own hands and decides there's only one way to run -- north.


Ranger is such an appealing hero, especially since he doesn't know he is one.  As a dog, all he knows is that when his time traveling first aid kit hums, its time to go help someone.  Messner has created an appealing historical fiction series that draws kids in with it's time traveling dog as the main character.  Students at my school really like this series.  This series along with Lauren Tarshis's I Survived series are encouraging students to read historical fiction who would otherwise never pick it up because history is 'boring'.  But in this volume of the series, history is definitely not boring as Ranger sets off to help a young slave girl and her brother escape servitude.  There is plenty of excitement as Sarah and her brother try to work their way north to Philadelphia only to discover that Pennsylvania may not be far enough.  Along the way Ranger helps them avoid wolves and slave catchers.  The book contains plenty of excitement and tension while still conveying the drive for freedom that lead so many to accept the risks involved.  The book is child appropriate while still showing the value of freedom.  As always, Messner includes end notes that explain where she got her facts and which parts of the story are real.  I love reading these notes and hearing about the research that Messner does to make her stories feel so real.  A great series for young dog or history lovers that I hope will continue for a while.


Ranger, the time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training, joins an early twentieth-century expedition journeying from New Zealand to Antarctica. He befriends Jack Nin, the stowaway turned cabin boy of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's ship. They're racing against a rival explorer to reach the South Pole, but with unstable ice, killer whales, and raging blizzards, the journey turns into a race against time... and a struggle to stay alive.


Once again, Ranger sets off through time to help a young person in trouble.  He arrives in time to save Jack Nin from drowning.  As Ranger travels with Jack and the rest of Captain Scott's crew, he has not idea that he will see and experience things that few ever do, penguins, killer whales, nasty blizzards, and deep crevasses.  But through it all Ranger travels by Jack's side wondering when he'll get to go home.  I enjoyed traveling with Ranger and Jack as Jack learns for the first time just what being an adventurer means.  For a long time he thinks that fame and fortune is what it's all about, but slowly he learns that maybe adventure isn't quite as much fun as he has always thought.  Messner has done a great job of using details from accounts taken from some of those who actually traveled with Scott to create a believable story with lots of exciting details.  Another fun read in an appealing series.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

BOARD BOOK REVIEWS: My First Book of Animal Hugs and Kisses/My First Book of Animal Opposites


Charming photos of wildlife combined with adorable comments offer a heartwarming look at creatures from around the world. Any toddler will love this vibrant book—as will adults sharing it with little ones.


There are several things that I look for when I review board books.  Bright colorful illustrations are a must for a board book. There needs to be things to attract young eyes.  This book definitely has that quality with gorgeous photographs of animals 'hugging' and 'kissing'.  The variety in the size of the picture provides a nice contrast for young eyes.  Board books don't necessarily need text but when they have text it needs to be short enough not to bog down the reading.  The youngest listeners need practice listening and interacting over books so they should provide a fun experience without being overly long.  This book provides simple text that combines beautifully with the photographs.  For example, the book starts with, "Some animals KISS to say "Hello!" followed by a picture of prairie dogs 'kissing' and the statement "Prairie dogs kiss".   The gorgeous photographs combined with the straight-forward text make for a fun reading experience for reader and child.  There may even be some giggles along the way as the child sees the different animals interact with each other.


This photo-illustrated gem teaches the youngest of children about opposites using examples from the animal kingdom. Families who love nature and the world’s wild places will enjoy sharing these animal opposites.


Books about opposites are a common thing for young readers.  What makes this one stand out are the gorgeous photographs.  Comparisons in terms of size, softness, habitats, transportation and other animal related opposites make this book not only a fun way to learn opposites but a fun way to learn about animals.  Lions, egrets, puffins, cheetah, tortoise, hippo, and crocodile all make an appearance along with a few other animals.  This book makes for a fun shared reading experience.

Monday, October 17, 2016

MMGM: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer


The compelling tale of a girl who must save a group of bonobos--and herself--from a violent coup.

The Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good.

When one girl has to follow her mother to her sanctuary for bonobos, she's not thrilled to be there. It's her mother's passion, and she'd rather have nothing to do with it. But when revolution breaks out and their sanctuary is attacked, she must rescue the bonobos and hide in the jungle. Together, they will fight to keep safe, to eat, and to survive.

Eliot Schrefer asks readers what safety means, how one sacrifices to help others, and what it means to be human in this new compelling adventure.


Schrefer has crafted a story that is both eye-opening and touching.  A story that seems historical but is very much contemporary.  Through the eyes of one young girl, the reader gets a glimpse into the deep-seeded challenges of a conflict-riddled third-world country.  Sophie has come to stay at her mother's wild animal preserve in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Being biracial complicates things a bit (Congolese mother, white American father) as she's seen as foreign both in America and in the Congo, but she's learned to deal with that.  What she doesn't expect to happen on this visit is falling in love with an injured baby bonobo that she can't help but buy from a local bush-meat trader.  This spontaneous act sets off a series of events that leaves Sophie feeling guilty and conflicted.   And things take a turn for the worse when just after her mother sets off to release some bonobos into the wild, the Congo once again erupts into devastating violence.  As Sophie struggles to keep herself and her bonobo, Otto, alive, she's forced to face the consequences of her own actions as well as the horrible results of war.  

Despite the devastation that Sophie sees both inside and outside of the bonobo sanctuary, Sophie remains determined to survive, but at what cost.  Is it possible to survive a war without being corrupted by it?  Several close calls (including a near rape) leave Sophie desperately hoping to find her mother in all the chaos.  The book does contain numerous references to violence including burned villages, dead bodies, and vague references to rape.  I found the relationship between Sophie and Otto to be very compelling as I read quickly to find out what would happen to them.  Schrefer has created a remarkable story of survival and hope in a world gone to pieces.
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