Thursday, July 28, 2016

SERIES THURSDAY: Ogres Awake! by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost


The knight and her horse, Edward, have made a startling discovery: there are three huge ogres asleep at her doorstep! When they wake up, the kingdom is in big trouble! The knight, Edward, and some garden gnomes fight back, not with swords and shields, but with potato peelers and spoons. It turns out that ogres are pretty friendly when they have full stomachs!


This new addition to the Adventures in Cartooning series presents the knight and her horse, Edward with a new challenge.  When the knight spots the ogres sleeping, she knows that they will soon show up at the castle.  Naturally, her first inclination is to prepare to fight them, but the king has another plan in mind.  I really appreciated the fact that while the knight's first inclination is to fight, that is not the wiser king's plan. So many books, movies, TV show, and other forms of media suggest that fighting/violence is the solution to one's problems, especially if one is being threatened with violence.  I appreciated the fact that this story shows the value of trying other solutions first.  Most of this book is the story, but the end pages show how to draw the knight, Edward, the gnomes, and ogres.  This is a short fun comic book style read for younger readers who aren't yet ready for full-length graphic novels.  This may also send young readers looking for the longer and more detailed original stories that not only tell stories but also teacher how to create comics.  A fun new addition to the series.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Ibn al-Haytham/ Together Forever


Celebrated in a film featuring Omar Sharif in his final role, meet the scientist known as the "Father of Optics," Ibn al-Haytham!

During the golden age of science, knowledge, and invention in Muslim civilization -- also known as the "Dark Ages" in Western Europe -- this incredible scholar discovered how we see and set the stage for the methods we now know as the scientific process. Packed with beautiful and engaging photos, kids will learn all about this fascinating scientist.

The Level 3 text provides accessible, yet wide-ranging, information for independent readers. This book is a companion to the international educational campaign, "1001 Inventions and the World of Ibn al-Haytham," that includes interactive exhibits, workshops, live shows, and a 12-minute film starring Omar Sharif in his final film role before his death.


I learned quite a bit reading this book.  While I was already aware of the basics of how the eyes work.  I wasn't aware of Ibn al-Haytham and his work that helped the world learn about vision and light.  The book is well done, as are all National Geographic Kids books.  And I appreciated the author pointing out the gaps we have in what we know about the man.  But there is enough here to be interesting.  And it's great that the subject of this biography is a lesser-known individual.  I know my library needs more books about lesser-known individuals who have made a difference in the world.


A fluffy chicken and a pup on wheels? A goat and a donkey who are inseparable? Lion, tiger, and bear best friends? This new chapter book features all kinds of heartwarming, awww-inspiring -- and completely true -- stories about animal friendships. So funny, sweet, and filled with engaging photos, fast facts, and fascinating sidebars, that you can't help but want to cuddle up and read about
these unlikely pairings and animal best buddies.


Animals can surprise us humans sometimes.  Which makes books like this one fun to read.  Children especially love stories about animals.  Stories like the three included in this book demonstrate that there is far more to animal emotion and intelligence than humans sometimes think.   The first story made me laugh at the antics of a chicken and a disabled little dog.  The second story focuses on the bond between a donkey and a goat.  The third story focuses on the relationship between a dog and a young cheetah intended to help the cheetah learn to socialize and prepare to join the other cheetahs in the zoo.  The attractive design, gorgeous photographs, and easy text make this a great nonfiction chapter book series.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: We Need Diverse (PIcture) Books


Mitzi Tulane may be only three years old, but she sure knows how to follow a trail of evidence and solve tough mysteries. From the strange happenings in the kitchen to the sudden arrival of every family member she’s ever met, Mitzi pieces together the clues and (finally) realizes that she’s . . . in the middle of her own surprise birthday party!

Kids and parents will laugh along as Mitzi sorts through not-so-subtle hints and comes to her conclusions. Readers will love figuring out the surprise ahead of the private-eye protagonist! Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s bouncy illustrations bring an extra layer of fun to Lauren McLaughlin’s clever story!


Mitzi Tulane is an adorable character that I hope to see a lot more of in the future.  I laughed as Mitzi seeks to figure out the new smell that permeates the house and gathers other clues.  Her consultations with her baby brother Kevin were amusing as well.  The story does a great job of presenting a rather simple mystery. This book would be a great way to introduce young children to the idea of solving a mystery.

Now, I am aware that some people may have a problem with the fact that Mitzi is black and the rest of her family is white, as well as her doll.  I assumed and I believe most children will as well that Mitzi is adopted. Since I know several children in a similar situation, I found it a nice example of diversity.  It would have been nice if the doll had been black as well (like Mitzi), but the inclusion of relatives with both white and black skin makes up for that a bit.  

The illustrations are adorable as well as bright and colorful.  A nice addition to a growing body of work that includes children from diverse backgrounds.


Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that's all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn't mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.

But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name...a name that is sure to light up the sky.

National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie's lyrical text and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales's striking and beautiful illustrations celebrate the special relationship between father and son.


Thunder Boy Jr. is an adorable little boy who wants to have a name different than his father's.  The story follows 'Little Thunder' as he speculates on why he wants a different name and what that new name could be. It's clear that Little Thunder loves his father and his family, he just wants to be his own person.  This is so much like a young child, wanting an identity of his own.  I believe this is a story than many young children will be able to relate to.  I also love the fact that this is a diverse family with their own traditions.

While receiving a new name is something that is special and even sacred to multiple cultures, including First/Native Nations, and that needs to be considered, young children sometimes like to pretend they have a different name (I can't tell you how many times I did that during imaginative play as a child).  This book though would be a great lead-in to a discussion of respect for other cultural traditions and practices.  It's also an adorable story about a father and a son.

Monday, July 25, 2016

MG/YA NONFICTION: Sabatage by Neal Bascomb


Neal Bascomb delivers another nail-biting work of nonfiction for young adults in this incredible true story of spies and survival.

The invasion begins at night, with German cruisers slipping into harbor, and soon the Nazis occupy all of Norway. They station soldiers throughout the country. They institute martial rule. And at Vemork, an industrial fortress high above a dizzying gorge, they gain access to an essential ingredient for the weapon that could end World War II: Hitler’s very own nuclear bomb.

When the Allies discover the plans for the bomb, they agree Vemork must be destroyed. But after a British operation fails to stop the Nazis’ deadly designs, the task falls to a band of young Norwegian commandos. Armed with little more than skis, explosives, and great courage, they will survive months in the snowy wilderness, elude a huge manhunt, and execute two dangerous missions. The result? The greatest act of sabotage in all of World War II.


Stories like this one are among my favorite to read because they are real.  The remarkable nature of what happened and the dedication and sacrifices made by those involved are fascinating.  And in this book Bascomb tells the story of a lessor known series of events that played an important part in the Allied victory during World War II.

The development of atomic physics during World War II was something both sides pursued.  Bascomb presents a basic description of where things stood among the Germans as the war advanced.  The production of heavy water at Vemork in Norway made it a valuable resource for the Germans once they invaded the country.  Leif Tronstad, a Norwegian professor, recognized the danger in letting the Germans have access to so much heavy water (used in creating nuclear power).  Getting himself out of the country and to Britain he helped set up the missions directed at stopping the production of heavy water at Vemork.

Bascomb tells a fascinating story about the men directly involved in the missions to destroy the heavy water and the incredible sacrifices they made.  This is a book that shows the power of a few to make a difference and the damage that war does to everyone.  The combination of science and history makes this a great book for young adult readers who are interested in either and a great resource for teachers.

Friday, July 22, 2016

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson


The Shattered Lens is the fourth action-packed fantasy adventure in the Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series for young readers by the #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson. These fast-paced and funny novels are now available in deluxe hardcover editions illustrated by Hayley Lazo.

Alcatraz Smedry is up against a whole army of Evil Librarians with only his friend Bastille, a few pairs of glasses, and an unlimited supply of exploding teddy bears to help him. This time, even Alcatraz's extraordinary talent for breaking things may not be enough to defeat the army of Evil Librarians and their giant librarian robots.


Alcatraz Smedry once again finds himself at the heart of a Librarian conspiracy.  The Free Lander nation of Mokia is about to fall the sect of librarians called the Shattered Lens.  And Alcatraz and his friends and family just can't stand by and see it happen, so they sneak into the country to try to save the capital city of Tuki Tuki.  But once again, Alcatraz finds himself in way over his head, especially when he runs into his librarian mother and discovers that a lot of things he thought he knew might not be true and that his Talent might be far more dangerous than he ever imagined.  With his typical sarcastic asides and made up words, Alcatraz tells his story with plenty of humor and action.  As a fourth book building up to the big finale in the last book, the book ends with several cliffhangers leaving me eager to read the last book and find out what ends up happening to Alcatraz and his friends and family.  

I can safely say that I've never read another series quite like this one.  Both in terms of the story line, a mixture of reality and fantasy, and the storyteller.  Alcatraz narrates these books in a very unusual way.  He is the typical unreliable narrator in some ways, but his efforts to teach the reader about writing a book and his odd turns of phrase and efforts to convince the reader that he is not the hero others think he is and that he's a liar as well.  His very idiosyncrasies are part of what makes the books so fun.  In addition, Alcatraz's family and friends are thoroughly entertaining.  The mythology behind the Smedry talents takes an interesting turn in this fourth book that have only been hinted at in the previous volumes.  Sanderson has created an engaging middle grade series that young readers who enjoy humor and oddities in their stories are bound to enjoy.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

SERIES THURSDAY: When I am happiest by Rose Lagercrantz


A standalone follow-up to the acclaimed and beloved chapter books My Happy Life and My Heart is Laughing.

Dani is very happy—it's the last day of school, and summer is about to start. But then there's a knock on the classroom door, and Dani is told her father has been in an accident. He's in the hospital! How can she possibly be happy now?

A warm and heartfelt story about Dani's love for her dad and her ongoing friendship with Ella. It's a story about sorrow and joy—and how life really is.


Lagercrantz has written another cute book about the joys and sorrows of a young girl.  As school ends for the year, Dani is focused on finishing the book about the year that she has been writing, but she's having trouble coming up with a good ending.  Just as she looks to finish, she finds out her father has been badly injured in an accident and the book becomes secondary.  One thing that the author and illustrator do well is how real the feelings of this little girl are, along with the ups and downs of her life.  Friendship, loss of a parent, fear, school, and unkindness all come into play in this realistic story.  But while all Dani's troubles are solved by the end, things are starting to look up.  The mixture of illustrations and text make this a nice chapter book introduction for early readers who are looking to read more difficult texts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Ocean Animals by Johnna Rizzo


Fans of Disney Pixar's Finding Dory and Finding Nemo movies will love meeting the real underwater critters behind the film in this colorful, fact-filled nonfiction book. From life in coral reefs, to sharks and rays, to sea birds, kids will meet incredible sea-based animals in action, including the blue tang fish and clownfish. It's all captured with beautiful underwater photography and features cool info about our oceans -- including fascinating facts, maps, and marine conservation tips and efforts.


For those young readers who are fascinated by the ocean, this book is worth purchasing for the gorgeous photographs alone.  Not only is the book a large size but so are many of the photographs.  And as National Geographic has developed an amazing reputation for it's photographs, it's not surprising that that reputation shines through in this book.  This book provides an overview of the ocean as an habitat as well as the main groups of animals that live there.  Captions as well as short paragraphs with fascinating information make this a great browsing book.  The design of the book is beautiful with paragraphs of information balanced nicely with the accompanying photographs.  Ideas for young readers to use in helping to protect the ocean are included at the end.  This is a book that should be in all libraries as well as in the hands of young animal lovers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Two great wordless picture books!


Welcome the much-anticipated finale of Caldecott Honoree Aaron Becker’s wordless trilogy—a spectacular, emotionally satisfying story that brings its adventurer home.

Failing to get the attention of her busy father, a lonely girl turns back to a fantastic world for friendship and adventure. It’s her third journey into the enticing realm of kings and emperors, castles and canals, exotic creatures and enchanting landscapes. This time, it will take something truly powerful to persuade her to return home, as a gripping backstory is revealed that will hold readers in its thrall. Caldecott Honor winner Aaron Becker delivers a suspenseful and moving climax to his wordless trilogy, an epic that began with the award-winning Journey and continued with the celebrated follow-up Quest.


I have thoroughly enjoyed the trilogy of wordless books by Aaron Becker that conclude with this book.  Not only do the books focus on the joys of imaginary play, but the illustrations are gorgeous and present many opportunities for discussion with young readers.  Simply asking a child what he/she sees in the illustrations could lead to some fabulous discussions.  The fact that these books also remind me of Harold and his purple crayon doesn't hurt anything as that was a favorite book from my own childhood.  Comparing the two books would make for some great conversation as well.  As a wordless book, the entire story is told through the illustrations, which in this case are detailed enough for repeated reading not to get boring, especially if the child tells the story.  The illustrations are full of variety with two page spreads, single page spreads, and action step by step sequences on a white background.  The book flows quickly and smoothly as a father works to get himself back in his daughter's good graces after being unavailable for kite flying.  A delightfully rich story told through beautifully placed illustrations.  This is a must have!



Using just nine words, the award-winning creator of Chalk takes readers on another unforgettable journey. When three children discover a typewriter on a carousel, they are transported on an adventure of their own creation—complete with a giant beach ball and a threatening crab. Stunning, richly colored artwork is paired with limited text so children can tell their own version of the story.


Bill Thomson has been a favorite illustrator of mine since I first saw his book, Chalk.  Using a similar theme to his first two wordless books (Chalk and Fossil), Thomson still manages to create a unique book full of imagination and laughter.  I love these books, not only the gorgeous illustrations, but the creativity they demonstrate.  It's also great to see a typewriter  in a picture book considering how many children won't even know what a typewriter is.  And despite having read the previous books, this one still managed to surprise me.  I especially enjoyed the large pail of ice cream.  It's also a real pleasure to see the expressions on the child characters faces as well as the diversity among them (black girl, Asian boy, white boy).  A fun book to share with children to encourage their curiosity and imagination.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

SERIES THURSDAY: Detective Gordon by Ulf Nilsson


Someone's stealing nuts from the forest, and it's up to Detective Gordon to catch the thief! Unfortunately, solving this crime means standing in the snow and waiting for a long time... If only he had an assistant? someone small, fast, and clever? to help solve this terrible case


I enjoyed reading this chapter book mystery that looks at how a crime might really be solved.  Detective Gordon is the police chief who must solve the theft of nuts from multiple victims.  But he's older and has a hard time leaving the office.  So he recruits Buffy, a young, hungry mouse to help him.  Together, they work to find the guilty party will dealing with a rather obsessive victim (he knows how many nuts he has down to the individual number).  Buffy's enthusiasm balances out Detective Gordon's experience and wisdom. The illustrations add a great touch, helping to show the characters and the mystery.  A fun new mystery series for young readers.


The detective lay in bed with his eyes closed. But he couldn't sleep. He was thinking. He always thought best in bed. Especially with his eyes closed.

Something is going on in the forest: one of the animals is saying nasty things about the other forest creatures. But no one dares make a statement to the police. Who is the culprit?

Detective Gordon and his assistant Buffy must investigate! But this is a complicated case. The two police officers split the workload: Buffy questions the suspects, while Gordon stays in bed to think.

Once the investigation is over, Detective Gordon plans to go fishing and eat all the cakes he wants to. And maybe then Buffy will be appointed Police Chief! But that won't happen unless this case can be solved...

Detective Gordon: A Complicated Case is a warm and humor-filled follow-up to the well-reviewed Detective Gordon: The First Case.


Nilsson and Spee have created another cute mystery.  The relationship between Gordon and Buffy is a sweet one of mentor and mentee as Gordon deals with the challenges of getting older and Buffy reveals that she doesn't know how to read.  Another interesting idea introduced in the book is what exactly should be a law and what should be written as law and what left to a matter of conscience.  It's sweet to see a couple of characters with strengths and weaknesses who through persistence solve the case.  The solution they come up with is quite creative.  This is the kind of mystery I would hand to a young reader not ready for the darkness that can come with a lot of mysteries.  This mystery is sweet and satisfying without being scary in any way.
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