Thursday, March 21, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Narwhal's Otter Friend by Ben Clanton


ABOUT THE BOOK

Narwhal and Jelly . . . and Otty?! Exuberant Narwhal and skeptical Jelly test the waters of adding a new friend to their pod when they meet Otty the super-adventurous otter in the fourth book of this blockbuster early graphic novel series!

Dive into three new stories about the joy of adventure and the power of friendship! In the first story, Otty the otter makes her debut splash; while Narwhal greets her with immediate enthusiasm, Jelly's not so sure about her...mostly because he worries she'll take his place as Narwhal's best friend. Readers will easily see why Narwhal's so excited to meet Otty, a boisterous explorer who even has an aunt who's a real live sea captain! But readers will also relate to Jelly's uneasiness seeing his best friend making a new pal.

Jelly tries to work out his jealousy in story two, and in story three, the new trio say "Ahoy, adventure!" and discover they all have more in common than they thought . . . including a love of waffles! Jelly also takes over the "Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick" comic providing a sidekick's-eye-view of defeating the dreaded dEVILed egg!


 REVIEW

I've become a big fan of this delightful series.  Narwhal and Jelly are fun characters who make me smile.  Yet they have their problems too.  In this volume, Jelly becomes jealous after they meet Otty the explorer otter.  Otty invites them to join her on her journey, but Jelly isn't sure he wants toJelly's efforts to deal with his jealousy aren't too successful despite his telling the "Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick" story.  But Narwhal's a loyal friend and reminds Jelly that there's room in his life for lots of friends. Another delightful tale in a fun graphic novel series for younger readers.  The illustrations are expressive and enjoyable to look at and the Super Waffle comics are hilarious.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Beavers: The Superpower Field Guide by Rachel Poliquin


ABOUT THE BOOK

Beavers, the first book in the new middle-grade nonfiction Superhero Field Guide series by Rachel Poliquin and award-winning illustrator Nicholas John Frith, is a delightfully informative, laugh-out-loud full-color look at the most unsuspecting of animal heroes, perfect for readers who like their facts served with a large dose of humor.

Meet Elmer, an ordinary beaver. He may not be as mighty as a lion or as dangerous as a shark. He may be squat and brown. But never underestimate a beaver.
     I can almost hear you saying, “But aren’t beavers just lumpy rodents with buck teeth and funny flat tails?”
    Yes, they are! And believe it or not, those buck teeth and funny flat tails are just a few of the things that make beavers extraordinary.
    Humorous and engaging, Beavers is the first book in the new highly illustrated nonfiction Superpower Field Guide series, inspiring readers to laugh, think, and view the world around them with new eyes.


REVIEW

If only all learning could be this fun!  This nonfiction book about beavers could have been as dry as a bone, but it isn't.  The focus of the book is on the animal's 'superpowers' or as the Wild Kratts might say, 'creature powers'.  Combining text and visuals in a seamless way, Poliquin and Frith have created a thoroughly engaging book about beavers.  The book is divided into ten sections.  Each section focuses on one superpower such as chainsaw teeth, unstoppable fur, and paws of power.  The cartoon-like illustrations add to the amusing tone of the book, but the information is accurate and fascinating.  I learned things I didn't know about beavers.  If only all nonfiction could be this much fun!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: The Whole Wide World and Me/Stardust


ABOUT THE BOOK

A bold, joyful picture book for the very young shows that the natural world is full of wonders -- and each of us is a small part of that.

Like a flower in a field . . .
Like a cloud in the sky . . .
So am I.

Just as a pebble is part of a mountain, just as a wave is part of the sea, so, too, is every one of us part of something bigger. With bright collage illustrations and a simple, lyrical text, acclaimed author-illustrator Toni Yuly invites readers to celebrate our relationship to the natural world.


REVIEW
  
This adorable book about nature and the place human beings hold in it delights the senses.  The cute little girl with her red bow, purple outfit, an green boots stands out on each spread as she starts with a flower, then moves to a field, then a pond, as the world around her gets bigger and bigger and she ends up looking at an large expanse of prairie and hills before returning to dandelion fluff as she blows it away.  The illustrations are what delight here with the gorgeous cut/torn paper collage the highlights the beauty that exists around us.  A seemingly simple tale of a girl learning to appreciate the natural world around her and her place in it. 


ABOUT THE BOOK

One little girl dreams of being a star. But whether it's finding Mum's lost wedding ring or winning the fancy-dress prize, her big sister always shines brighter. Yet for her grandad she is a star and, as he dries her eyes and they both gaze up at the night sky, he tells a story, the story of the beginning of the world. Everything and everyone is made of stardust, and we all shine in different ways. It's a lesson this little girl will never forget ...and one day her dream comes true, and she finally realises her ambition to become an astronaut and fly up to the stars. 
 
REVIEW
 
A little girl wants to be a star, just like the beautiful sparkly ones in the sky.   But somehow she never quite manages to live up to her older sister's exploits.  Eventually her grandfather explains to her that just as the earth and all it's living creatures are made of stardust, so is she.  He reminds her that while she doesn't shine in the same way as her sister, she does shine in her own way.  With this reminder, the girl keeps dreaming about life's possibilities.  My favorite part of this book are the bright, colorful, touching illustrations that highlight the girl's dreams and her failures.  I don't know anyone who can stand being reminded once in a while that they are made of stardust and deserve to shine.

Monday, March 18, 2019

YA SPECULATIVE REVIEW: A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby


ABOUT THE BOOK

Fear the living more than the dead.

It’s London 1888, and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the people of the city. Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by her dangerous work in a matchstick factory, who has nowhere to go, does not know what to make of her new position as a maid to the Elephant Man in the London Hospital. Evelyn wants to be locked away from the world, like he is, shut in from the filth and dangers of the streets. But in Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, she finds a gentle kindred who does not recoil from her and who understands her pain.

When the murders begin, however, Joseph and Evelyn are haunted nightly by the ghosts of the Ripper’s dead, setting Evelyn on a path to facing her fears and uncovering humanity’s worst nightmares.

REVIEW

I don't normally review young adult books, but this one appealed to me for some reason.  And I was not disappointed.  I found Evelyn to be a very sympathetic character in her struggles to survive.  And the connection she establishes with Joseph Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, is a sweet, tender one.  Evelyn's scars and Merrick's disfigurement allow them to empathize with each other.  But Merrick's appearance takes some getting used to and Evelyn struggles at first, but she's so glad to be off the streets and in 'hiding' that she continues to serve him despite her discomfort and over time the discomfort disappears.  The other thing the two have in common is the appearance of some very haunted ghosts who appear to be the victims of the "Leather Apron", soon to be known as Jack the Ripper.  The hauntings disturb Evelyn, but they have a much more severe effect on Merrick, they appear to be killing him.  In order to save him, Evelyn enlists the help of Charles, a frequent visitor who has expressed interest in her.  With Charles's help, Evelyn seeks to find out enough about the ghosts to help them find peace.  If she doesn't, she fears Merrick won't survive the onslaught.  The book was quite compelling, especially the mystery of the ghosts and the terror brought about by the murders.  The gruesome murders and blunt discussions related to it make this book more appropriate for young adult readers.  The combination of the sweet relationship between Evelyn and Merrick and the horror related to the hauntings and murders makes for an different sort of read.  The details about life on the streets and the suffering of so many was difficult to read at times, but all to realistic.  Kirby's done a good job with this one.



Thursday, March 14, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Flight of the Bluebird by Kara LeReau -- Review & Author Post


ABOUT THE BOOK

Fasten your seat belts for some unexpected turbulence ahead, as Jaundice and Kale Bland are back for their final unintentional adventure! Now that they’ve returned from the Uncanny Valley to find their home in Dullsville in absolute shambles, the sisters are rescued by high-flying aviatrix Beatrix Airdale. This time, they’re jetting off (literally) to Egypt to uncover the mysteries of a magical scarab.  By way of Casablanca and after foiling multiple attacks along the way (thanks to Jaundice’s nautical knot-tying skills and Kale’s super-sleuth powers of observation), the Bland Sisters are reunited with their parents. But it turns out that Mom and Dad aren’t as bland—or as “Bland”—as Jaundice and Kale remember. Thanks to their mother’s old archeology notebook, the Bland Sisters uncover their parents’ real identities and help them achieve victory in one final, family-filled adventure.

REVIEW

Jaundice and Kale Bland aren't the adventurous type, at least they didn't used to think so.  But that was before they were kidnapped by pirates and solved a mystery on a train.  And now they are on the ultimate adventure as they set off to find their parents in Egypt.  Naturally they run into plenty of trouble along the way, not the least of which is Jaundice's air sickness.  And once the girls and their companion reach Egypt there is the matter of finding and rescuing their parents.  Once again, LaReau has written a wryly amusing story full of unexpected twists and turns and funny reactions from the girls and their companions.  I appreciated LaReau's taking the time to research her subject before deliberately fictionalizing things for the sake of the story.  This is a fun series for those who enjoy stories with a wry twist and rather atypical characters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kara LaReau was an editor at Candlewick Press prior to becoming a full-time writer. She has published many acclaimed picture books for children including Ugly Fish, Rabbit & Squirrel, and Otto: The Boy Who Loved Cars. Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband and son and their two cats. Find out more at karalareau.com.

AUTHOR POST

Writing Flight of the Bluebird, the final story in the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters middle grade series, was a particular challenge — and not just because it’s the third story in the trilogy, so I felt extra pressure to go out with a bang. Flight of the Bluebird is the only story of the three set in a real place —Luxor, Egypt, for the most part—with a real (and very rich) culture and history, all of which I wanted to present in an accurate and respectful way. So how did I get this bird off the ground?

First, I did a lot of research. I wanted the story to be an homage to Indiana Jones adventures (with a bit of Casablanca thrown in for good measure), so I watched and re-watched those movies and took lots of notes. I also researched: Ancient Egyptian history, tombs in the Valley of the Kings, archaeology in the 1920s-1930s, Egyptian hotels and tourism in the 1930s, and local customs and foods. That was just to start. When it was time to really get down to the business of writing the story, I knew, without having traveled to Egypt, that I was going to need expert help. Fortunately, I found it very close by.

James Allen, Wilbour professor of Egyptology at Brown University and past president of the International Association of Egyptologists, generously volunteered his time and energy to talk with me and review all-too-rough drafts of my manuscript. Professor Allen provided information about the logistics of traveling in Luxor, modern archaeology and the ethics of its practice, and fascinating details of Ancient Egypt, many of which I used, and some of which I fictionalized. Professor Allen’s wife, Susan, also a well-traveled historian, lent me her expertise as well. I am grateful for their wisdom, and for the fact that they happen to live just a few blocks away from me here in Providence, Rhode Island!

There is quite a bit of air travel in Flight of the Bluebird (as its title suggests), and I wanted to make sure that the flight sequences and bits of trivia were correct. A friend referred me to local pilot Allyn Copp, who reviewed all of the aeronautical details. In addition, I read biographies and watched documentaries about Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman, and Nellie Bly, all of whom inspired the character of Beatrix Airedale, the aviatrix/action hero the Bland Sisters encounter in this story. Those ladies’ lives were more interesting than any story anyone could write, so I definitely recommend you check them out.

I’d like to believe I rose to the challenge I set for myself with this story, and that readers will find Flight of the Bluebird authentic and respectful and vibrant with detail, as well as a fitting ending to this quirky series; getting there was its own unintentional adventure!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Lost in the Antarctic by Tod Olson


ABOUT THE BOOK

There wasn’t a thing Ernest Shackleton could do. He stood on the ice-bound Weddell Sea, watching the giant blocks of frozen saltwater squeeze his ship to death. The ship’s name seemed ironic now: the Endurance. But she had lasted nine months in this condition, stuck on the ice in the frigid Antarctic winter. So had Shackleton and his crew of 28 men, trying to become the first expedition ever to cross the entire continent.

Now, in October 1915, as he watched his ship break into pieces, Shackleton gave up on that goal. He ordered his men to abandon ship. From here on, their new goal would be to focus on only one thing: survival.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tod Olson is the author of the historical fiction series How to Get Rich and the four books in the Lost series--Lost in the Pacific, 1942; Lost in Outer Space;  Lost in the Amazon; and Lost in the Antarctic. He has written for national magazines on the Columbine school shooting, homeless teens, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and many other stories of interest to children and young adults. Tod holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Vermont with his family, his mountain bike, and his electric reclining chair. To learn more, and to download free teaching resources, visit his website: todolson.com.

REVIEW

Shackleton's famous voyage to Antarctica has been written about a lot.  I've had the privileged to read some of those works.  This book takes the many accounts of the voyage of the Endurance and makes it understandable for young readers.  Having enjoyed his other Lost books, I looked forward to reading this one even though I was already familiar with the story.  Olson does a great job of telling the story in a compelling narrative that moves along which is important for the target audience.  He includes enough detail for young readers to have an idea of how hard the journey was for the participants while not getting bogged down and losing their interest.  In fact, I thought he did a superb job at including important details that give the readers a taste of the hardships the men endured and the difficult decisions that had to be made.  The photographs from the expedition were well chosen and did a nice job of showing the realities of the time and place.  An excellent addition to a compelling series.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Going Down Home with Daddy/You are Never Alone --Available in April 2019


ABOUT THE BOOK

Down home is Granny's house.  Down home is where Lil' Alan and his parents and sister will join grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in a rich celebration of family history.  It's where he will hear stories of ancestors and visit the land that has meant so much to all of them.  And down home is where each of the children will find their way to pay tribute to family history.  All of the other children know what to do...but what will Lil' Alan do?

Richly told and gorgeously illustrated by the team that brought you Ellen's Broom, for which illustrator Daniel Minter received a Coretta Scott King Illustration Honor Award, Going Down Home with Daddy is a story about family history and a celebration of the Black family reunion culture.  But it's also a story about a young boy finding his place in his family, and learning just how valuable a family is to one another.

Because like Daddy says, there's nothing like going down home.

REVIEW

Lil' Alan and his family set off for the family reunion early one morning.  Lil' Alan is both excited and uncertain about the trip.  He's excited to see his extended family, but he doesn't have anything to share for the celebration.  As Lil' Alan and his family enjoy being with family and spend time remembering the past, Lil' Alan develops a greater appreciation for his currently living family members but also for his ancestors as well as the land.  Lyons has told a tale honoring the importance and value of family and family history that will resonate with many readers.  Minter's luminous illustrations shine through with love and joy.  This story is a powerful reminder of the role that family plays in our lives.


ABOUT THE BOOK

From the creators of You Are Stardust and Wild Ideas comes a new informational picture book that explores how humans are inextricably connected to nature. This book draws examples from the clouds and the cosmos, the seafloor and the surface of our skin, to show how we are never alone: we are always surrounded and supported by nature. Whether it's gravity holding us tight; our lungs breathing oxygen synthesized by plants; the countless microorganisms that build our immunity; or the whales whose waste fertilizes the plankton that feed the fish we eat: nature touches every aspect of how we live.

Using lyrical text grounded in current science alongside detailed diorama art, this book presents the idea that we thrive through connections to the land and sea and sky, and togetherness is key to nature. It encourages inquiry-based learning, inviting readers to wonder, ask questions, observe the natural world, and engage with big ideas. An author's note at the end offers more insight into the research behind the text.

REVIEW

The combination of lyrical text and symbolic images makes for a fascinating read in Kelsey and Kim's You are Never Alone.  The gorgeous dioramas (shone in their completeness on the back of the jacket) show adorable children enjoying the wonders of nature.  This creates an imaginative feel for the text that highlights the many ways that nature touches our lives for the better.  With so much focus on the negative interactions between humans and nature and the challenges of climate change, it's easy to get down about the future.  This book highlights the delights that remain with us if we take the time to see them.  A book ripe for discussion between parent or teacher and child.  A very childlike view of the world that reminded me to take the time to "smell the roses" so to speak.

Monday, March 11, 2019

MMGM: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson


ABOUT THE BOOK

The letter waits in a book, in a box, in an attic, in an old house in Lambert, South Carolina. It's waiting for Candice Miller.

When Candice finds the letter, she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother, after all, who left Lambert in a cloud of shame. But the letter describes a young woman named Siobhan Washington. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. Grandma tried and failed. But now Candice has another chance.

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues in the letter. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert's history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter's promise before the summer ends?

REVIEW

I've always loved puzzle stories such as The Westing Game so I was intrigued when I heard about this one.  And I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The connection to The Westing Game didn't hurt any.  I found the way the author entwined the stories of the past and the present along with the puzzle elements to work really well.  Candace makes for a sympathetic character as she struggles with her parent's divorce and having to move away from her friends.  She resents it a bit when her mother pushes her into befriending the boy across the street.  Until she discovers that she and Brandon both love reading.  And after she discovers the letter her grandmother left for her, she needs help trying to solve the puzzle since she knows her mother won't approve of her efforts.  As Brandon and Candace work to solve the mystery surrounding her grandmother's digging up the local tennis courts and the possibility of a fortune just waiting to be found, they also have to deal with family and bullying issues.  Flashbacks scattered throughout the book take the reader back to the events that lead to the creation of the letter and the treasure hunt giving the reader additional insight into the circumstances that lead to Candace's and Brandon's involvement.  Johnson manages to combine themes of acceptance and sexual orientation and racial identity with the fun puzzle elements into a book with depth and character.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Away with Words by Lori Mortensen


ABOUT THE BOOK

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

Exploring was easier said than done in Victorian England. But Isabella persisted, and with each journey, she breathed in new ways to see and describe everything around her. Question by question, word by word, Isabella bloomed. First, out in the English countryside. Then, off to America and Canada. And eventually, around the world, to Africa, Asia, Australia, and more. 


This dashing picture book biography about the first female member of the Royal Geographic Society takes readers around the world with a daring nineteenth-century female explorer and author. Kristy Caldwell's detailed illustrations illuminate Bird's travels around the world, and Lori Mortensen's back matter, author's note, and bibliography will satisfy the curiosity of readers who want to learn more.


REVIEW

I really enjoyed this well-told tale of the adventures of Isabella Bird.  Born in 1831, Isabella had health problems from a young age.  Despite multiple doctor's visits, no diagnosis could be made.  Isabella's life changed forever though when one of the doctor's suggested she get more fresh air.  Her father started taking her with him when he traveled through the countryside visiting his parishioners.  He taught her the names of the plants and animals they saw along the way and then he'd quiz her about it.  Isabella thrived for a while.  She especially enjoyed reading letters from friends and relatives far away.  Her health deteriorated again though when she became a young lady and her outside trips diminished.  Her doctor recommended a sea voyage and Isabella set out on her first big adventure.  She detailed her trips in journals and wrote books after each trip.  Her books became bestsellers.  Except for a couple of times when other life events got in the way, Isabella spent many years traveling all over the world.  I found this book compelling as I read about Isabella's numerous trips, some of them shared in her own descriptive words.  The illustrations are bright, crisp, and attractive.  I was delighted to read about a woman who loved exploring as much as I do (although I'm much more of an armchair explorer).  This is a delightful account of a woman who, despite some struggles with societies expectations, found her love of adventure and let it take her on some amazing journeys.
 
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