Saturday, June 23, 2018

BLOG TOUR: Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries by Ammi-Joan Paquette & Laurie Ann Thompson


Unbelievable TRUTHS about outrageous people, places and events—with a few outright LIES hiding among them. Can you tell the fakes from the facts?

Did you know that a young girl once saved an entire beach community from a devastating tsunami thanks to something she learned in her fourth-grade geography lesson? Or that there is a person alive today who generates her own magnetic field? Or how about the fact that Benjamin Franklin once challenged the Royal Academy of Brussels to devise a way to make farts smell good?

Welcome to Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries! You know the game: Every story in this book is strange and astounding, but one out of every three is an outright lie.

Can you guess which stories are the facts and which are the fakes? It’s not going to be easy. Some false stories are based on truth, and some of the true stories are just plain unbelievable! Don’t be fooled by the photos that accompany each story—it’s going to take all your smarts and some clever research to root out the alternative facts.

From a train that transported dead people to antique photos of real fairies to a dog who was elected mayor, the stories in this book will amaze you! Just don’t believe everything you read. . . .


Ammi-Joan Paquette loves caves, hates mushy bananas, and is ambivalent about capybaras. She is the author of the novels The Train of Lost Things, Paradox, and Nowhere Girl as well as the Princess Juniper series and many more. She is also the recipient of a PEN/New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award honor. Joan lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, where she balances her own writing with her day job as a literary agent. You can visit her online at

Laurie Ann Thompson loves capybaras, hates caves, and is ambivalent about mushy bananas. She is the author of several award-winning nonfiction books, including Emmanuel’s Dream,  a picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, which was the recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award and was named an ALA Notable Book and a CCBC Choice, among other accolades. She lives outside Seattle with her family, and you can visit her online at


Paquette and Thompson have created another fascinating and fabulous book.  With the prevalence of fake news of all kinds it's become vitally important for young readers to learn to be discerning readers.  Two Truths and a Lie books one and two do a great job of showing young readers the importance of not believing everything you read, no matter how convincing and legitimate it may seem.  This series makes not only a fun read for young readers either.  I've thoroughly enjoyed reading them and seeing if I can figure out which articles are true and which ones aren't.  Sometimes I'm right and occasionally I'm not.  This second book in the series is divided into sections: Hazy Histories, Peculiar Places, and Perplexing People.  Each section has three chapters with each chapter including three articles.  Two of the articles are factual and one is not.  The authors have done a great job of picking their topics (caves, animals, disease, the dead, etc.).  Not only are the topics interesting but the book design is bright and appealing with fun sidebars.  This is a great book for young readers, but it also works well for teachers and parents who want their children to learn to be discerning readers.  One of my new favorite nonfiction series.

EDUCATOR'S GUIDE can be found here.



Thursday, June 21, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: Mighty Jack/MIghty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke


Jack might be the only kid in the world who's dreading summer. But he's got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It's a lot of responsibility, and it's boring, too, because Maddy doesn't talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom's car for a box of mysterious seeds. It's the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.


Mighty Jack is a fun adventure which isn't surprising.  Fun stories are what I've come to expect from Ben Hatke.  This is a rather unique take on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale.  In this version, young Jack has a younger sister who doesn't talk much who he is expected to look out for when his mother is working.  At a visit to the local farmer's market, Jack trades his mother's car (she is not at all pleased about this) for a strange box full of seeds.  He does this because his sister asked him to and he couldn't resist her request after she actually spoke.  When I read this I thought the man who gave Jack the seeds looked familiar (and I was right--he's from the Zita the Spacegirl series).  Jack and his sister plant the seeds only to realize that their new found garden is rather dangerous.  Jack and Lilly (a neighborhood girl) learn to fight off the dangerous garden elements by using the powers that some of the produce gives them.  But when the garden hurts Jack's sister, he tries to destroy it.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work and his sister is kidnapped and taken to another world.  Jack and Lilly must follow.  The illustrations are compelling and entertaining and the story moves quickly.  As popular as the Zita the Spacegirl books are in my library, I can guarantee that this book will be just as popular.


Like a bolt from the blue, Jack's little sister Maddy is gone—carried into another realm by an ogre.

When Jack and Lilly follow Maddy’s captor through the portal, they are ready for anything . . . except what they find waiting for them in the floating crossroads between worlds. Even the power of their magic plants may not be enough to get them back to earth alive.

Alone and injured, Jack and Lilly must each face their own monsters—as well as giants who grind the bones of human children to feed their “beast” and a fearsome goblin king in the sewers down below.

But when Jack finds himself in a tough spot, help comes from the most unlikely person: the goblin king!

Ben Hatke, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Zita the Spacegirl, concludes his latest middle-grade fantasy-adventure graphic novel series, Mighty Jack, with the energetic finale to his retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk.


This book picks up right where Mighty Jack ends with Jack and Lilly entering a portal to find Jack's missing sister.  As they search for Jack's sister, Lilly falls and they get separated.  After sending Jack after his sister, Lilly meets up with a bunch of goblins who are living in a sewer beneath the castle that used to be theirs.  After defeating the Goblin King who wants to marry her or eat her, Lilly sets off with her new found friends to find Jack.  Meanwhile, Jack finds his sister being held captive by giants in a castle.  But they aren't going to eat her themselves, instead they plan to feed her to a machine that will allow them to take over the castle for good.  Jack and Lilly must team up to defeat the giants, even though the price may be higher than they want to pay.  This is a fitting conclusion to the story of Jack and Lilly, although the ending indicates a new beginning of sorts.  Once again, Hatke has created an appealing, exciting adventure that young readers are bound to enjoy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Hello Lighthouse/Goldfish on Vacation/Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code


A new picture book that will transport readers to the seaside.

Watch the days and seasons pass as the wind blows, the fog rolls in, and icebergs drift by. Outside, there is water all around. Inside, the daily life of a lighthouse keeper and his family unfolds as the keeper boils water for tea, lights the lamp's wick, and writes every detail in his logbook.


Sophie Blackall has created a truly beautiful book in this tale of life in a lighthouse.  I'll admit I've been in a lighthouse, and I couldn't do it.  The limited space and unlimited time to yourself would get to me very quickly.  Of course, lighthouses are run automatically these days, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading about what it was like to live in a lighthouse years ago when that was necessary to keep them running.  Blackall's matter-of-fact text wonderfully complements the gorgeous illustrations that show the many different tasks that a lighthouse keeper had to master.  And yet despite all those tasks, there was much down time.  In the story, the keeper's wife comes to live with him, but their isolation is still clear as they go about their lives with little contact with other people, except when shipwrecked sailors are rescued.  A beautiful tale of a very different way of life from not so long ago.


From a New York Times bestselling author and a rising-star illustrator comes a humorous tale based on an amazing-but-true story about the summer a city fountain was used as a goldfish pond.

H, Little O, and Baby Em are stuck in the city for the summer with only their pet goldfish--Barracuda, Patch, and Fiss--for company. It's looking like it might be a pretty boring vacation, but one day, something exciting happens. Someone starts fixing up the old fountain down the street--the one Grandpa says horses used to drink from before everyone had cars--and a sign appears: "Calling All Goldfish Looking for a Summer Home." H, Little O, and Baby Em can't wait to send their goldfish on vacation, and the fish, well, they seem pretty excited too. Based on the true story of Hamilton Fountain in New York City, this charming tale of one special summer.


I quite enjoyed this cute story about summer in the city.  The three children live in an apartment building near an old un-used fountain.  But one summer the fountain is revamped and opened.  The neighborhood children are invited to bring their goldfish to the fountain for a 'vacation' from their small bowls.  In the process, the children get together and have a good time as well.  The story is a fun one about community and finding ways to enjoy whatever environment you might be in.  Of course, I'm pretty sure that the children don't get back the same goldfish they dropped off, but does it matter?  The illustrations are bright and attractive and complement the story nicely.


As a young Navajo boy, Chester Nez had to leave the reservation and attend boarding school, where he was taught that his native language and culture were useless. But Chester refused to give up his heritage. Years later, during World War II, Chester—and other Navajo men like him—was recruited by the US Marines to use the Navajo language to create an unbreakable military code. Suddenly the language he had been told to forget was needed to fight a war. This powerful picture book biography contains backmatter including a timeline and a portion of the Navajo code, and also depicts the life of an original Navajo code talker while capturing the importance of heritage.


This is an important story about sticking to your values no matter what.  And even better, it's a true story.  When young Betoli, a Navajo boy, is sent off to boarding school, he's told that his new name will be Chester.  Like so many Native children of the time, he faced a school telling him he needed to give up his culture in order to be successful in 'the white man's' world.  He wasn't allowed to use his language, he had to dress and look like a white boy, and he had to attend school in a place where his people suffered greatly.  But Betoli/Chester was a brave kid, and he chose to hold on to the things he valued, including his language and culture.  And his summers spent at home helped him to do so.  Later as he prepared to leave the school, World War II broke out.  Despite the way he had been treated during his school years, Betoli/Chester chose to fight for his country.  He ended up joining the Marines when they came looking for Navajo men who could speak both English and Navajo.  He joined a group of other Navajo speakers and helped create a code that the enemy couldn't break.  He then spent the rest of the war using the code to transmit messages.  His cultural traditions helped him survive the war as well as the combat fatigue (PTSS) he experienced when he got home.  A remarkable story about courage and faith and integrity, a story that reminds readers of the importance of choosing for oneself what to believe and how to live one's life.

Monday, June 18, 2018

MMGM: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani


It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.


Nisha likes her life except for one thing.  Her mother died when she and her twin brother Amil were born.  When she is given a diary for her twelveth birthday, she decides to write letters to her mother.  Life in her village isn't perfect but it isn't bad either.  She and her brother attend the local school where she has no real friends and her brother is bullied but she gets to help out the family cook, Kazi prepare the meals.  Her father is a doctor who works at the local hospital and while he isn't particularly tender, he does take care of them, even though he has little patience for Amil's learning difficulties.

But things take a sudden turn when India gains her independence and tensions between Muslims and Hindus explode into violence.  With a mother who was Muslim and a father who is Hindu, Nisha doesn't understand why this is happening.  Why people who used to get along, don't anymore.  The announcement that India will be split into two separate countries (India and Pakistan) the violence gets worse.  Nisha learns that her family is going to have to leave the only home she's ever known because Hindus are no longer welcome in what will soon be Muslim-dominated Pakistan.  Heart-broken and confused, Nisha must leave behind most of what she's ever known, including her beloved Kazi.  The journey itself is difficult for everyone but meeting her mother's brother offers a spark of hope.

I really enjoyed reading this book and not only because it takes place outside of the United States.  Nisha is a fabulous character, who though she's growing up is still a child in many ways.  She wants to know what the adults are whispering about, but once she finds out, she doesn't understand it and it scares her.  She gets along with her brother most of the time, but they get on each other's nerves sometimes too.  And Nisha struggles with her own personal weaknesses as well, including shyness.  I appreciated the fact that the problems in Nisha's life aren't all solved by the end of the book.  While things are better, her life has still almost completely changed.  Yet hope remains alive and well despite all the heartache and changes in Nisha's life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: I Got It! by David Wiesner/Hello, Hello by Brendan Wenzel


David Wiesner presents a near-wordless account of the most suspenseful, nerve-wracking few seconds in a baseball game.

The few seconds after the ball leaves the bat can be infinitely long. For this eager young outfielder, there's plenty of time to envision the increasingly fantastic and funny situations that might interfere with making the catch. Summoning determination and courage, he overcomes the imaginary obstacles and turns them into a springboard for success.


I'll admit the first time I read this I was reading it to a class of first graders.  I didn't have time to read and ponder it the way I should a Wiesner book.  So when a tree root and then a tree popped up in the baseball field, I wasn't quite prepared.  And then an enormous baseball appeared, and then the boy playing ball was tiny and his teammates were huge.  I had to ad lib to explain to the students why these strange things were appearing in what at first seemed to be a straightforward story of a boy playing in a pickup baseball game.  Afterward, as I thought about it though I wasn't too surprised.  This is a David Wiesner book after all.  And Wiesner is known for creating books that look at the world in a different, even fantastical way.  At first I was thinking the book was all about symbolism.  The symbolism revolving around excuses for clumsiness (the tree), the size a ball seems when it's coming straight at you (huge), and how it feels to mess up and have your teammates rush in to cover for you (you feel very small).  And while I still see that symbolism in the book, I now see that the book is about a young boy who is afraid of messing up and starts to imagine all the different (sometimes funny) ways that he could mess up catching the ball.   Luckily, by the time he finally gets the chance to catch the ball, he pulls himself together.  Once again, Wiesner has created an unusual, imaginative tale with gorgeous illustrations.  I enjoy using his books because there are many different ways to interpret them.  And this book is no different.  Next time I use the book, I'll be better prepared to ask students about how they interpret Wiesner's unusual additions.


This gorgeous follow-up to the Caldecott Honor–winning They All Saw a Cat explores another aspect of seeing the world for young children. Beginning with two cats, one black and one white, a chain of animals appears before the reader, linked together by at least one common trait. From simple colors and shapes to more complex and abstract associations, each unexpected encounter celebrates the magnificent diversity of our world—and ultimately paints a story of connection. Brendan Wenzel's joyous, rhythmic text and exuberant art encourage readers to delight in nature's infinite differences and to look for—and marvel at—its gorgeous similarities. It all starts with a simple "Hello."


Wenzel has created an beautiful book about animals with a rather unusual premise.  The book starts by introducing animals that are black and white, basic colors, then moves to more colorful animals.  He continues by introducing animals that have stripes and spots, then animals of different sizes, then animals with unusual tongues, ears, hands and noses.  It's a brilliant strategy starting with the simple (black and white cats) to the more complex.  What makes it even more brilliant is the way he matches animals who are different but who have one major thing in common, such as a whale shark, and a spotted chameleon, a proboscis monkey and an elephant seal, a porcupine and an echidna.  The last animal from the previous page greets (Hello) the new set of animals making for a continuous line of animals.  Thankfully Wenzel includes a list of all the animals in the back of the book.  This is a good thing because I didn't know all the animals and neither will child readers.  When I read the book to a class of second graders they had a blast trying to guess the ones they didn't know though.  It also turns out that Wenzel has highlighted animals that are threatened or endangered, and in the author's note at the end of the book encourages young readers to find out more about these animals and support those who are trying to save them.  The book is a beautiful combination of brilliant illustrations, connections, and introduction to a fascinating and important topic.

Monday, June 4, 2018

NONFICTION MONDAY: Amazon Adventure by Sy Montgomery


Considered the “lungs of the world,” the Amazon provides a full fifth of the world’s oxygen, and every year unsustainable human practices destroy 2.7 million acres. What can be done to help? That’s where Project Piaba comes in.

Join the award-winning author Sy Montgomery and the photographer Keith Ellenbogen as they traverse the river and rainforest to discover how tiny fish, called piabas, can help preserve the Amazon, its animals, and the rich legacy of its people. Amazon Adventure is an eye-opening—and ultimately hopeful—exploration of how humanity’s practices are affecting and shaping not only the Amazon, but our entire environment.


The author and photograph set off on a trip to the Amazon in this book to document the efforts of a group of scientists to help save the Amazon rain forest.  Project Piaba focuses on the collection of a variety of tiny fish found in the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon's tributaries.  The local people collect the fish, that would normally die during the dry season, and sell them to the aquarium market.  But fish farming and conservation efforts are threatening this environmentally sustaining lifestyle which might force more people into destroying the forest in order to support themselves and their families.  The scientists are there to check the health of the ecosystem and to come up with ways to help the native piebeiros (those who hunt the tiny fish).  While the scientists (and the author and photographer) are there they experience the local celebration revolving around these fish.  The result is a fascinating account of science in action and the importance of involving native peoples in saving ecosystems.  Cultural traditions also shine through in story in beautiful photographs and an account of a local tradition that revolves around the Amazon ecosystem.  Books in the Scientists in the Field series are important in helping young readers understand how people are making a difference in the world.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEWS: Sparks! by Ian Boothby & Nina Matsumoto/How to Spot a Sasquatch by J. Torres


This Super Dog is the Cat's Meow!

August is a brilliant inventor who is afraid of the outside. Charlie is a crack pilot who isn't afraid of anything. Together these pals save lives every day. They also happen to be cats who pilot a powerful, mechanical dog suit!

Always eager to leap into danger, this feline duo have their work cut out for them as they try to thwart Princess, an evil alien bent on enslaving mankind. Don't let the fact that Princess looks like a cute, diaper-wearing baby fool you. She's clever, determined, and totally ruthless. So when Princess and the browbeaten fools she calls servants enact a brilliant and dastardly plan to conquer Earth, August and Charlie pull out all the stops to save the day.


I'm always thrilled when I find a new graphic novel that I know the students will enjoy.  Sparks! is one of those books.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about August and Charlie and their mechanical dog costume.  Both August and Charlie were experimented on leading to their extra abilities.  August's brains combined with Charlie's piloting skills make for a fabulous dog hero.  But the two don't agree on everything, especially being outside and getting credit for their lifesaving feats.  Unknown to them they become the target of an alien disguised as a baby who plans to control all the animals on earth to take over the earth.  Will August and Charlie be able to overcome their differences in time to save the earth from Princess's evil plans?  Not only is the story entertaining but the art is delightful.  And two cats dressing up as a dog to save the world is endlessly entertaining. I'm hoping there will be more August and Charlie to share with my students.


On a camping trip with the Junior Rangers, Jay feels like the odd one out. He’s determined to get a photo of Bigfoot—but none of his friends believe Bigfoot exists. But if there’s no such thing as Bigfoot, why is there a giant footprint? And who is stealing all the snacks?

Meanwhile, Sass the Sasquatch and her curious forest friends are playing practical jokes on the campers. On the last day of camp, disaster strikes when Jay falls into a rushing river. Sass comes out of the woodwork—despite her parents’ warnings to stay away from humans!—just in time to save his life. Soon after, Jay and Sass become fast friends, proving that nothing is impossible when it comes to friendship.

Told in ten short chapters.


In this short, amusing graphic novel, a young boy goes on a camping trip, planning on finding a Sasquatch (Bigfoot).  The other kids laugh at him and tell him there is no such thing as a Sasquatch  But he refuses to give up.  Meanwhile, behind the campers back, the reader sees a young Sasquatch spying on the visitors (and even swiping a few things).  This is an entertaining, quick read for readers who like light, amusing graphic novels.  The art is pleasing and it's great to see a person of color as the main character without it being an issue at all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Sylvia Rose and the Cherry Tree/Astronaut Annie


This very strange tale began in May

in a friendly forest on a sunny day.

Skipping along a path in the wood

danced Sylvia Rose, and man, she was GOOD!

Laughing and leaping came Sylvia Rose,

Whirling and twirling on twinkly toes.

Bold, adventurous Sylvia Rose loves visiting the animals and trees of the forest. The girl and her favorite cherry tree share almost everything, including dancing and stories, but they can’t travel the world together because the tree is rooted deep in the earth. Determined to overcome this obstacle, Sylvia Rose enlists her animal friends to uproot the glorious tree, and Sylvia and the tree set off globetrotting together, taking in the wonders of the world from the Eiffel Tower to the Sydney Opera House, each sight more amazing than the last.  

Back home in the forest, however, the animals begin to suffer without the food and shelter of their life-sustaining cherry tree. Can the tree give up her newfound freedom and return to her role in the forest ecosystem?


This sweet book revolves around a young girl, Sylvia Rose, and the joy she finds visiting the forest.  All the animals enjoy her visits as do the trees.  The cherry tree especially enjoys hearing of Sylvia Rose's adventures, but is sad because he can't accompany her and see the world himself.  But Sylvia Rose enlists the help of the animals to uproot the tree and take him on a journey to see the world.  And while they enjoy their trip and the many sites and sounds they experience, back home, the animals greatly miss the tree and all he offered them in terms of food and shelter.  The best part of the book is the lovely illustrations which are bright and colorful and eye-catching.  And the themes of friendship, joy in the journey, and the power of home shine through nicely.


Career Day is approaching, and Annie can’t wait to show her family what she’s planning to be when she grows up. But, she must keep it a secret until Friday! So curious family members each ask Annie for a clue. Convinced that she’ll be a news reporter like he once was, Grandpop gives her his old camera and notebook to use for her presentation. Grandma is sure Annie wants to be a champion baker like her, so she offers a mixing bowl and oven mitts to Annie. Hopeful she'll become the mountain climber he aspired to be, Dad gives Annie an old backpack. Mom presents Annie with a pair of high-top sneakers to pursue Mom's favorite sport in high school -- basketball.

Grateful for each gift, Annie cleverly finds a way to use them all to create her Career Day costume. When the big day arrives, Annie finally reveals her out-of-this-world dream to everyone.


Annie is excited about giving a presentation for school about what she wants to be when she grows up.  Each of her family members is excited as well because they think she's interested in being what they were such as a news reporter like Grandpop.  Each family member gives her equipment to use for her presentation representing their own passions.  What I especially enjoyed about this book is the creative way that Annie takes what her family gives her and uses it to create her own costume representing her own dream.  I wish the title of the book was different though, it would have made the big reveal at the end all the more powerful.  The title rather gives away Annie's plans.  The story is a fun one about finding your own passions in life.

Monday, May 28, 2018

NONFICTION MONDAY: The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery


The Hyena Scientist sets the record straight about one of history’s most hated and misunderstood mammals, while featuring the groundbreaking, pioneering research of a female scientist in a predominately male field.

As a scientist studying one of the only mammalian societies led entirely by females, zoologist Kay Holecamp has made it her life’s work to understand hyenas, the fascinating, complex creatures that are playful, social, and highly intelligent—almost nothing like the mangy monsters of pop culture lore.


I love these Scientists in the Field series. Not only do they give the reader a glimpse into what it's like to be a field scientist but the information about the topic is fascinating.  I learned a lot about hyenas reading this book.  As Montgomery points out at the beginning of the book, hyenas are seen by many as evil scavengers, but they aren't.  They live in clans with complex social mores that Holecamp, even after years of study still works to understand.  In addition to sharing some of what she learned about hyenas, Montgomery highlights Holecamp and her research assistants and how they came to work in Kenya.  The challenges of field work aren't overlooked as Montgomery details problems such as flooding, lots of mud, and simply finding hyenas to observe.  Bishop's gorgeous photographs add a great deal to the book by showing both the people and animals involved in Holecamp's work.  A great addition to the series and a fabulous book to offer animal or science loving students.
Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Story Time kit by Kristin Aagard