Thursday, April 26, 2012

Read to Me Picture Book Challenge 2012: Birds

I've gotten behind on highlighting some of the books I share at school in the library.  Today I'm sharing four books about birds that I shared with my kindergarteners a couple of weeks ago.  The students enjoyed them and I enjoyed sharing them.


FALCON
written and illustrated by Tim Jessell
Random House, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-375-86866-5
Grades K-3
Reviewed from personal copy.
Summary comes from Goodreads.

A young boy imagines what it would be like to fly as a falcon and see the world from on high. Soaring through the skies, he describes the sights and sounds of the world below. From snow-capped mountains to lush valleys, over rolling ocean and up rocky cliffs, Falcon will awaken the senses of every reader.

I knew I had to get this the minute I saw the gorgeous cover.  The theme also grabbed me from the first time I heard it.  The book did not disappoint.  I thoroughly enjoyed sharing this book with students and highlighting the power of imagination to take us places we could not otherwise go. This book also does a great job with perspective, looking at the falcon from various angles.  Sometimes the reader sees things from the falcon's viewpoint and sometimes from the viewpoint of bystanders both human and animal.  A great book for sharing the wonder of the natural world and the power of imagination. 


BIRDS
written by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek
Greenwillow Books, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-136304-7
Grades K-3
Reviewed from personal copy.
Summary comes from Goodreads.


Vibrant and lively paintings accompany a simple text, in this new picture book by a celebrated husband-and-wife team. With a fine eye for detail, a little girl describes birds--their sizes, shapes, colors, the way they move, and how they are most like her. 

A fabulous book about birds and what makes them unique.  This makes for a great introduction to birds and their similarities and differences.  I also like the way the author uses imagination to look at birds and their world in different ways.  This book uses fabulous imagery in helping readers see birds in different ways.  A great book for encouraging students to see things in creative ways.


ABOUT BIRDS
written by Cathryn Sill, illustrated by John Sill
Peachtree Publishers, 1997
ISBN: 978-1-56145-147-0
Grades K-2
Reviewed from personal copy.
Summary comes from Goodreads.

A simple and colorful introduction to birds and bird behavior, accompanied by beautifully detailed illustrations from noted wildlife illustrator John Sill.

The description for this book says it all better than I can.  This book provides a great introduction to birds and the similarities and differences between different kinds of birds.  Great for teaching or just browsing.  The illustrations are beautiful and compliment the simple text perfectly.  I will definitely be looking for more books by this pair.

BRING ON THE BIRDS
written and illustrated by Susan Stockdale
Peachtree Publishers, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56145-560-7
Reviewed from personal copy.
Summary comes from the book blurb.

Birds come in all sorts of interesting shapes, sizes, and colors and many of them can do amazing things as well. Can you imagine...

Dancing birds,
Diving birds,
Hanging birds,
Hiding birds...

They're all real!

In her latest book, noted author-illustrator Susan Stockdale introduces young readers to both exotic and familiar birds in energetic rhyming text. The bright, bold colors and crisp, clean lines of Stockdale's birds, depicted in their natural habitats, can't help but grab your attention. An afterword identifies each animal and tells a little bit about it and where it lives.


I love the poetry and rhythm of this title.  The words flow beautifully (see summary above).  It was fun discussing this book with the students.  It was a fun way to see what kinds of birds the students were familiar with.  It was entertaining to see the students reaction to some of the more extravagantly colored species (such as the Toucan on the cover).  The acrylic illustrations provide the perfect touch, not to simple but not so detailed to distract from the birds themselves.

I highly recommend all these books for both reading pleasure and classroom interaction.


 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fairy Tale Giveaway Hop


Welcome to my Fairy Tale Giveaway.  This hop is being hosted by I Am A Reader, Not a Writer and bbb32reads.  I am giving away one book of your choice Young Adult/Middle Grade that is based on a fairy tale. This giveaway is open internationally, as long as The Book Depository ships to you.

For this giveaway, I am highlighting three of my favorite fairy tale heroes/heroines and the books they appear in. The summaries come from Goodreads.com.


Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, the ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.


I love Cinder's pure grit. She's determined to make a good life for herself despite the awful circumstances she finds herself in.  When things change and she realizes that there is more at stake than just herself, she finds the courage to keep fighting.  I prefer heroines who are willing to step up to save themselves rather than waiting for a 'handsome' prince to step up and save them.  There is a handsome prince in this story who is forced to carry the weight of his country on his young shoulders.  I like the fact that the two try to help each other, but don't magically solve all of their problems.

She can whisper to horses and communicate with birds, but the crown princess Ani has a difficult time finding her place in the royal family and measuring up to her imperial mother. When she is shipped off to a neighboring kingdom as a bride, her scheming entourage mounts a bloody mutiny to replace her with a jealous lady-in-waiting, Selia, and to allow an inner circle of guards more power in the new land. Barely escaping with her life, Ani disguises herself as a goose girl and wanders on the royal estate. Does she have the pluck to reclaim her rightful place? Get ready for a fine adventure tale full of danger, suspense, surprising twists, and a satisfying conclusion. The engaging plot can certainly carry the tale, but Hale's likable, introspective heroine makes this also a book about courage and justice in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Ani is another character that I enjoy reading about.  She's not perfect but she tries to do the right thing.  After experiencing a vicious attack, Ani goes into hiding.  One of the things that I especially appreciate is the growth that Ani experiences as she struggles to deal with the blows that fate has handed her.

Princess Emeralda aka. Emma isn't exactly an ideal princess. Her laugh is more like a donkey's bray than tinkling bells, she trips over her own feet and she does not like Prince Jorge, whom her mother hopes she will marry. But if Emma ever thought to escape her troubles, she never expected it to happen by turning into a frog! When convinced to kiss a frog so he might return to being a prince, somehow the spell is reversed and Emma turns into a frog herself! Thus begins their adventure--a quest to return to human form.

Emma is simply a delightful character who doesn't fit the stereotypical image of a princess.  She isn't elegant or spoiled, she loves wandering around in the swamp and she rarely behaves in a proper fashion.  I love that about her.





Here are some other great fairy tale reads.
 







RULES for GIVEAWAY

  1. You must be over 13.
  2. You MUST be a follower.  I've decided I want to reward those who take the time to follow me. At least this time.
  3. Fill out the form. You may choose one of the books mentioned above or any other MG/YA fairy tale book.
  4. Winner will be announced on MAY 2nd.  The winner has 48 hours to respond to the email I send, otherwise another winner will be chosen.

Thanks for participating and good luck!


 

My Top Early Chapter Books Part 2

Here's the rest of my favorite early chapter books. 

GOONEY BIRD GREENE 
by Lois Lowry

Two-time Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry introduces a new girl in class who loves being the center of attention and tells the most entertaining “absolutely true” stories.

There’s never been anyone like Gooney Bird Greene at Watertower Elementary School. What other new kid comes to school wearing pajamas and cowboy boots one day and a polka-dot t-shirt and tutu on another? Gooney Bird has to sit right smack in the middle of the class because she likes to be in the middle of everything. She is the star of story time and keeps her teacher and classmates on the edge of their seats with her “absolutely true” stories. But what about her classmates? Do they have stories good enough to share?

I love Gooney Bird's uniqueness and her ability to tell interesting stories. Not only are these fun reads, but they are perfect for reading aloud.  Each book focuses on one curriculum topic, but it's blended so well into the story that it doesn't feel awkward.  The first book focuses on telling stories and the fact that everyone has stories to tell.

IVY + BEAN
by Annie Barrows

The moment they saw each other, Bean and Ivy knew they wouldn't be friends. But when Bean plays a joke on her sister, Nancy, and has to hide, Ivy comes to the rescue, proving that sometimes the best of friends are people never meant to like each other. Vibrant characters and lots of humor make this a charming and addictive introduction to Ivy and Bean. 

Ivy and Bean are best friends who complement each other perfectly.  Ivy loves dresses, being neat, and reading, whereas, Bean loves being outside, bothering her (annoying) older sister, and exploring. The illustrations make for a nice addition to this series. These books are humorous and remind me of Ramona Quimby, in that the best laid plans always seem to go awry.

MARTY MCGUIRE
by Kate Messner, illustrated by Brian Flocca

Marty McGuire would rather spend recess catching frogs in the pond than playing dress-up with the other girls in third grade. So when her teacher casts Marty as the princess in the class play, Marty's absolutely, positively sure that there's been a huge mistake. But after a special lesson in the art of improvisation, Marty comes up with her OWN plan to IMPROVE the play: Why use stuffed-animal frog onstage when a live one would be so much better? In the end, Marty's one-of-a-kind performance makes for an unforgettable show. Maybe Marty CAN live happily ever after, after all!

Marty is very much a tomboy, she enjoys playing with the boys doing things such as catching frogs.  She is horrified when she is chosen to be the princess in her class play.  But Marty is hard to keep down and with the help of a friend is ready to make this the best class play ever.  Both humorous and touching, this book makes for great read.

PRINCESS POSEY
by Stephanie Green, Illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson

Posey is really nervous about starting first grade. Instead of getting walked to her classroom, her mom has to drop her off at the Kiss-and-Go Lane. Then she?ll have to walk into school and face the Monster of the Blue Hall all by herself. Worst of all, she has to do it without the one thing that always makes her feel brave and special: the tutu that turns her into the Pink Princess. But when Posey inspires her new teacher to throw a first-day parade in which all the kids are invited to wear whatever makes them feel the most comfortable, first grade starts to look a lot more promising. Posey will charm readers just graduating from easy-to-reads (and from kindergarten) in this lively new series.

Not only is this series well-written, but it works perfectly for first graders who are both excited and scared of all that school has to offer.  Posey is a very believable character who it is impossible not to like.  You'll find yourself cheering her on as she faces new experiences and new problems with her own special flare.   This is a great series for students just starting chapter books.
 

ROSCOE RILEY RULES
by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Brian Biggs


Roscoe Riley doesn't mean to break the rules--he just can't help himself. Making his hilarious debut in this brand-new chapter book series, this irrepressible first grader is sure to have young readers eager to find out which rule he'll accidentally break next.

I love Roscoe Riley!  He makes me laugh like few other book characters.  His intentions are usually good but his plans rarely turn out the way he expects.  I have used this series as a read aloud and the students really enjoyed it.


ROLAND WRIGHT, FUTURE KNIGHT
by Tony Davis, illustrated by Gregory Rogers

Roland Wright wants to be a knight in armor. The problem: Roland’s dad is a blacksmith, and only boys from noble families can even dream of becoming knights. When mysterious visitors arrive in the village one day, everything changes. Roland finds himself in the contest of a lifetime, with a real chance to become a page, the first step on the road to knighthood. But how can skinny, clumsy Roland beat an opponent who is bigger, stronger, and older—and who doesn’t play by the rules?

Roland is your typical underdog.  But what he lacks in size or strength, he makes up for in heart.  Whatever he does he does wholeheartedly. When the chance to become a knight, his greatest desire, comes he must find a way to accomplish his dream or spend the rest of his life as a blacksmith's son.  This series is full of heart and humor and reads very quickly.  Once started they are hard to put down.


EOIN COLFER'S  LEGEND OF SPUD MURPHYby Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Glenn McCoy

Every kid in town knows about Spud Murphy. Grown-ups think she's the kindly old librarian, but kids know the truth. They've heard all about the gas-powered spud gun she keeps hidden under her desk-make so much as a sound in her library and you could get spudded with soggy potatoes. Laugh out loud and you may never be seen again . . . And now, in a major coup of parental injustice, Will and his older brother, Marty, have been ordered to spend their summer vacation in Spud's library Will brothers Will and Marty survive a summer marooned on the carpet of Spud's children's section, under the watchful eye of this terrifying librarian? Or will they discover a new interest that surprises even them?

This series is very humorous. Hmmm. I'm starting to notice a pattern here.  I apparently love humor in my early chapter books.  Anyway, Spud Murphy is my kind of librarian, tough on the outside, but doing everything in her power to get kids to read.  Makes for a fun read aloud.

TOYS GO OUT
by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul Zelinksky

Lumphy is a stuffed buffalo. StingRay is a stuffed stingray. And Plastic... well, Plastic isn't quite sure what she is. They all belong to the Little Girl who lives on the high bed with the fluffy pillows. A very nice person to belong to.

But outside of the Little Girl's room things can be confusing. Like when Lumphy gets sticky with peanut butter on a picnic, why is he called "dirty"? Or when StingRay jumps into the bathtub, what will happen to her fur? And where in the house can they find the Little Girl a birthday present that she will love the most?

Together is best for these three best friends. Together they look things up in the dictionary, explore the basement, and argue about the meaning of life. And together they face dogs, school, television commercials, the vastness of the sea, and the terrifying bigness of the washing machine.

These stories remind me so much of Toy Story with toys that come alive when no people are around.  The toys themselves are endearing and you can't help but fall in love with them and wish your own toys were like this.  The adventures Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic experience are exciting but not too scary so any of the three books would make for a great read aloud.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Animals Marco Polo Saw and Animals Christopher Columbus Saw by Sandra Markle

Goodness, it's been a whole week since I've added a new post.  Mostly this is because last week was crazy at school.  Testing is starting and everyone is stressed out.  Plus I had a workshop to attend dealing with the new Common Core.  It was quite interesting, but more about that later.  This week I'm hoping to finish up my Top books lists and post a giveaway, offering one of my readers any three books from any of my top lists.  We'll see if it actually happens.

Today, I'm posting about a couple of books by one of my favorite nonfiction writers for children.  My school was lucky enough to have a Skype visit with Sandra Markle a couple of weeks ago.  She did some really awesome science experiments that the students really enjoyed.  Unfortunately, I had trouble with the technology. ARGGGGHHH! Sigh. Such is life.  Anyway, here are a couple of books that would be great to use as supplements to units on the history of exploration.

Animals Christopher Columbus Saw: An Adventure in the New World
by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Jamel Akib
Chronicle Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8118-4916-6

Grades 2-5
Reviewed from personal copy.

In this new series by award-winning author Sandra Markle, famous explorers take a back seat to the animals they encountered along the way. While nothing about Christopher Columbus' journey was expected, he couldn't have imagined feasting on roasted lizard! Through nimble writing and beautiful paintings, this series casts the past in a whole new light!


Animals Marco Polo Saw: An Adventure on the Silk Road
by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini
Chronicle Books, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8118-5051-3
Grades 2-5
Reviewed from personal copy.


A continuation of the Explorers series by award-winning author Sandra Markle, Animals Marco Polo Saw brings to life the amazing, exotic animals Marco Polo encountered during his explorations in Asia, how the animals sometimes affected the outcome of the journey, and even helped the explorer survive!

I found both of these books well-written and informative.  The gorgeous illustrations do a wonderful job of depicting the places that these explorers visited.  The stories are told simply enough to be appropriate for 2nd graders, but detailed enough to work well with 5th graders as well.  One of the things I learned was that during Christopher Columbus's day, sailors mistakenly assumed that sea birds were an indication of land nearby.  That is of course not true, some sea birds, such as albatrosses, spend years at sea without so much as glimpsing land. In Marco Polo, I learned that traveling at that time was not only difficult in terms of terrain and climate, but also in terms of bandits and pirates and massive distances.  Learning about some of the animals that these explorers might have seen on their journeys makes the whole thing seem more real.  It's also kind of sad when one thinks of the animals that these explorers saw that are no longer around, such as the Persian lion.  I highly recommend both these books for both classroom use and for browsers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Explore Titanic by Peter Chrisp

EXPLORE TITANIC: Breathtaking New Pictures, Recreated with Digital Technology
by Peter Chrisp, with illustrations by Somchith Vongprachanh
Barron's, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4380-7159-6
Grades 3 and up
Reviewed from purchased copy.
Boys and girls will be enthralled by this dramatic pictorial history of the great ocean liner "R.M.S. Titanic, " and its fateful sinking in the North Atlantic. Approximately 125 photos and illustrations in color and black and white--including 12 astonishing 3D-rendered graphics--tell the "Titanic's " story, from its 1911 launching at the Belfast shipyard to its tragic destruction on April 15, 1912 during its maiden Atlantic crossing. Young readers will see faithful reproductions of both exterior and interior ship's details, from the Boiler Room and Engine Room far below decks to the luxury passengers' cabins and the ship's grand ballroom. Among the 3D-rendered artworks are two remarkable double-gatefold illustrations--The Titanic under steam A cutaway diagram of the ship. Other 3D artworks include--The Grand Staircase in First Class A First Class Cabin "Parlor Suite" The Bridge and Wheelhouse The First Class Dining Room Second Class Promenade Deck The Grand Staircase flooding as the ship sinks . . . and more.
The end product of meticulous research, this book's 3D-rendered artwork virtually draws readers aboard the ship, employing painstakingly realistic facsimiles of details both large and small. Enclosed with this unusual book is a CD-ROM that walks viewers through the ship's interior from stem to stern, showing hundreds of details. Viewers can zoom in and out to examine details more closely, and they can move around inside cabin interiors in a way that heightens the illusion of realism.
I found this book fascinating and gorgeous.  The 3-D renderings are very detailed and provide a fascinating look at the famous ship.  I learned quite a bit about the building of the ship.  For example, I had no idea the ship was built in Ireland.  I also learned that the ship's builders did not call her unsinkable, that was a myth that developed later.  I think the most powerful part of this book are the quotes from individuals who sailed on the ship, from both survivors and victims.  The text is divided up into short sections that match the visual elements.  This makes the book especially appropriate for reluctant readers.  The illustrations include 3-D renderings, along with photographs, artifacts, quotes and primary documents.  I think the most powerful images are the pictures of the ship as a whole.  These give the reader a feel for how impressive the Titanic really was and the shock and horror involved in her sinking.  As I read this I felt sympathy for those who suffered and lost so much.

The CD offers the user a 3-D look at some of the main features of the ship, including one of the boiler rooms, the bridge, the promenade, the staircase, and the 1st class dining room.  It's interesting to turn 360 degrees and see the room as if you are standing in it.  I recommend this book to all those who find themselves fascinated by this tragic event.


Head on over to The Nonfiction Detectives for today's Nonfiction Monday.

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Top Early Chapter Book Series Part 1

I love reading early chapter books, there are so many good ones.  But I noticed as I worked on this list that there are not very many early chapter books that aren't part of a series.  Most of my favorites are part of series.  This isn't bad, after all repetition is good for younger readers and I personally love revisiting my favorite characters.  But sometimes these books can be too formulaic, each story reads pretty much like the story before.  The books on this list do not fall into that category, maybe that's why I like them so much.  Not only do they have delightful characters, but interesting plots as well.

ANNA HIBISCUS by Atinuke
Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa. She lives with her whole family in a wonderful house. There is always somebody to laugh and play with. Anna Hibiscus loves to splash in the sea with her cousins and have parties with her aunties. But more than anything else in the world, Anna Hibiscus would love to see snow.
This is the best kind of story, in my opinion, where the reader learns about different points-of-view without the author trying to teach it. The reader quickly learns to like Anna Hibiscus and her extended family. The delightful illustrations beautifully compliment the stories. I soon wished I could climb Anna Hibiscus's favorite tree or laugh and play at the beach with her and her family. I highly recommend the whole series

MILO AND JAZZ MYSTERIES by Lewis B. Montgomery

I love this series of mysteries.  There are a lot of different mystery series available for the 7-9 crowd but this is my favorite.  This series has continued to be fresh and interesting while many series are so formulaic that the books all start to sound the same after a while.  This series focuses on the friendship between Milo & Jazz and their efforts to solve mysteries that pop up around them.  These mysteries include a swimming pool turned purple, missing lucky socks, a lost pet, and fraudulent fortune teller.  See here for more detailed reviews of some of these books.  I'll also be reviewing the 7th and 8th books in the series in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned.

CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker

 Clementine reminds me so much of another beloved chapter book character named Ramona.  Clementine's intentions are always good, but the results are often disastrous.  For example, her plan to help her friend Margaret fix her hair after a glue emergency results in a bald Margaret.  Clementine and her family provide lots of humor, perfect for sharing.

DOWN GIRL & SIT by Lucy A Nolan

THE HILARIOUS ADVENTURES OF TWO CONFUSED CANINES Down Girl and Sit are two dogs who are "smarter than squirrels." They know how to protect their masters from all the things that can go wrong in the neighborhood: they bark at paperboys and guard the garbage cans, and keep mischievous squirrels at bay. But when Here Kitty Kitty moves in next door, their daily routines are turned topsy-turvy. Filled with humor and adventure, this illustrated chapter book takes a look at life in the backyard from the well-intentioned but misguided viewpoint of man's best friend.
Hilarious, perfect for reading aloud, what more needs to be said.

FRANKIE PICKLE by Eric Wight
Chapter book meets graphic novel in this first book in the series everyone will be talking about. Like most kids, Frankie Pickle hates cleaning his room. But what happens when his mom says he never has to clean it again? For Frankie and his unstoppable imagination, it means he and his sidekick, Argyle, can become explorers swinging on vines, forging paths through piles of clothes, and scooting past lava pits. They can perform flawless surgery on a broken action figure. They can spend time in the big house. They can even become superheroes. But when junk piles grow too high, will all this imagining be enough to conquer . . . the closet of DOOM?
 The series is a great combination of graphic novel and chapter book.  I love the way the comics show what Frankie is imagining and the text represents reality.  It's a great concept and Wight does a great job with it.  Plus the topics are perfect for kids, I mean cleaning one's room, scouting, and the dreaded math test all make for great fun.

GHOSTHUNTERS by Cornelia Funke
Bestselling novelist and picture book author Funke now reaches a brand-new audience with a silly, spooky, illustrated series for early readers. Among her top sellers in Germany!

Nine-year-old Tom can't catch a break: He's a klutz, his sister Lola pretty much hates his guts, and--and this is a BIG "and"--he just found a ghost camping out in his cellar. Lucky for Tom his grandma's best friend just happens to be the world's foremost ghosthunter. Under her expert tutelage, Tom learns the tools of the trade--which just happen to include buckets of graveyard dirt--and soon finds he has to face down not just the Averagely Spooky Ghost (ASG) in his basement but the Incredibly Revolting Ghost (IRG) in town. All while keeping the nettlesome Lola off his trail....
Not only is this series very well written, but they are very entertaining as well. My only regret is that there are only four books in this series. Not only is this series perfect for reading out loud, it also shows how fears can be overcome.



Looks like I need to divide this post into too parts.  I just have too many favorites. :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Alias Dragonfly by Jane Singer

ALIAS DRAGONFLY
by Jane Singer
Bell Bridge Books, 2011
ISBN13: 9781611940411
Grades 4-8
Reviewed from e-book provided by publisher through NetGalley.


Fifteen years old. Wanted: Dead or Alive.

"Don't love a spy," warns fifteen-year-old Pinkerton agent Maddie Bradford, a lonely, rebellious outsider with a mind on fire and a photographic memory. It is 1861, the Civil War has just started and this motherless teen must move with her soldier-father from New Hampshire to Washington, DC-a city at war, packed cheek by jowl with soldiers, Rebel spies, slave catchers and traitors of all stripes bent on waging a war of destruction against the Union, and President Lincoln himself.

Maddie's journal, written in secret, of course, begins with her arrival at her aunt's DC boardinghouse through the first year of the Civil War, a time, as Maddie puts it, full of "dips and dangers," when she becomes a fearless Union spy. And then there is the mysterious, maddening Jake Whitestone, a young man who awakens something equally dangerous in Maddie: Love in a time of terror. 

I quite enjoyed this book.  Maddie proved to be the kind of character I like best, fiesty, but smart.  She is willing to lay her life on the line for what she believes in and what she believes in fiercely is family.  She has lost her mother and is determined not to lose her father.  After being sent back to her aunt's boarding house after running away to find her father, Maddie determines that the best way to get her father back in one piece is to help end the war.  So, she becomes a spy.  Her photographic memory and courageous heart aid her in her endeavors. What she wasn't counting on though is Jake Whitestone, a young man staying at her aunt's boarding house, but who is clearly not all he appears to be.  The question becomes, can Maddie help end the war without becoming lost in the lies and possibly losing her life.

While I enjoyed the characters, I found the plot rather rough. For example, the story begins with Maddie having a nightmare, a dream about something that actually happened, but the dream doesn't match up with the actual encounter and it takes most of the book to get there.  Plus, this encounter involves a character that had not previously been introduced, creating a bit of an awkward feel to the story.  Some of the subplots also didn't flow together as well as I would have liked, such as Jake's work as a secret reporter.

Overall, though, I did find the book intriguing and am looking forward to reading more about Maddie and her adventures as a spy.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Charity Hopping Around the World Giveaway Winner




Congratulations to the winner of my Charity Hopping Giveaway, a $20.  The winner is...


Tracy Awalt Juliano.

I'd like to thank all those who participated.  It was wonderful hearing about all the kind acts that you have seen or been a part of.  To answer a question posed to me, I am indeed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints otherwise known as the LDS Church or Mormons.
 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Blog Tour: Promises by Carolyn Twede Frank

PROMISES
by Carolyn Twede Frank
August corp Press, 2012
Grades 3 and up
Reviewed from copy provided by author for review.
Opinions expressed are solely my own.

Hattie is barely twelve when her pa’s “business adventures” disrupt her family and move them to the new town of Tropic, nestled in the shadows of old Ebenezer Bryce’s Canyon. Her pa views the town as opportunity. Hattie is hopelessly shy and views it with apprehension; she dreads the task of making new friends. More than anything else, Hattie wants to be like her father—not afraid of meeting new people, talking to strangers, and standing up for herself. So it is with trepidation that she accepts her pa’s challenge and promises to make new friends. Hattie forms more promises as she struggles to make friends, finding companionship in places she wouldn’t have expected and learning that there is a difference between complaining and standing up for oneself.

Promises is a heartwarming story of friendship with a touch of mystery and adventure set in the days before Bryce Canyon became a national park. Drawn from the memoirs of Hattie Adair Jolley and her children, it is a realistic glimpse into the past and a delightful story for readers ages eight to eighty.
Making and keeping promises is something that has long been important to me, but I've found working with children as I do I have to be careful what I promise, because they are really good at remembering such promises.  Unfortunately, I don't always remember the promises I make and I sometimes make promises that would not be considered wise.  But I always learn from these experiences and try to be more careful the next time.

I found this a refreshing story of family, friendship, and finding one's own voice. While not as polished as it could be, this is an interesting look at the importance and power of promises. I found Hattie easy to relate to, especially her struggles to overcome her timidity.  She reminds me of myself in many ways.  Her relationships with her family seemed very realistic and reminded me of my relationships with my own siblings and how they have changed over the years.  I think overall if I had to describe this book in one word I would say, family.  This book beautifully illustrates why family can be such a valuable part of the human experience.


About the Author:

Carolyn Twede Frank grew up in a small town in Utah.  Her love of writing first expressed itself in the third grade when she was given the assignment to write poetry and discovered the fun of creating rhymes.  In high school, she had her own column in the school newspaper, and one of her articles took third place in a national editorial writing contest.


She began college with a minor in journalism.  When an instructor slashed her writing up one side and down the other, she decided she wasn't cut out to be a writer--even though the teacher gave her an A, and told her that his harsh critiques were meant to prepare her for the real world.  In 2006, as a participant in her neighborhood book club, she read a novel that bothered her immensely by its contents.  She thought, "I can write a better story than this!"  Her love of writing was reawakened after twenty five years of dormancy, and she immediately began her first novel, Fleeing Flagstaff. Promises is Carolyn's first published novel.


Carolyn currently lives in Utah with her husband and youngest daughter, where she continues to write and love life.  You can visit her website: http://www.franklycreative.blogspot.com/.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Return to Exile Book Review and Giveaway

Welcome to the Return to Exile Blog Tour!

Keep reading for my review of the first book in the Hunters Chronicles series, plus a giveaway of a signed copy of the book and bookmark.  Also check out the book trailor below and the calender to check out the other blog tour websites for other reviews, interviews, and giveaways.


REVIEW:
Sky doesn't belong anywhere, not at home and not at school, and he has no idea why.  Long nights wandering spent looking for something he cannot name have left his parents sensitive to the slightest abnormal behavior.  Sky can't explain his behavior except for the 'little monster' he has in his head and the marks on his hands.  But when his family returns to Exile without his Uncle Phineas and the black mark on his hand bleeds black blood, Sky knows something is very wrong, and he starts to realize that what he always assumed were made-up stories about monsters may very well be real.  With the reluctant help of some teenage monster hunters, Sky sets out to find his Uncle Phineas and the answers he has been searching for his whole life, which may in the end, cost him his life.

Boy, once this story started moving, it moving rapidly. There is plenty of excitement and the underlying mystery of Sky's identity and what happened to him that makes so many people want him dead pervades the book from page one.  The only real problem I had was with some of the explanations of how the world worked, I found them somewhat confusing.  But this did not detract from the exciting events or the development of the characters. Sky is a really sympathetic character as he struggles to control his 'little monster' and then his struggles once he discovers some answers.  This aspect of the story I found unique in that it adds some uncertainty about Sky and his past and his future.  This will clearly be explored throughout the series.

I have to say that I'm not really a monster person.  And this book has many monsters in it, despite that fact I found the book compelling and the different monsters intriguing.  I also appreciated the fact that the monsters were not all evil as they are often portrayed.  Some of these monsters, as Sky learns, aren't all bad, and even play an important role in Sky's search.  I recommend the book for those who appreciate longer more detailed fantasies with great characters and an intricate plot that twists and turns.  The numerous traps and puzzles make for a nice touch. I definitely will be reading the sequel.

Note: The sequel The Legend Thief comes out in December.




My Top Chapter Book Series Part 2

Here's the second half of my Chapter Book Series Favorites.  Keep in mind that this list is not exclusive, I'm always finding new books and series that I like.  For example, I just finished reading Jennifer A. Nielson's The False Prince and loved it, you can see my review here.  I'm eager to read the sequels.  So stay tuned in as I continue my search for great books.

DRAGON SLIPPERS series by Jessica Day George

Many stories tell of damsels in distress, who are rescued from the clutches of fire-breathing dragons by knights in shining armor, and swept off to live happily ever after. Unfortunately, this is not one of those stories. 

True, when Creel's aunt suggests sacrificing her to the local dragon, it is with the hope that the knight will marry Creel and that everyone (aunt and family included) will benefit handsomely. Yet it's Creel who talks her way out of the dragon's clutches. And it's Creel who walks for days on end to seek her fortune in the king's city with only a bit of embroidery thread and a strange pair of slippers in her possession. But even Creel could not have guessed the outcome of this tale. For in a country on the verge of war, Creel unknowingly possesses not just any pair of shoes, but a tool that could be used to save her kingdom…or destroy it.

A delightful series telling of Creel's adventures with dragons and a romance with a prince.  I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Creel and Shardas the dragon.  Dragons are so often the bad guys that it's refreshing to see them as fellow living creatures.  There is plenty of action as well as humor to be found in this series.
 
THE UNWANTEDS by Lisa McMann

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths. Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret—behind the mirage of the "death farm" there is instead a place called Artime.

In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it's a wondrous transformation.But it's a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron's bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.


I have a special place in my heart for underdogs, especially underdogs with kind hearts.  Alex is one such character.  I liked him from the moment it became clear that he was being rejected simply for being an artistic person.  The rejection by his twin brother that he has such a hard time accepting further endeared him to me.  I eagerly followed Alex to the fascinating world of Artime.  I confess as I read this I really wanted to live in such a place and learn such wonderful things.  I eagerly await the upcoming sequels.

THE BOOKS OF BEGINNING: THE EMERALD ATLAS by John Stephens

 Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage. Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about. Until now. Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem.  And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

The moment I  heard the title of this book I knew I wanted to read it.  Being a geography lover I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a magical atlas.  The book lived up to my expectations with lots of action and plenty of twists and turns. I look forward to lots more action in the coming sequels, the second of which comes out in October.

THE MISTMANTLE CHRONICLES by M.I. McAllister

The start of an exciting new trilogy, Urchin of the Riding Stars is an epic, Shakespearian story of murder, treachery and revenge set on the island of Mistmantle, a world of squirrels, otters, and moles. On a night of riding stars, a tiny squirrel is found abandoned and close to death on a distant beach. Adopted and raised by a kindly squirrel, Urchin has no idea of his powerful destiny or of the way he will influence the island of Mistmantle. The rule of the good King Brushen and Queen Spindle is threatened by an evil plot from within the court. When their young son is found murdered, the isle is thrown into turmoil. Behind the scenes, the wicked Lord Husk and Lady Aspen are determined to take control. But to underestimate the power of the islanders and the ancient prophecies is a big mistake….


This series turned out to have five books rather than just three, for which I was grateful.  It was hard to say goodbye to characters that I had grown so attached to.  There are a great many animal based stories out there, many of which I thoroughly enjoy, such as Brian Jacques' Redwall series, but this is my favorite.  Not only are the characters very appealing but there is lots of action and plenty of plot twists.  These books are hard to put down, so be sure to hang on tight and enjoy the ride.

THE MAD MISADVENTURES OF EMMALINE AND RUBBERBONES by Howard Whitehouse

In the kick-off novel in the Mad Misadventures series, 14-year-old pioneering aviatrix Emmaline Cayley is afraid of one thing: plummeting to her doom. Fortunately, 12-year-old Robert Burns, an indestructible village boy, is not. Absurdly unafraid of bodily harm, "Rubberbones" is the ideal pilot for Emmaline's experiments with flight. But before Emmaline can perfect a flying machine with the aid of her new friend, she is sent off to St. Grimelda's School for Young Ladies -- to be cured of her decidedly unladylike ways. It is a school so strict, so severe, so forbidding that it makes the brutal misery in the tales of Charles Dickens look cheery by comparison. With a horrifying headmistress, terrifying teachers and food that is even worse than Aunt Lucy's, this medieval stronghold also houses a terrible secret and a mysterious way of keeping its prisoners, er, its students in line. All Emmaline can think of is escape. But no one has ever escaped from St. Grimelda's. And our heroine soon realizes that the only way out is to face her greatest fear.


This series is just plain hilarious.  If you want a story that is completely believable this series is not for you.  But if you are willing to let go of believability and just enjoy the journey, I think you'll find it worth taking.  My favorite parts involve the use of an umbrella as a weapon, you'll never look at this mundane instrument the same way again.


TUMTUM AND NUTMEG by Emily Bearn

Deep inside the broom cupboard of Rose Cottage, two mice live in great style. Tumtum and Nutmeg lead cozy and quiet lives, secretly looking after Arthur and Lucy, the disheveled human children of the cottage, never dreaming that so many exciting adventures will soon find them. But when evil Aunt Ivy, a squeamish schoolteacher named Miss Short, and pirating pond rats threaten the safety of those they hold dear, the courageous pair will stop at nothing to save the day.  In three thrilling tales with charming illustrations in every chapter, Tumtum and Nutmeg--along with the valiant efforts of veteran hero General Marchmouse, Ms. Tiptoe's bouncing ballerina army, and a team of caged gerbils--prove that small-size mice can have world-size hearts.





These tales are simply delightful.  As TumTum and Nutmeg deal with evil Aunt Ivy, pirate rats, and a squeamish schoolteacher they prove they are much more than just wealthy mice.

THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE by Louise Erdrich

Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved Little House books. With The Birchbark House, award-winning author Louise Erdrich's first novel for young readers, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, 7-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop. The sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic on Spirit Island, Omakayas, then only a baby girl, was rescued by a fearless woman named Tallow and welcomed into an Ojibwa family on Lake Superior's Madeline Island, the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. We follow Omakayas and her adopted family through a cycle of four seasons in 1847, including the winter, when a historically documented outbreak of smallpox overtook the island.

 I enjoy reading books about other cultures and later I will create a list of some of my favorite cultural stories, but I wanted to include this trilogy because I've really enjoyed it.  It is eye-opening to get a glimpse of a way of life that is unfortunately long gone, or mostly gone anyway.  But this series gives a detailed look at the life of a young Ojibwa girl named Omakayas as she journeys to womanhood and experiences the joys and sorrows of such a journey.  I may not believe the way the Ojibwa people do, but this series helped me to better understand this culture.

ROWAN OF RIN by Emily Rodda

"Seven hearts
the journey make.
Seven ways
the hearts will break."
The wise woman's warning rings in Rowan's head as he and six companions set out to climb the forbidden Mountain that towers over their village, Rin. The stream Rin depends on has stopped flowing, and these seven are seeking the source of the problem. But no one who has tried to climb the Mountain has ever returned. Legend has it that there is a dragon at the top; every morning and evening the people hear its roar. Rowan is terrified. In a village where people pride themselves on being hardy and brave, Rowan has always been timid and shy. He is teased by the other children and belittled by the adults, who whisper that he will never be the man his father was. This dangerous journey is Rowan's chance to step out of his father's shadow and earn the respect of the village. But, frightened by the perils that lie ahead, Rowan isn't even thinking about this possibility. He's just wondering if he can survive.

There are so many long fantasies available these days for middle grade readers that many students overlook the shorter ones.  For students who simply can't read the longer books, series like this one provide an exciting journey in a lot fewer pages.  I love Rowan as a character, maybe because he is somewhat timid, like me, and yet he still finds the courage to try to save his village.  With plenty of action, yet still thoughtful, I recommend this book to those who are not yet ready to tackle the longer chapter books, but still want a great story.  Rodda also has another couple of great series out called Deltora Quest and Fairy Realm, both of which I recommend as well.

 
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