Wednesday, July 29, 2015

EARLY CHAPTER BOOK REVIEW: Danger in Ancient Rome by Kate Messner


Ranger, the time-traveling golden retriever, is back for the second book in Kate Messner's new chapter book series. This time, he's off to save the day in ancient Rome!

Ranger is a golden retriever who has been trained as a search-and-rescue dog. In this adventure, Ranger travels to the Colosseum in ancient Rome, where there are gladiator fights and wild animal hunts! Ranger befriends Marcus, a young boy Ranger saves from a runaway lion, and Quintus, a new volunteer gladiator who must prove himself in the arena. Can Ranger help Marcus and Quintus escape the brutal world of the Colosseum?


Messner has created an enjoyable early chapter book series that combines the adventures of a dog with history.  What a fun way to encourage children to learn more about the past.  In this volume of the series, Ranger ends up in the Colosseum in Ancient Rome where young Marcus works as a slave for a gladiator school.  When Marcus gets attacked by a lion, Ranger races to the rescue along with a recently recruited gladiator named Quintus.  Quintus doesn't seem to have what it takes to be a gladiator but Marcus does what he can to help.  Ranger, a trained search and rescue dog helps Marcus find Quintus when he runs away.  But can Ranger save the day again when Quintus ends up in the arena fighting the most experienced gladiator from the school after only a few days of training?  The story moves quickly which is bound to help young readers finish the book quickly.  The illustrations are a nice touch as well giving the reader a glimpse into a very different world.  The authors notes at the end I thoroughly enjoyed as Messner gives the reader a look into her research process and what she learned about Ancient Rome.  A fun series for young readers.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Dorothy's Derby Chronicles: Woe of Jade Doe by Meghan Dougherty

Book Information:
Title: Dorothy’s Derby Chronicles: Woe of Jade Doe
Author: Meghan Dougherty
Release Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher Sourcebooks Jabberwocky


When times get tough, just keep skating…

Ever since Dorothy joined the Slugs & Hisses Derby team, her life has been one adventure after another. Dorothy’s onetime enemy Alex is now a friend, while her friend Jade keeps missing practices. Then the skating rink shuts down, and Dorothy’s life becomes as jumbled as a derby jam. And that’s not to mention the bizarre things happening to anyone who enters the rink (maybe it’s haunted?)…

Can Dorothy restore order to the new life she’s finally settling into, or will her world become a crazy mess she can’t skate away from?

Buy Links:
Barnes & Noble-
Books A Million-

About the Author and Illustrator:

Meghan Dougherty is a full-time PR consultant. In 2007 she joined the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls roller derby league. She lives in Colorado.

Alece Birnbach owned her own advertising agency before creating designs that appear on more than 100 products. She lives in Colorado.
Social Networking Links:


“You okay, Dorth?” Max asked, squeezing Dorothy’s hand.

Dorothy stared into Max’s chocolate-­brown eyes. Words weren’t coming. From the tip-­top of her curly red hair down to her hand-­me-­down roller skates, Dorothy was buzzing with delight. She wasn’t even twelve yet, and she had just been kissed! She had thought the night couldn’t get any better after coaching her team, the Slugs ’n’ Hisses, to a win at the Halloween championship bout. But here she was, hand in hand with the boy of her dreams.

Floating on a cloud of bliss, Dorothy was barely aware of the roller rink under her feet or her nearby team chanting, “I’m a roller derby girl. Derby, derby, roller, yeah!”

And there was another sound too, like a squeal—­but not a happy squeal. More like a metallic screech, actually. And it was growing louder. Dorothy’s gaze shot upward and her bliss vanished, replaced instead with heart-­pounding terror.

Suddenly, everything and everyone in the dimly lit, outdated Galactic Skate was moving in slow motion. The dusty ceiling fans ticked as slowly as the second hand on a clock. The people in the stands lumbered toward the door like molasses on the faded, star-­patterned carpet.

“Get off the floor!” Dorothy screamed. “Now!”

Her team stopped chanting and turned to look at her with puzzled faces.

“Frappit,” Dorothy said, dropping Max’s hand. She rocketed toward her team, her arms waving frantically above her head. “Move it!” A second later, time was in hyperdrive.

“You heard your coach!” Grandma Sally yelled. Her tight, fishnet stockings made Grandma’s thighs look like a pair of misshapen waffles. Unaware that her sexy nun costume was riding up dangerously high, she hooked Jade by the arm and pulled her toward the bleachers.

“Ouch, Grandma! Easy,” Jade complained, hopping on one foot. “My ankle, remember?”

The next few seconds were a blur of confusion with the clack and swoosh of skate wheels, the cries of “Run!” from the few remaining fans standing in the bleachers, and above it all, a metallic banshee shriek growing louder each second.

In the chaos, Dorothy realized she had lost track of Sam. Cold fingers of panic wrapped around Dorothy’s throat and squeezed. Her nine-­year-­old sister had been there just a minute ago, chanting and celebrating with her team. Where was she now? In the frenzy, Dorothy slowed way down, carefully scanning the people running past the rundown refreshment area and blackened popcorn machine and the restrooms with the groovy guy-­and-­gal signage. No Sam.

Then it happened. With a bang like a gun going off, the chain that held the giant disco ball to the ceiling snapped. Dorothy turned and watched helplessly as the ball fell. Time slowed again. It was like a horror movie version of the Times Square countdown on New Year’s Eve—­a glittering ball of death was plummeting toward the floor, and there wasn’t a single thing Dorothy or anyone could do to stop it.

“Sam!” she cried desperately, but all she heard in return were the screams of her terrified teammates and shattering glass.


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Monday, July 20, 2015

NONFICTION MONDAY: Dirtmeister's Nitty Gritty Planet Earth by Steve Tomecek



Come and explore the world under your feet with the Dirtmeister and friends! Part graphic novel, part fun guidebook, this very cool, rocky journey introduces both eager and reluctant readers to the basic geologic processes that shape our Earth. Clear and concise explanations of the various geologic processes reveal the comprehensive science behind each fascinating topic. Fun facts and simple DIY experiments reinforce the concepts while short biographies of important scientists inspire future geo-scientists.


I've long been a fan of National Geographic books for kids and this book is another wonderful example of why that is the case.  Steve Tomecek (aka The Dirtmeister) takes readers on a wonderfully informative journey through the science of our planet.  Starting with the science of the earth's development, he also covers facts about earthquakes, volcanoes, soil, rocks, weathering and erosion.  Each section starts with a fun little comic followed by several pages of description, graphics, and photographs discussing each topic.  The design is fresh and appealing and the information fascinating.  The inclusion of various experiments demonstrating some of the different processes that are presented is an awesome touch.  These could be done at home or by a teacher in a classroom to help students understand the different processes.  I loved the book and plan to recommend it to young geology lovers and teachers alike.

Friday, July 17, 2015

MAX THE BRAVE Book Trailer

“Are You My Mother?” meets “I Want My Hat Back” in the hilarious new picture book, Max the Brave (Sept. 8), by author and illustrator Ed Vere. Follow fearless Max as he encounters every other creature except the one he’s searching for…mouse. Check out the trailer!

Max the Brave is a brilliant new picture book from Ed Vere. This is Max. Max the Brave, Max the Fearless, Max the Mouse-catcher...But, in order to be a Mouse-catcher, Max needs to know what a mouse is, so off he goes to find out. This hilarious new picture book from the phenomenally-talented Ed Vere introduces a new and lovable character, with Ed's trademark bold illustrations and clever story. Other Ed Vere titles to look out for: Banana; Bedtime for Monsters; Mr. Big; The Getaway Ed Vere studied fine art at Camberwell College of Art and has been writing and illustrating children's books since 1999. He is published in both England and the US. Ed is also a painter, working from his studio in east London and is represented by galleries in London and Los Angeles. After a year and a half living in Barcelona, Ed now lives and works in London.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

EARLY CHAPTER BOOK REVIEWS: The Five O'Clock Ghost/Secret of the Water Dragon


Kaz and Claire are back for a timely mystery in this adorable series by Edgar Award winner Dori Hillestad Butler!

Kaz and Claire are called in for another ghostly mystery, and this ghost is always right on time. When Claire's friend tells the young detectives about his five o'clock ghost, Kaz wonders if it could be his own missing brother, Little John. Kaz and Claire search the house up and down, but they can't find any trace of Little John--or any other ghost. Yet when five o'clock comes along, the strange occurrences come back again...


The Haunted Library series is one of my favorite series for young readers.  Not only are they easy to read but the mysteries are interesting and the characters fun.  I was a bit startled when I thought I'd figured out the answer to the mystery of the strange occurrences of five o'clock and I turned out to be wrong.  Usually with this type of mystery I'm able to figure out the answer long before the ending, but here it turned out to be something else.  Those kind of surprises are always fun.  Plus, it's fun watching Kaz grow into his ghostly powers as he continues to search for his missing family.  


Drake and the rest of the Dragon Masters are back for another adventure!

This series is part of Scholastic's early chapter book line called Branches, which is aimed at newly independent readers. With easy-to-read text, high-interest content, fast-paced plots, and illustrations on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and stamina. Branches books help readers grow!

In this third book in the series, someone is trying to steal the Dragon Stone. Drake soon discovers that the thief is his friend and fellow Dragon Master, Bo! Could the dark wizard somehow be behind this? The Dragon Masters must find a way to protect the Dragon Stone--and keep Bo's family out of danger. Will the secret to solving their problems lie with Bo's dragon, Shu? Drake is about to find out!


Since one can never have too many dragon books it's nice to have a series that works well for early chapter book readers.  Not only are the stories fun with lots of action but the illustrations are pretty awesome as well.  The illustrations are mixed in nicely with the text making the text not so intimidating.  Secret of the Water Dragon is the third book in the series and focuses on Bo and his dragon whose powers are revealed as the story progresses.  Bo receives a letter that leads him to try to steal the Dragon Stone.  After he tells the others why he did this, the others try to help him rescue his family and stop the dark wizard from getting his hands on the stone.  A fun-filled adventure with themes of courage, friendship, and loyalty mixed in throughout the story.

Monday, July 13, 2015

BLOG TOUR w/ GIVEAWAY: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty


"Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there and they will ensnare your soul."

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There's plenty to explore in the shadowed corridors of her vast home, but she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate's maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore's corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore's owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak's true identity before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina's hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.


Robert Beatty lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three daughters, who help create and refine his stories. He loves to explore the grand Biltmore Estate and the darkened forest trails where his novels take place. Robert’s Disney Hyperion novel Serafina and the Black Cloak will go on sale July 14, 2015. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives, Robert was one of the early pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the chairman/CTO of Narrative Magazine. In 2007, he was named an Entrepreneur of the Year. Answering a question about the inspiration for his book, Robert said, “Serafina’s journey grew out of my desire to write a story about an unusual and heroic young girl for my three daughters.”

Robert can be found on twitter @BeattyAuthor and online at


While I haven't quite finished this book yet, I'm going to share my thoughts on what I've read so far.  I'll update the review later after I've finished the book.  I have students request scary books all the time and it's a challenging task to find a book that has the right degree of scariness for that particular student.  I liked the fact that Serafina starts off with a bang.  I was immediately intrigued by Serafina's ability to hunt down and catch the rats in the basement of the Biltmore Estate where she and her father live.  It was the first clue that there might be more to Serafina than her rather unusual appearance.  The reader immediately suspects that there might be a reason that they live secretly in the basement and that her father has instructed her to never let herself be seen.  But these questions take a backseat to more immediate concerns when Serafina witnesses a girl in a yellow dress disappearing into the arms of a threatening man in a black cloak and narrowly escapes capture herself.  Serafina is the kind of female lead that I especially like, one who is determined to help despite great risk to herself.  I also loved the setting.  Now I've never been in a mansion but Beatty does a great job of creating a setting that works well with the creepy mood of the story.  So far I would definitely recommend this book to middle grade readers who enjoy stories with a strong creepiness factor.  More later!

Here's later!

I've finished the book and all I can say is: Wow!  Beatty has created a surprisingly believable fantasy mystery with enough creepiness to satisfy many middle grade readers who request 'scary' books. After I finished this I had a strong desire to visit Biltmore Estate and explore the place from top to bottom, including the surrounding woods.  I also appreciated the fact that the book has a solid ending.  While there is plenty of room for a sequel, the book could also be left where it's at, with all loose ends tied up.  I'm not usually a huge scary book fan, I found that I really liked this one and will definitely be recommending it.  Please keep in mind that readers who get scared easily will probably not want to read this one.  But readers who enjoy thrilling adventures with a realistic setting and a strong dose of the supernatural are likely to enjoy this one.

INTERVIEW with Robert Beatty

*Does the Biltmore estate really exist?  If so, why did you set your story there?  If not, where did the idea for the place come from?

Yes, Biltmore Estate really exists, just as it’s described in the book. You can see it in the Serafina Book Trailer:
I live very close to the estate and have explored it extensively. I love its beauty and its history. Whenever I go there, my imagination runs wild. I’ve always envisioned stories about Biltmore and the people who might have once lived there.

*What do you enjoy most about writing? the least?

I love using my imagination to create stories, developing the characters and plot, and envisioning the scenes. I just love stories in all forms—especially books and movies. To me, it’s all about the character and story.

By far the most difficult part about writing is to find the words to capture and convey what I’m envisioning in my mind. Someone once asked Hemingway what was the most difficult part about writing. He replied, “Getting the words right.” It sounds like a flippant, silly answer, but it’s not. I know exactly what he meant. Getting the words right, sentence by sentence, is the most difficult challenge for me. It’s a daunting challenge to take the story you have in your head and putting it down on the page in black and white.

*If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do there?

I’ve been all over the world, but the place I always want to return to is England. On our last trip to England we toured all the various castles and other sites relevant to Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth. It was awesome. Next time, I want to visit all the great houses depicted in Jane Austen books and movies. I love both those periods in history.

*What's something that most people don't know about you?

Years ago, I was a champion saber fencer at university, totally loved it, and almost pursued it as my life-long career. My plan was to move to Budapest and become a fencing maestro (like my fencing maestro had), but in the end I decided that I wanted to be a writer even more than I wanted to be a fencing maestro. I still miss it to this day.

*What's your favorite dessert?

I have a major sweet tooth. I LOVE dessert. One of my favorite desserts is blueberries, strawberries, and peaches (all picked from our garden) in a bowl of French Vanilla ice cream. :)



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NONFICTION MONDAY: Untamed--The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey


Jane Goodall, one of the most recognized scientists in the Western world, became internationally famous because of her ability to observe and connect with another species. A girl of humble beginnings and training, she made scientific breakthroughs thought impossible by more experienced field observers when she was only in her twenties. Then these animals shaped Jane's life. She began tirelessly fighting to protect the environment so that chimpanzees and other animals will continue have a place and a future on our planet. Jane Goodall continues to leave the modern world with an extraordinary legacy and has changed the scientific community forever.


Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzee's is well known.  I remember hearing about it from the time I was a child.  But I still found this book eye-opening.  The book offers not only stunning photographs and great information about chimps but a look into the dedicated career of a woman who loved animals from the time she knew they existed.  I don't know many five-year-old's who could be quiet and still enough to watch a hen laying an egg.  Clearly, Jane demonstrated an ability to observe patiently from a very young age. Written in a very engaging style, Untamed, shares the power of following one's heart even in the face of great obstacles.  I especially enjoyed the stories about Jane and her chimps.  I knew it must have been a great challenge to go out in the wild and observe a wild animal the way she did, but I didn't know just how difficult. I appreciated Silvey's efforts to share major events in Jane's life with just enough detail to hold a young reader's interest.  The sidebars included information about specific chimps, chimp behavior, and other topics related to Jane's life.  I also found it inspiring to read about the incredible difference that one dedicated person can make in the world if they believe in what they are doing and don't give up.  An absolutely fascinating and inspiring story of a woman that many people know about but don't understand.  The inclusion of additional resources is great for those readers who want to know more as is the information about the organizations that Jane has helped found and support during her lifetime.

Check out these websites for more information:

Roots and Shoots is a program for children who want to get involved in their communities in supporting the environment.

See here for a video showing Jane's involvement in the release of a rehabilitated chimp into the wild.

Friday, July 10, 2015

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Jack by Liesl Shurtliff



Jack has always been told that giants are not real. But if that’s the case, how do you explain the huge, foot shaped pond in the yard, or the occurrence of strange and sudden storms in which the earth quakes and dirt rains from the sky? When his father is carried away in such a storm, Jack gives chase in the only logical way: by trading the family cow for some magic beans that will give him access to a land beyond the clouds. He arrives to find that the giants themselves have giant-sized troubles. With the help of an overachieving little sister, a magic goose and a chatty cook (who is not interested in grinding human bones into bread, thank you very much!) Jack sets out to save his dad and save the day. 


After reading Shurtliff's first book, RUMP, a new take on the story of Rumplestiltskin, I was very much looking forward to reading her take on Jack and the Beanstalk.  I was not disappointed.  Shurtliff seems to have a way of taking an old, well-known story and turning it into something fresh and new.  In this version of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack is headstrong and full of pranks, especially when he butts heads with his annoying little sister.  In fact, one of my favorite aspects of the story is the way the relationship between Jack and his sister, Annabella changes over the course of the story.  The conflict between them shifts a bit as they gain a better understanding and appreciation for each other.  The clever way that Shurtliff relates Jack's adventures in the world of the giants to her previous book, Rump was thoroughly entertaining.

For a fairy tale, this story has a remarkable depth to it.  The story if full of themes related to the importance of family, what being a hero really means, the power of story, and what real treasure is.  While containing a lot of the well known elements from the original story, there is much here that is new.  The addition of the small humans as 'elves' serving the giants including in a cobbler's shop, the boy named Tom Thumb by his adopted giantess mother, and the idea that magic has a cost attached to it.  All in all, a thoroughly engaging fairy tale retelling full of adventure, great characters, and important themes.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

SERIES THURSDAY: Humphrey's Playful Puppy Problem/Humphrey's Creepy-Crawly Camping Adventure by Betty G. Birney



Everyone’s favorite classroom pet is now starring in chapter books!
Humphrey, the classroom hamster of Room 26, loves spending weekends with his classmates. This week, he is going home with Richie. Humphrey is going to help him with his science experiment (hamsters LOVE-LOVE-LOVE to be helpful).
But Humphrey finds a surprise at Richie’s house. Poppy the puppy is bouncy and barky and is eager to play—a little too eager, Humphrey thinks. Humphrey needs to get out of his cage to help Richie, but can he do that and stay out of Poppy’s way at the same time?
With adorable illustrations and an easy reading level, Humphrey’s Tiny Tales are just right for emergent readers.


Humphrey's Tiny Tales takes the original Humphrey the classroom hamster into a whole new series of adventures.  This series is for the early chapter book crowd and succeeds beautifully.  The combination of illustrations and text makes for a fun read with Humphrey helping out his classmates just like he does in the series for older readers.  In this one, Humphrey goes home with Richie who needs his help in completing his science project, but Richie's new puppy wants to play with Humphrey too.  Unfortunately, Humphrey must find a way to help Richie while staying away from the puppy.  A cute animal story for young readers who aren't quite ready for the full length series for older readers.


Everyone's favorite classroom pet is now starring in chapter books!

Humphrey has had lots of adventures as the classroom pet of Room 26, but never one like this. He is going on a campout in the backyard with Heidi and her friends! There’s stargazing, roasting marshmallows, searching for creepy-crawlies—and then there are the prank-loving boys next door, who want to prove that the girls are scaredy-cats.
 Humphrey doesn’t think girls are scaredy-cats. He doesn’t think girls are like cats at all. Can this VERY-VERY-VERY small hamster show them with a hairy-scary trick of his own?

With sweet illustrations and an easy reading level, Humphrey’s Tiny Tales are hamster-iffic for emerging readers.


Humphrey heads home with his classmate Heidi after the girls and boys have an argument about who is braver, boys or girls.  He's going to be part of Heidi and her friend's campout.  But things get more exciting when they discover Richie and his friends camping out next door and the boys set out to scare the girls.  Another cute read with Humphrey once again being the unknown hero.  This is a series that I would recommend for young readers who love animals.  The combination of cute illustrations and text work perfectly for less advanced readers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery


 Since the year 1900, cheetah footprints quickly dwindled in African dirt as the species plummeted from more than 100,000 to fewer than 10,000. At the Cheetah Conservation Fund's (CCF) African headquarters in Namibia, Laurie Marker and her team save these stunning, swift, and slender creatures from extinction. Since the organization's start in 1990, they've rescued more than 900 cheetahs, most of whom have been returned to the wild.

     But this arduous challenge continues. For most African livestock farmers, cheetahs are the last thing they want to see on their properties. In the 1980s, as many as 19 cheetahs per farmer died each year. Cheetahs were considered vermin--but, in learning more about this magnificent species, we know this is far from true.

     Today, CCF acts as a liaison between the farmers and the cheetahs, in order to promote cohabitation in an ecosystem that cannot thrive without the existence of the precious and predatory cheetah. On a wild ride through the African wilderness--sometimes sniffing out scents left in the dirt--Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop join CCF in studying the cheetah's ecological, genetic, and behavioral patterns in order to chase down the fastest animal on land and save the species--before it is too late.


I am a huge fan of the Scientists in the Field series by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  They are not only fascinating but well designed with gorgeous photographs.  Chasing Cheetahs did not disappoint, it's as high in quality as its predecessors.  With the growing emphasis on STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math) in the education field, these books are a great help in that endeavor.  This book takes a look at the work of the Cheetah Conservation Fund's work in Namibia, Africa in saving cheetahs.  The work done by Laurie Marker and her associates has clearly made a difference, but like all conservation stories there is still much to be done as Montgomery clearly shows.  I found it absolutely intriguing to read about the things the CCF is doing to help the species.  The strategies they are using are clearly explained and demonstrated in the book which shows the power of science in action.  I for one found the stories about different cheetahs and the way the scientists study them and share what they've learned with local farmers and school children as well as with colleagues worldwide makes for a great story.  This book is very readable with lots of gorgeous photographs to highlight the text.  A wonderful addition to a great series.

Monday, July 6, 2015

NONFICTION MONDAY: Top Secret Files Reviews


Poison dart umbrellas, lipstick pistols, and cyanide guns were all a part of the arsenal of tools used by spies of the Soviet KGB, American CIA, and British MI6, but you won't learn that in your history books! Learn the true stories of the Cold War and how spies used listening devices planted in live cats and wristwatch cameras. Discover how East Germans tried to ride zip lines to freedom, while the Cambridge Four infiltrated Britain and master spy catchers like Charles Elwell were celebrated. Then make your own secret codes and practice sending shoe messages. It’s all part of the true stories from the Top Secret Files: The Cold War. Take a look if you dare, but be careful! Some secrets are meant to stay hidden... 


This book was thoroughly engaging with great stories and activities for middle grade readers.  The length of the book makes it ideal for readers who need to read a chapter book but who don't want a real long one. The fact that the stories are fascinating and true make it all the more enjoyable.  If history textbooks were written and presented more like this, students would undoubtedly be more willing to read them.  I appreciated the selection of different stories that the author shared as they highlight both sides of the Cold War.  Stories of spies who fooled others for decades, spies who couldn't support their country anymore and became double agents, special missions, and awesome tools and weapons used by the different agencies.  The story of a famous magician training agents on the use of illusion and deception was intriguing, especially since he never told anyone about it.  The activities included in the book are fabulous.  Simple enough that most children can find the needed supplies but intriguing enough for readers to be interested in doing them.  A fun new series that I can heartily recommend.



Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates and Sir Frances Drake was both a swashbuckler and a knight, plundering ships in the name of the British Crown, but you won't learn that in your history books! Discover the truth about Anne Bonny, the Irish woman who was a true Pirate of the Caribbean, the secrets of Calico Jack and Blackbeard, and how kung fu monks were hired to try to fight off pirates. Then learn how to talk like a pirate and make a buried treasure map for your friends. It’s all part of the true stories from the Top Secret Files: Pirates and Buried Treasure. Take a look if you dare, but be careful! Some secrets are meant to stay hidden...


I've long known that the pirate image that Hollywood has perpetuated for years is far from truthful.  I really liked how this book presents the information here in straightforward factual style, making it clear that life as a pirate was far from romantic.  In fact it was a dirty, difficult lifestyle that involved a lot of sickness and death.  I learned a lot about different pirates, some of the mysteries surrounding them, and what life as a pirate was really like.  For example, I didn't know that Blackbeard wasn't as bloodthirsty as I'd always thought, that he preferred to frighten people into submission.  Don't worry though, there is plenty of treasure mentioned throughout.  The activities presented for kids to do include: creating your own treasure map, making sea biscuits, and making a catapult.  I love these activities because they are relatively simple, but sound like lots of fun. This book provides an interesting introduction to a popular topic.

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