Wednesday, September 30, 2015

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham


Percival Priggs seems to be the perfect child. His parents are perfect, his grandparents are perfect, and even his pets are perfect. Percy’s shelf is packed with gleaming trophies. But with all the practice and preparation needed for his competitions, Percy never has a free moment.

Percy worries that his parents will not love him if he does not smile his prize-winning smile and perform perfectly in every competition. But after his rocket experiment turns into an imperfect mess, Mr. and Mrs. Priggs reveal their own funny imperfections and show Percy they are proud of him exactly as he is.

The message of reassurance and acceptance in THE PERFECT PERCIVAL PRIGGS is timely in our age of helicopter parenting, overscheduling, and increased testing standards for young children. But it is debut author Julie-Anne Graham’s fresh art style that truly sets the book apart. A former fashion designer with a love of textiles, Graham has built on each page a collage of textured patterns and drawn characters, adding humor and a world of detail to the Priggs’ home and story.


In this era of busyness and running from one activity or responsibility to another, The Perfect Percival Priggs is a very timely story.  I found that I could relate to Percival very well in his stretch for perfection.  And while he has won many awards for many things, he admits to himself and finally his parents that he doesn't particularly like doing any of those things (science, playing instruments, etc.).  But he feels the need to follow in his parents footsteps and keep winning.  But when one such attempt goes dramatically (and humorously) wrong, he reveals his insecurities to his parents.  What I really loved about the book was the parents reaction to Percy's mess.  Instead of scolding or criticizing him, they show him some of their failures and let him go his own way after he confesses that he doesn't enjoy the things he has spent so much of his time perfecting.  It's fun to see Percy at the end doing things he enjoys and clearly much happier than he was before.  While the illustrations don't particularly grab me, in fact the Priggs look kind of odd to be honest, but the expressions are revealing and the use of paper covered with words for the character's heads seemed to symbolize the power of our thoughts to lead us down different roads.  A thought-provoking and enjoyable book bound to lead to great discussions of strengths and weaknesses and the power of persistence as well as the importance of focusing our energies on the things that are of most importance to us. 

Monday, September 28, 2015


2015 Jabberwocky Time Warp Tour

Great writers bring history to life for young readers. Whether it’s a daring story of heroism during the American Revolution, a tale of the timeless and transcendent power of art set in WWI era Hollywood, or the general ability to present events in history though different lenses and perspectives, educators and parents rely on these writers to connect kids to the past. Historical middle-grade authors Eric Pierpoint, J.B. Cheaney, and Stephanie Bearce are helping us turn back the clock by answering the questions: If you could spend a day anywhere and anytime in the past, where and when would you go? What would you do on your excursion?

Eric Pierpoint (The Secret Mission of William Tuck):

This is a tough question! Would I like to land on the moon? Be present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Could I have the knowledge to change history? I could perhaps prevent the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy or Martin Luther King. Well, that’s a heroic super power daydream. I think I would saddle up a horse and take my dog Joey on a journey through the Wild West. Like my pioneer ancestors in the 1800s, I love the grand scale of the western landscape. We’d ride along deep gorges, flowing rivers and great mountains. I would want to experience our beautiful country in its most pure and natural state before all the freeways, malls, and billboards popped up. I’d love to see the herds of buffalo and soaring eagles. Perhaps I would meet folks along the way and we could swap stories, learn about each other, and appreciate our similarities and differences. It sounds pretty ideal. Then again I’d have to keep an eye out for danger, for you never know what’s lurking out there, man or beast!

J.B. Cheaney (I Don’t Know How The Story Ends):

You didn’t limit me to one place, so I’ll take a grand tour!  First stop, a trip on the Erie Canal, ca. 1840.  I’ve always admired this triumph of early-American can-do enterprise, and was enchanted by Peter Spier’s picture book of the song.  I’ll be sure and duck when I hear “Low bridge! Everybody down!”

Next I would dash over to the west coast in January 1848 and arrange to be nearby when James Marshall spies some shiny flakes in the American River.  “Looks like gold to me,” I’d remark.  I have a soft spot for California, given that it’s the setting of my new novel.  How cool to attend the birth of the golden state: San Francisco, Southern Pacific, Jack London, John Steinbeck, and eventually, Hollywood.

For a dramatic finish I would return to my home state, to a flat field south of Beaumont, Texas on Jan. 10, 1901.  It’s no beauty spot; the only thing to catch the eye is an oil derrick and a few prospectors operating a steam drill, hoping the next hundred feet will pay off before their money runs out.  I feel a rumble underfoot.  Could be anything; maybe cattle stampeding.  But it gets louder.  And louder and louder, as the quivering earth gives way to roaring ground, and—“She’s gonna blow!”  Lethal steel rods shoot from the derrick like bullets—“Watch out!”  And then a fountain of tarry, greasy, beautiful black gold.  If Sutter’s Mill is the birthplace of California, Spindletop is where Texas became Texas.

Stephanie Bearce (Top Secret Files):

If could take a trip in a time machine I would program in the date May 8, 1945 and step out into the singing and shouting crowds gathered at Trafalgar  Square to celebrate the end of World War II. I’d squeeze past soldiers cheerfully sweating in wool uniforms and past the shop girls and women factory workers who filled the streets. I’d stare at all the red, white, and blue bunting that was hung everywhere to celebrate – even on the carcasses of bombed out buildings.  I’d listen as Winston Churchill’s voice rang out over the loud speakers announcing the end of fighting and cheer with the crowds when the King and Queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham palace.  Then I would join in the conga line of soldiers and girls who danced down the streets at Piccadilly.

But most of all I would keep my eyes for the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret who put on their khaki service uniforms and went out into the streets with the rest of London.  The King and Queen had agreed that their royal daughters should be allowed to celebrate with the rest of the world and the princesses enjoyed a night out with the celebrating crowds.  I would love to see them walking through the streets singing Roll Out the Barrel.


Rafflecopter Links to #TimeWarpReads Prize Pack featuring titles from Eric Pierpoint, J.B. Cheaney, and Stephanie Bearce:

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Friday, September 25, 2015

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage


Trenton Colman is exceptionally creative with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and "invention" is a curse word.

Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, who died in an explosion—an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.

Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlike anything they've ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on—and quite possibly their very lives.


J Scott Savage is the author of the Farworld middle grade fantasy series and the Case File 13 middle grade monster series. He has been writing and publishing books for over ten years. He has visited over 400 elementary schools, dozens of writers conferences, and taught many writing classes. He has four children and lives with his wife Jennifer and their Border Collie, Pepper in a windy valley of the Rocky Mountains.


Savage has started this new series off with a bang, literally.  Trenton is a thirteen-year-old boy with a special knack with mechanical things, even though he avoids calling what he does inventing because the society he lives in frowns on it.  But when he gets in trouble for that very thing and is blackmailed into helping do something risky it starts him on a remarkable journey.  When he meets Kallista the daughter of a famous 'wrong-doer' in the eyes of the city he starts learning things that shock him, but also intrigue him, and in the end may help them save their home.  The twist that Savage throws in near the end is a doozy and I loved it, it added a great new feel to the story and emphasizes the fact that assumptions are dangerous even when they are long held beliefs.  I really enjoyed this book and I think a lot of young fantasy lovers will as well, especially with that mechanical dragon on the cover.

Monday, September 21, 2015

MMGM: Westly: A Spider's Tale by Bryan Beus

A Spider's Tale
written and illustrated by Bryan Beus
Shadow Mountain, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-62972-068-5
Ages 8-12
Source: publisher for review
All opinions expressed are solely my own.


When Westly emerges from his cocoon, not as a beautiful butterfly, but as a spider, he is rejected by the butterfly kingdom and undertakes a journey to discover who he really is. But not even the dirt eaters can offer him answers. Not the dragonfly, the centipede, the moth, or even Zug Zug, the fly. None have ever seen an eight-legged creature who can spin webs. However, Westly's new friend the Raven has offered to help. If only the Raven could get inside the glass menagerie where Westly and the other bugs live. Yes, yes, the Raven is sure he could change everything. But sometimes things don't turn out the way we plan.

Delightfully illustrated by the author, Westly: A Spider's Tale is a story about discovering one's true potential, learning that being different is not a bad thing, and that even misfits can grow up to be heroes.


In a sweet story about finding one's place and overcoming mistakes, Westly takes the reader from the beautiful chandelier where the butterflies live to the dirt far below where the gardeners live and work.  Westly starts the story as a puny young caterpillar looking forward to his changing day.  As the son of the ruling Monarch butterfly, he is used to being treated as royalty.  But when his changing turns him into a spider he runs away feeling like he no longer belongs.  But he doesn't really feel like he belongs below with the 'dirt eaters' either, at least not until Raven starts teaching him about what it means to be a spider.  Westly longs to return the favor for his friend Raven, but it turns out that Raven has other motives and Westly has to race to undo his mistake.  Not only is this a great story about growing up and finding one's place in the world, it's also a story about the power of differences and learning to work together.  The illustrations included by the author add a really nice touch (Westly is the cutest spider I've ever seen).  This is a great book for young readers who enjoy animal stories or stories about growing up and making mistakes.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one, although there were times when I wanted to give Westly some advice seeing as how he doesn't really have anyone to help him once he leaves home.  Like many of us, Westly learns a lot the hard way despite his best efforts.

Friday, September 18, 2015

CYBILS 2015: I'm a judge again! New Category!

2015 Elementary/Middle Grade 

Speculative Fiction Judges

Round 1
Melissa Fox
Book Nut
Annamaria Anderson
Books Together
Round 2
Kim Aippersbach
Dead Houseplants
Hayley Beale


MIDDLE GRADE REVIEW w/ GIVEAWAY: The Secret Mission of William Tuck by Eric Pierpoint

25782504The Secret Mission of William Tuck
Eric Pierpoint
September 1, 2015; ISBN 9781402281747


Book Information:
Title: The Secret Mission of William Tuck
Author: Eric Pierpoint
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky


William Tuck is set on justice. For his brother killed by British soldiers, for his friend Rebecca’s father held prisoner by the redcoats, and for the countless other rebel Americans struggling beneath the crushing weight of British rule.

The whispered words of a dying soldier and a mysterious watch give William all the ammunition he needs: a secret message for the leader of the rebel army. Rebecca disguises herself as a boy, and she and William join the American troops. They embark on an epic journey that pulls them into a secret network of spies, pits them against dangerous gunmen, and leads them on a quest to find General George Washington himself.

Can William and Rebecca determine friend from foe long enough to deliver a message that might just change the tide of the American Revolution?

About the Author:

Eric Pierpoint is a veteran Hollywood character actor who’s begun a writing career with several screenplays in development.His ancestors came west on the Oregon Trail in the mid 1800s, so Eric and his dog, Joey, followed in their wagon wheel tracks and traveled cross-country researching The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole. Visit


The Secret Mission of William Tuck is one of the most exciting historical fiction books I've read in quite a while.  From the moment William sees his brother killed and then runs off to join the patriot army, the action hardly lets up.  When William inadvertently becomes a courier for a very important message things get even more exciting as he and his new ally, Rebecca (posing as Robert) set off to see the message delivered.  But they have to wend their way through some very dangerous situations.  The author does a nice job of integrating information from the time period into the story in a very unobtrusive way as William learns a bit more than he wanted to know about the spy/courier trade and it's dangers.  The scene where William and Rebecca come across a slave being punished was a bit shocking but sadly accurate (William insists they help).  "Hooking" wasn't a form of punishment that I was familiar with before reading this book and I found it a horrifying prospect (luckily, William and Rebecca manage to stop it before it happens).  Because of this scene and other scenes involving death, I would say this book is most appropriate for older middle grade readers (5th grade and above).  But the integration of facts from history with the struggles of William and Rebecca make for a very compelling story that moves surprisingly quickly as the two run into crisis after crisis (thank goodness for two strong horses and some allies along the way).  For readers fascinated by the American Revolution and the important role that spies and couriers played in it, I can highly recommend this book.

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Excerpt from The Secret Mission of William Tuck:

William! No!” screamed his mother, Martha, as William broke out of her grasp. He leaped from the porch of their farmhouse and ran toward his brother, who stood surrounded by redcoats on horseback over by the freshly plowed field at the edge of the woods. “Dear God! William!”
Still dressed in her yellow dress and white bonnet, her arms covered in flour, she bent down to help her burly husband, Benjamin Tuck, who lay still after being shot in the leg by a soldier of the British procurement troops. Bo, the old family bloodhound, howled from the end of his rope, which was tied to the front stoop.
“Asher!” cried William. He raced along the wooden fence that held the family livestock, past two British supply wagons. Four black men, dressed in shirts with the words “We Are Free” written in red paint across their fronts, had begun to slaughter the Tucks’ hogs and chickens and load the carcasses. Former slaves promised their freedom by the British, they went about their bloody business with axes and clubs.
William ran as fast as his legs could carry him across the field, past the bodies of three British soldiers and Asher’s fallen friend, a fellow member of the Virginia militia. The battle had been short and deadly. What had begun as an argument had ended in an explosion of muskets. Asher, a crack shot with his Virginia rifle, had killed two of the twenty British soldiers who had come to take the family livestock for General Cornwallis’s army as he rampaged through the southern colonies.
A British captain stood pointing an accusing finger at Asher. The brass buttons on the officer’s red uniform coat gleamed in the sunlight. The black feather cockade of his dragoon helmet pointed straight up into the blue of the hot June sky.
Suddenly, the captain slapped Asher across the face with his glove, knocking his tricorn to the ground. He barked an order, and ten redcoats quickly dismounted and began to drag Asher to the nearby woods. Hopelessly outnumbered, Asher did not resist but stood proud and defiant as the soldiers tied him to a tree.
“Form up!” ordered the captain. He then marched arrogantly over to his men as they lined up to form a firing squad. The soldiers began to check and load their muskets.
“I, Captain Barrington Scroope, humble servant of His Majesty, King George III, do hereby sentence you to death for crimes against the Crown.” Scroope drew his saber. “May God have mercy on your soul.”
“No!” choked William, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“William! Stay back!” called Asher.
“Make ready!” commanded Scroope as he raised his sword above his head. In perfect unison, the ten soldiers brought their Brown Bess muskets up into position and pulled back the cocks.
“Present!” The redcoats took aim. Captain Scroope waited, as if relishing his power.
William sprinted, his feet flying over the ground.
Seeing William running toward his brother, Scroope cocked his head slightly and smiled with false pity—-the saber scar that ran down the left side of his mouth turned it into a ghoulish grin.
“Asher!” cried William desperately, racing to get to his brother’s side. As he reached the firing squad, one of the redcoats swiftly turned and smashed his musket into the side of William’s head. William fell to the ground as blinding pain shot through his body. Blood began to pour from his scalp and drip into his eyes, and his ears rang as he tried to find Asher.
“Fire!” Scroope sliced the air with his sword. Asher turned his gaze from his younger brother and faced his death. The crash of ten muskets ripped the air and tore the heart right out of William Tuck.


2 copies of The Secret Mission of William Tuck. Runs August 24-September 30.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Young Explorers 50 States by Smithsonian


Which state flag was designed by a thirteen-year-old?
Which state lets you keep any gems you find while mining at the Crater of Diamonds State Park?
And which state is home to the second most-visited house in America?

Journey across the country with the Smithsonian and learn all about what makes our nation so great with Smithsonian Young Explorers: 50 States. This alphabetically arranged compendium of state trivia contains information on state birds, animals, and flowers, famous state residents, and a gaggle of fun facts. Once kids 6 and up have become experts on Alabama through Wyoming, they can have more fun assembling the included 130-piece puzzle of the United States. The adorably illustrated puzzle and map gives kids extra opportunities to learn about the 50 states and basic geography. And once kids are ready to see the states themselves, the book, puzzle, and map all tuck neatly into a snap-shut suitcase, ready to hit the road.

(Answers: Alaska’s, Arkansas, and Tennessee, home of Elvis Presley!)


I am grateful for the opportunity to review this product.  Not only did I have a fun time putting the puzzle together, but the facts in the book were fascinating.  As a geography major in college I was familiar with some of them but there were others that were new, such as the fact that no one in Alaska has lived or lives in igloos except during emergencies or that it's against the law to wear a fake mustache to church in order to make people laugh in Alabama (there has to be a funny story about this--although those who passed the law obviously didn't think so).  The puzzle is a fun way for children to learn about the different states as each state is highlighted with symbols that represent that state.  Loads of educational fun for children (and adults ;)).

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