Thursday, May 25, 2017

SERIES THURSDAY: Ballet Cat by Bob Shea


Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are trying to decide what to play today. Nothing that Sparkles suggests--making crafts, playing checkers, and selling lemonade--goes well with the leaping, spinning, and twirling that Ballet Cat likes to do. When Sparkles's leaps, spins, and twirls seem halfhearted, Ballet Cat asks him what's wrong. Sparkles doesn't want to say. He has a secret that Ballet Cat won't want to hear. What Sparkles doesn't know is that Ballet Cat has a secret of her own, a totally secret secret. Once their secrets are shared, will their friendship end, or be stronger than ever?


As in Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books, Bob Shea presents the reader with the trials and tribulations of friendship.  In this first book,  Sparkle suggest several different things they could play, but each time Ballet Cat points out that that activity will not work with what she wants to do (crafts, leaping, spinning).  Thus the pair ends up playing ballet, as usual.  But eventually Ballet Cat becomes away that Sparkle isn't feeling very sparkly and she asks why. Sparkle is reluctant to share his secret because he's afraid Ballet Cat won't like him any more when he does.  In addition to the delightfully spare illustrations where the pair and their movements and feelings are the focus, the relationship between the friends is clearly portrayed.  Not only is this a fun book to read but it's also a great book that leads right into some fun activities such as 'practice ballet'  or crafts as well as helping children learn that friendship requires give and take on both sides.


Ballet Cat is getting her friend Butter Bear ready for her big ballet debut. "Leap, Butter Bear, leap!" Ballet Cat prompts. But Butter Bear would prefer to just point her toe. When Ballet Cat keeps pushing, Butter Bear gets hungry, then thirsty, then sleepy . . . The bottom line is that Butter Bear would rather do almost anything to avoid making a big leap. Why? Because her bottom is covered in silly underpants! This second entry in the Ballet Cat series will have beginning readers rolling on the floor with laughter.


Working as an elementary librarian I have learned that certain words produce giggles regardless of the context in which they are used. One such word is "underpants".  So I can pretty much guarantee that this book will elicit giggles from its intended audience.  Ballet Cat and Butter Bear are practicing ballet together.  Ballet Cat wants Butter Bear to do a super high leap, but Butter Bear keeps coming up with excuses for avoiding that particular activity.  Ballet Cat gets more and more frustrated as Butter Bear's excuses keep coming.  Finally, she breaks down and asks Butter Bear why she won't just do a super high leap.  It turns out she's afraid the audience will laugh at her underpants.  Ballet Cat sympathizes but explains that if she puts her whole heart into doing the best leap she can, the audience won't even notice her underpants (luckily she turns out to be right).  But the sight of Butter Bear's underpants is bound to pull giggles from young listeners however.


Ballet Cat and her cousin Goat are preparing a show for Grandma. Each is trying to outdo the other--Ballet Cat with an elaborate dance routine (of course), and Goat with his amazing (amazingly lame, that is) magic tricks. Neither act goes off quite as planned, but it doesn't matter . . . because Grandma falls asleep during the performance! Oh well, at least Ballet Cat and Goat learn how to cooperate. (But Ballet Cat cooperates better!)


Grandma ends up in quite the pickle when her two grandchildren, Goat and Ballet Cat (don't ask me how that works, a dog related to a goat and a cat, this is children's literature after all, such things happen) compete for her attention.  Goat thinks his magic tricks will most impress grandma, and Ballet Cat thinks her dancing will.  But when they're acts mix together things don't go quite the way they expected and grandma has to save the day.  Shea has put together an amusing story of one-up-manship that anyone who has spent time around children should be able to appreciate.  Children will enjoy cheering for both characters and everyone should appreciate Grandma's quick thinking.  A delightful ode to family relationships.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Here to There and Me to You: A Book of Bridges by Cheryl Keely


Bridges are some of the most fascinating structures in our landscape, and they come in all forms. From towering suspension bridges to humble stone crossings, this book visits them all in sweet, bouncing text with expository sidebars. But while bridges can be quite grand, this reminds us that their main purpose is bringing people together. This is perfect for budding architects, as well as readers who can relate to having loved ones who live far away.


With a growing emphasis on STEM books and learning books like this one become very valuable.  Not only does this book introduce an important engineering concept--connecting things together--but it also compares building a physical bridge to building relationship bridges.  There are two kinds of text.  The shorter, larger text provides generic information perfect for sharing with younger readers/listeners (say 1st or 2nd grade).  For use with older children, there is additional information about specific bridges that match the type being discussed on the page.    The illustrations are bright and colorful and give the reader a nice view of the bridges and the differences in their designs.  I especially liked the page showing children doing back bends that make them look like bridges.  This book makes for a fun read and makes for a great lead in on a number of different activities--everything from yoga or physical posing to drawing and designing a bridge, to using a variety of materials to actually build a bridge.  This book would be a great addition to school libraries.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

BLOG TOUR: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel,


The #1 New York Times bestselling creator of Amulet, Kazu Kibuishi, hails this first book in this groundbreaking sci-fi/fantasy adventure series as “a magical journey, as fun as it is beautiful!” Think Star Wars meets Avatar: The Last Airbender!
The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves—and more to their worlds—than meets the eye. . . .
  • The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.
  • A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.
  • Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends?
When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!


MARK SIEGEL has written and illustrated several award-winning picture books and graphic novels, including the New York Times bestseller Sailor Twain, or the Mermaid in the Hudson. He is also the founder and editorial director of First Second Books. He lives with his family in New York. Follow Mark on Tumblr at @marksiegel and the 5 Worlds team on Twitter at @5WorldsTeam.

ALEXIS SIEGEL is a writer and translator based in London, England. He has translated a number of bestselling graphic novels, including Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat, Pénélope Bagleu’s Exquisite Corpse, and Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (into French).

XANTHE BOUMA is an illustrator based in Southern California. When not working on picture books, fashion illustration, and comics, Xanthe enjoys soaking up the beachside sun. Follow Xanthe on Tumblr at @yumbles and on Twitter at @xoxobouma.

MATT ROCKEFELLER is an illustrator and comic book artist from Tucson, Arizona. His work has appeared in a variety of formats, including book covers, picture books, and animation. Matt lives in New York City. Follow him on Tumblr at @mrockefeller and on Twitter at @mcrockefeller.

BOYA SUN is an illustrator and co-author of the graphic novel Chasma Knights. Originally from China, Boya has traveled from Canada to the United States and now resides in the charming city of Baltimore. Follow Boya on Tumblr at @boyasun and on Twitter at @boyaboyasun.


Graphic novels are popular these days, not just with kids either.  I myself quite enjoy them.  So it's always fun to get my hands on a new series that has the potential to fill a growing need.  This new series definitely has a lot of potential.  I like the fact that there are three main characters and they are all as different as can be. Oona is training to be a sand dancer and despite being an orphan and having a sister who is considered a coward, lives the good life.  An Tzu lives in the slums down below the Sand Castle where Oona trains and uses his trading and evading skills to help not only himself but his neighbors, unfortunately, his future looks dim.  And Jax Amboy a popular athlete who is known by all, and yet, really, by no one. When the three are brought together by an invading force, they are forced to rely on each other in order to find hope for their devastated homeland.  And along the way they must find a way to survive if they hope to light the Beacons that provide the only hope of victory.  

It can be hard to establish a solid background in a story that focuses so much on action and movement.  And yet here there is a surprisingly solid back story for each of the characters as well as the 5 Worlds.  The art is fantastic and eye-catching and the coloring (what there is of it in the ARC) pops nicely.  A great new middle grade graphic novel series that is bound to be popular.

Friday, May 19, 2017

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Brightwood by Tania Unsworth


Daisy Fitzjohn knows there are two worlds: the outside world and the world of Brightwood Hall, her home--and the only place she’s ever been. Daisy and her mother have everything they need within its magnificent, half-ruined walls. They may not have a computer or phone, but Daisy has all the friends she could want, including a mischievous talking rat named Tar and the ghostly presence of a long-ago explorer who calls herself Frank.

When Daisy’s mother leaves one morning, a strange visitor arrives on the estate, claiming to be a distant cousin, James Gritting. But as the days tick by and Daisy’s mother doesn’t return, Gritting becomes more and more menacing. He wants Brightwood for himself, and he will do anything to get it, unless Daisy, with only her imaginary companions to help her, can stop him.


I'm not sure quite what I expected this book to be, but I found it a rather surprising sort of read.  For one thing, there are only two human characters for most of the story, and secondly, the house, Brightwood Hall, is such an integral part of the story that it almost feels like a character itself.  Daisy's mother, Caroline Fitzjohn is the first person we meet in the story, just as she and her family set off on their yacht.  But Caroline leaves to ship to go looking for her doll's lost shoe and thus is the only family member to survive a terrible accident.  Unfortunately, the trauma of losing her whole family leads Caroline to start hoarding things in what she calls "day boxes".  Each day box contains miscellaneous items that represent the events of the day.  The problem is that over the years, Caroline accumulates thousands of these boxes and ends up having major shelving installed throughout the mansion.

Daisy, of course, grows up surrounded by her mother's boxes and her hoarding of food and other supplies, so none of it strikes her as unusual, not at first anyway.  But Daisy has never left Brightwood Hall, so the outside world is unknown to her except for what she has read about in her studies with her mother.  When her mother leaves to go to town one day and doesn't return, Daisy is left to care for herself and wonder what happened to her.  But her rather unusual friends, a rat named Tar, and a ghostly, imaginary explorer girl named Frank, help her cope.  But when a stranger shows up who seems to know the place, but who is surprised to see her, Daisy's feelings of unease grow.  Daisy's suspicions grow bigger as it becomes evident that this man has a rather uncomfortable connection to her mother.  When Daisy is forced to confront the man her life really, truly becomes endangered.

This is definitely one of the most unusual thriller/mysteries that I've read for the middle grade crowd.  Maybe because the only real help Daisy has is an imaginary/ghost girl who comes and goes at awkward moments.  Daisy really is pretty much on her own.  And since she has no real experience with anyone other than her mother, it creates a lot of tension when the stranger shows up and she doesn't know how to handle it.  But Daisy is a character that it is very easy to root for and she has loads of courage and good sense.  But it's going to take all she has to save her home, herself, and find out what happened to her mother.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: The Book of Heroes by Crispin Boyer


Everybody needs a role model! Discover the true stories of superheroes, rebels, world leaders, action heroes, sports legends, and many more daring dudes, all of whom played their part to make their mark, make a contribution, and make the world a better place.

From Abraham Lincoln to Sitting Bull, Stephen Hawking to Galileo, these cool guys had the boldness, bravery, and brains to meet the challenges of their day. With a fun design, engaging text, and high-quality photographs, this is ultimate hero guide and keepsake for 21st century kids.


I was intrigued by this book the moment I heard about it.  I mean heroes are what most stories are made of, right?   I was expecting the book to focus on real-life heroics and those are included.  But the book also includes fictional heroes such as Hercules, Robin Hood, and King Arthur.  In addition, there are individuals named that I, in my humble opinion, wouldn't necessarily call heroes.  I mean, King Tut? Alexander the Great?  King Tut didn't live to full adulthood, and while Alexander the Great did some remarkable things, I'm not sure I'd call conquering people and building an empire are exactly heroic.  But what I can say is that the book is put together beautifully with bright, colors and appealing designs.  The book works best for browsing since none of the articles are over a page or two in length.  And there were a lot of stories about people that I didn't know.  I especially appreciated the inclusion of ordinary people as well as famous ones, including children.  There's even a section on heroic animals.  In addition, there are sidebars highlighting remarkable women as well.  This book combined with the one on heroines would be a great addition to any library.

Monday, May 15, 2017

MMGM: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold


For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.


Elana K. Arnold has written a delightful book that I really enjoyed reading.  But I also found it an important book because the main character is what many would call neurodiverse or to be more specific: autistic.  While that is not stated specifically, it becomes clear in Bat's behavior that communicating with others is difficult for him.  One thing that I especially appreciated is that Bat's difficulties are portrayed as just a natural part of him that he and his family live and work with. Bat's challenges aren't made out to be all there is to him.  Bat's love for and fascination with animals shines through loud and clear as Bat tries to persuade his mom to let him care for an orphaned baby skunk until it's time to return it to the wild.  The interactions between Bat and his classmates (he does go to a private school) and Bat and his sister Janie feel natural and real both the good and the bad.

In addition to having realistic characters and believable situations in regard to Bat, there is also the fact that Bat's parents are divorced and he spends every other weekend with his Dad.  I loved how real this whole story felt and the way the animal facts and Bat's challenges are so beautifully woven together.  This is a book that I think ALL elementary libraries should have and a great one for personal collections as well.  Definitely going on my shelf of favorites.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

SERIES THURSDAY: Wells & Wong Mystery series by Robin Stevens


Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia's missing tie. Which they don't, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident - but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there's more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?


When I first started reading Murder is Bad Manners wondered why the book was being narrated by the character of Hazel Wong, the 'sidekick' so to speak.  But as I got into the book I quickly realized that Hazel is the Watson to Daisy's Holmes.  Hazel is the one with a caring heart, who looks beyond the logical, while Daisy is very much the logically-based intensively focused lead.  But as the two girls investigate the death and disappearance of one of their boarding school teachers, things get tense between the two.  Daisy is so focused on her own theories and beliefs that she dismisses Hazel's theories rather briskly, which I found irritating, as does Hazel.  But despite their differences, the girls manage to salvage their relationship and solve the mystery.  I loved the way the girls methodically investigate the mystery.  They start by considering suspects and motives and alibis.  But when one of their top suspects dies unexpectedly, the girls realize there is more to this case then they ever thought.  I thoroughly enjoyed this historical mystery and ready to dive into the next case.


Schoolgirl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are at Daisy's home, Fallingford, for the holidays. Daisy's glamorous mother is throwing a tea party for Daisy's birthday, and the whole family is invited, from eccentric Aunt Saskia to dashing Uncle Felix. But it soon becomes clear that this party isn't really about Daisy at all. Naturally, Daisy is furious.

Then one of their party falls seriously, mysteriously ill - and everything points to poison.

With wild storms preventing anyone from leaving, or the police from arriving, Fallingford suddenly feels like a very dangerous place to be. Not a single person present is what they seem - and everyone has a secret or two. And when someone very close to Daisy looks suspicious, the Detective Society must do everything they can to reveal the truth . . . no matter the consequences.


This fun follow-up to Murder is Bad Manners sets Daisy and Hazel up in a rather awkward situation.  Hazel has come to Daisy's home for vacation, but neither of them expects to have a murder to investigate.  But the horrid Mr. Curtis offended pretty much everyone as the personal guest of Lady Hastings.  But Daisy can't resist a mystery right under her nose, despite the challenge of suspecting her own family members. As the girls, including their visiting friends, Kitty and Beanie, gather evidence as well as eavesdropping on the strange goings-on, it becomes evident there is more going on than there appears.  It's fun to follow along with Hazel as she struggles with her own theories while trying to maintain her friendship with Daisy.  Daisy is brilliant after all, but like Sherlock Holmes, lacks the finer social sensitivities.  And Hazel struggles to balance her desire for comfort and good food with her curiosity and desire to find the answers.  And the addition of Kitty and Beanie complicates things.  Add in a mysterious governess, a frustrating Uncle, and an annoying brother and his best friend and the girls are bound to have an unforgettable holiday visit.  The question is whether the girls can find the answers with obstacles thrown in their way left and right, before someone else gets hurt. I'll admit the end did surprise me, which is a surprise in and of itself, since I've read so many middle grade mysteries that it's not usually difficult to predict where things are going to go.  So the ending was an interesting surprise, although not a happy one, the guilty party was someone that both Hazel and I liked.


A murdered heiress, a missing necklace, and a train full of shifty, unusual, and suspicious characters leaves Daisy and Hazel with a new mystery to solve in this third novel of the Wells & Wong Mystery series.

Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are taking a vacation across Europe on world-famous passenger train, the Orient Express—and it’s clear that each of their fellow first-class travelers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: There’s rumor of a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, a bloodcurdling scream comes from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered—her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer has vanished, as if into thin air.

The Wells & Wong Detective Society is ready to crack the case—but this time, they’ve got competition.


This third book in the Wells & Wong mystery series is just as good as the previous two, if not better.  As the author herself admits in the author notes, it's a homage to a classic mystery by Agatha Christie called Murder on the Orient Express.  Not only is the mystery a great one but the tension between the different characters shines through clearly with Daisy and Hazel having to work around not only Hazel's father (who's forbidden them from doing any detecting), but an undercover police officer as well.  And then the tension between all the other characters shines through from the very beginning when two characters start screaming at each other.  Add in a former Russian aristocrat, a magician, and a medium and you have a recipe for disaster.  But what is a disaster for others is a thrill for Daisy and Hazel and they sneakily set to work trying to figure out who committed the murder while searching for a spy as well.  A thoroughly enjoyable read from my point of view, even though I had some of the mystery figured out before the girls did there were a couple of things I missed which added an element of surprise to the ending.  A great mystery series combining great sleuthing and a fantastic historical setting into overall enjoyable read.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Little Fun Club blog tour. A subscription box for children's books. Great for kids ages 0-12.

About Little Fun Club:

Little Fun Club is a subscription box for children's books. It's ideal for kids ages 0-12. When you sign up, your child will receive a box containing three adventurous books every month. The books are tailored to your child's age, so you can rest assured they will always have quality, age-appropriate reading material. Each book is hand selected for your child, and no two boxes are the same.  

How it Works:

  1. Join Little Fun Club and let them know your child's age so the box can be customized for them. You can include up to three kids per box and they'll customize it accordingly.
  2. Get three adventurous books every month for as little as $25/month.
  3. Grow with Little Fun Club. As your child gets older, the books change accordingly — so you'll always receive age-appropriate books for your kids. 

Good to Know:

  1. You can add a note to your child's account with reading preferences so the box can be tailored to their interests.
  2. Shipping is FREE on all boxes.
  3. Little Fun Club selects books based on merit. Books go through a rigorous selection process and are read and reviewed by the Little Fun Club team before being considered.
  4. If you receive a book that you already own, just let Little Fun Club know about it. They'll replace the book in the next box! You don't have to return anything.
  5. You can cancel or put your subscription hold at any time.
  6. A Little Fun Club subscription makes a wonderful gift for birthdays, holidays, or just because.
The final product is a box filled with education, fun, and opportunities for positive child development. They make sure each box is just right before it is sent out.  


I received a Little Fun Club box for review that contained the following three books.  I found the three books to be good choices for the three children I asked them to choose for: a 9-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a 10-month old.  Although, I did find it a bit odd that the book for the 9-year-old is the third book in a trilogy, an interesting series, but I had to get my hands on the first two books in order for it to make any sense.  In terms of cost it's a good deal at $25 or $27 dollars since at regular prices the books would be $33. The three books are as follows:

The little green peas are back for a romp through a rainbow of colors in this Classic Board Book by New York Times bestselling author, Keith Baker!

The little green peas are back to celebrate the colorful world around them. Join the fun as they fly red kites, sail blue boats, ski down purple mountains, and more! Bright and bold illustrations fill the pages of this delightful exploration of color.

THOUGHTS:  I am a fan of these Little Green Pea books.  My favorite thing to do is look at all the tiny little details.  It's also fun to follow the pattern and show the child the recurring phrase, "little green peas'.  There are some fun surprises along the way as well, baby green peas, and little green guys (aliens).  This is a nice choices for my almost one-year-old niece.

A little bunny keeps running away from his mother in an imaginative and imaginary game of verbal hide-and-seek; children will be profoundly comforted by this lovingly steadfast mother who finds her child every time.

THOUGHTS:  This book is considered a classic, and yet I've never read the whole thing before.  But it's not hard to see why it's a classic with the comforting mother and the determined youngster.  The little bunny threatens to run away, but his mother keeps reassuring him that she will always come after him.  The alternating black and white scenes mixed with the colored, wordless two page spreads makes for a powerful combination.  Another good choice, this time for my almost 5-year-old nephew.

In Act III of Newbery Medalist Cynthia Voigt’s Mister Max trilogy, the solutioneer sets off to rescue his missing parents!
Ever since Max’s parents were spirited away on a mysterious ship, he has longed to find them.
He’s solved case after case for other people in his business as “solutioneer.” And he’s puzzled out the coded messages sent by his father. He doesn’t know exactly what’s happened, but he knows his parents are in danger—and it’s up to Max to save them.
Max and his friends (and a few old foes) don disguises and set sail on a rescue mission. It will take all of Max’s cleverness and daring to outmaneuver the villains that lie in wait: power-hungry aristocrats, snake-handling assassins, and bombardier pastry chefs.

And behind the scenes, a master solutioneer is pulling all the strings.... Has Max finally met his match?

THOUGHTS: I didn't actually get this one read because I wanted to read the first two books first.  I thought it a bit odd that they sent the third book in a trilogy, but its a good choice despite that.  I think my 9-year-old nephew will enjoy it when I give it to him along with the first two books.


1 month - $29/month 3 months - $27/month 6 months - $25/month 1 year.   You can see what types of books Little Fun Club offers by visiting their website.

 $50 Cash Giveaway | 

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive $50 in PayPal cash Open to US and Canada Ends May 12, 2017 Use the Rafflectoper to enter. Entrants must be 18 or older or have their parent/guardian enter for them. The winner will be chosen randomly. Winner must respond to my email within 48 hours or a new winner will be chosen. No purchase necessary to enter. This contest is void where prohibited by law.   a Rafflecopter giveaway  

Blog Tour Schedule

April 17 - The Mommy Island April 18 - Writing My Own Fairy Tale April 19 - The Kids Did It April 20 - Feed Your Fiction Addiction April 21 - Book Review Mama April 24 - Homebound but Hopeful April 25 - Looking Glass Review April 26 - Kristi's Book Nook April 27 - Natasha Reads Books April 28 - Create With Joy May 1 - That's What She Read May 2 - Tee and Penguin May 3 - Bookworm for Kids, This Kid Reviews Books May 5 - Word Spelunking May 8 - Babies to Bookworms May 9 - The Tangled Yarn May 10 - Geo Librarian May 11 - Savings in Seconds May 12 - Kid Lit Reviews

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

BLOG TOUR: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress


Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, "The Explorers: The Door in the Alley" is the first book in a new series for fans of "The Name of This Book Is a Secret" and "The Mysterious Benedict Society. "Knock once if you can find it but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It s not the one you re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)

This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer.

"The Explorers: The Door in the Alley" is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone."


With school winding down things at school have been really crazy.  So I haven't managed to finish this book yet.  But the part I have read is definitely amusing and strange.  Sebastian stumbles upon the door in an alley near his home with a sign about the Explorer's Society, but he doesn't feel like it is something it is appropriate for him to be interested in as a logical thinking person.  But when he crosses paths with a pig-in-a-teeny-hat he gets drawn into the society despite himself.  That's as far as I've gotten but I have a feeling that whatever is coming next is bound to be surprising.

To be continued:

Well, the book definitely took off in a rather unexpected direction.  I really had to suspend disbelief to make it through the rest of the book.  When Sebastian is told by members of the Explorer's Society to 'break' a rule, he can't believe it.  But while he's cleaning the archives room, he stumbles across a hidden door behind which he finds a rather plain, ordinary wooden box.  But after taking it home and figuring out how to open it, he discovers information about the Filipendulous Five, including the leader Alstair Drake.  While Sebastian is puzzling over this group that has never been mentioned during his time at the Explorer's Society, the other main character Evie is having her life shaken up, literally. 

Evie is an orphan, living at a state-sponsored boarding school that she hates.  Each week she goes to have dinner with an older couple, the Andersons.  Unfortunately, the Andersons seem like the most boring couple on the planet, that is until one dinner party is joined by two thugs armed with guns and daggers, one of whom has a badly burned face.  What they are after, Evie has no idea, but it's clear they are after something.  Evie manages to escape with a letter Mrs. Anderson gives her and makes her way to the Explorer's Society where she teams up with Sebastian.

From here the story leaps into full gear as Evie and Sebastian look for members of the Filipendulous Five in order to seek help finding and saving Evie's grandfather.  But the thugs are still on the loose and more than ready to complicate everything even if it means invading the Explorer's Society. Once I let go of the more absurd parts of the story, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  This is a great book for those who enjoy a mad-cap ride with a strong dose of the absurd.

Monday, May 8, 2017

NONFICTION MONDAY: The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill/Presenting Buffalo Bill


It's interesting reading two biographies of the same person one right after the other.  I found the contrast in presentations quite interesting as well as the one being more complete and detailed than the other.  Warren was much more willing to believe Cody's own words, while Fleming spends time in her book pointing out the controversies that still rage to this day about how much of Cody's autobiographies are fact and how much is fiction.  I highly recommend both books as fascinating, well-written narrative nonfiction reads.



The greatest entertainer of his era, Buffalo Bill was the founder and star of the legendary show that featured cowboys, Indians, trick riding, and sharpshooters.

But long before stardom, Buffalo Bill—born Billy Cody—had to grow up fast. While homesteading in Kansas just before the Civil War, his family was caught up in the conflict with neighboring Missouri over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state.

To support his family after a pro-slaver killed his father, Billy—then eleven—herded cattle, worked on wagon trains, and rode the Pony Express. As the violence in Bleeding Kansas escalated, he joined the infamous Jayhawkers, seeking revenge on Missouri­ans, and then became a soldier, scout, and spy in the Civil War—all by age seventeen.

Award-winning author Andrea Warren brings to life the compelling childhood of an adventurous, determined boy who transformed himself into a true American icon.


Warren herself points out in the author's note at the end of the book that her focus here was not entirely on Buffalo Bill, but on Bleeding Kansas and the events surrounding Kansas's statehood.  And seeing as William Cody spent part of his childhood as well as his teenage years in Kansas at that time, he made a great way to tell the story of what was going on in Kansas at that time.  Using Cody's own words as well as those of other family members and witnesses, Warren does a great job of sharing the tensions and conflict that boiled over into bloodshed and terror after Congress gave Kansans the right to decide whether to be a free or slave state.  After the death of his older brother, Cody and his family set off for Kansas looking for a place to prosper and forget.  But none of them forsaw the conflict that would invade their lives.  The invasion of Kansas by slaveholders from Missouri and elsewhere clashed with Cody's father's beliefs and when that became known Cody's father was stabbed.  While Isaac Cody survived the stabbing, his stance on slavery forced him away from his family in order to protect them and his family struggled without him.  Within three years, Isaac would be dead and Billy would be left at the age of 11 to be the man of the house.  But his own restless, wandering nature made it a struggle to stay home.

Written in a compelling style, often times using direct quotes from Billy himself as well as his sister, Julia, and other witnesses, The Boy Who became Buffalo Bill, focuses on Billy's youth, the years leading up to Bleeding Kansas and the events surrounding Billy's life there.  While the author does get into his adult life a bit at the end, the focus here is on his teenage years, his involvement in outlaw raids during the Civil War, and his service in the Union Army.  It's clear that Warren is more trusting of Cody's own words than many others, and Cody was known to exaggerate and even make things up which makes it hard to know how much of his own version of his life was actually true.  But regardless, Warren presents a compelling read, leaving it to the reader to accept or reject Cody's version of events.


Everyone knows the name of Buffalo Bill, but few these days know what he did or, in some cases, didn't do. Was he a Pony Express rider? Did he ride with Wild Bill Hickok? Did he "scalp" countless Native Americans, or did he defend their rights?

This, the first significant biography of Buffalo Bill Cody for younger readers in many years, explains it all. With copious archival illustrations and a handsome design, PRESENTING BUFFALO BILL makes the great showman—perhaps our first true global superstar—come alive for new generations.


Candace Fleming has once again written an absolutely compelling biography.  She has chosen a man who lived an interesting life, if not devoid of conflict and controversy.  It can be challenging knowing how to handle such controversies as those that swirl around Buffalo Bill Cody.  In my opinion, Fleming has done a superb job of sharing stories and experiences while still highlight problems that have been found with the stories Cody told about his own life.  Memoirs can be problematic to begin with since all the stories in them are told from that person's point of view and not necessarily from a factually accurate standpoint.  Buffalo Bill was especially well-known for exaggerating the stories he told, even in his autobiographies.  And some of his stories seem to be fiction altogether seeing as they contradict what others have recorded and what the historical record reveals.

But using the stories that can be verified from Cody's perspective as well as the words of family members and other witnesses, Fleming has still managed to create an incredibly compelling biography of a complex individual.  There were times as I read that I liked Buffalo Bill and times when I did not.  Buffalo Bill definitely made his share of bad choices in his life and was very much human.  The legends that surround Cody are pushed aside and the reader is given a chance to see him as a man of the times, a man with a gift for storytelling, but who felt little if any guilt at exaggerating or inventing accomplishments.  He was the consummate showman who was willing to hire both women and Native Americans for his show at a time when few did.  Fleming doesn't shy away from the questions about whether Cody manipulated and used the Native performers but she puts the questions in context which I really appreciated.  All in all, Fleming has created the kind of biography that I especially enjoy, one that shows the real person, flaws and all.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

DOUBLE BLOG TOUR for Deborah Hopkinson's Independence Cake and A Letter to My Teacher


Celebrate American independence with this delightful picture book as you travel to Revolutionary America and meet the amazing Amelia Simmons: mother's helper, baker of delectable cakes, and soon-to-be authoress of the first American cookbook!

Master of the historical fiction picture book Deborah Hopkinson takes us back to late eighteenth-century America and the discombobulated home of Mrs. Bean, mother of six strapping sons, who simply can't manage—until Amelia Simmons arrives and puts things in order. And how well she cooks—everything from flapjacks to bread pudding to pickled cucumbers! She even invents new recipes using American ingredients like winter squash. Best of all, she can bake, and to honor the brand-new president, George Washington, she presents him with thirteen Independence Cakes—one for each colony. "Delicious!" he proclaims. Author's Note and original recipe included!


Hopkinson has done a great job with this fictionalized look at the life of Amelia Simmons who published the very first American cookbook.  She portrays Amelia as a go-getter who doesn't let the loss of her parents and her need to work as a servant stop her from developing her abilities.  As Amelia works as a servant for Mrs. Bean and her family of six boys she starts experimenting with different ingredients and dishes (no lack of meals to prepare with six boys in the house).  Eventually she develops the Independence Cake when some prominent ladies in the community come to her wanting her to bake a cake for the new president, George Washington.  The illustrations and text convey a nice introduction to life in the Revolutionary Era.  I enjoyed the theme surrounding Amelia as she makes the most of her circumstances.


Dear Teacher, Whenever I had something to tell you, I tugged on your shirt and whispered in your ear. This time I'm writing a letter. So begins this picture book about a girl who prefers running and jumping to listening and learning and the teacher who gently inspires her. From stomping through creeks on a field trip to pretending to choke when called upon to read aloud, this book's young heroine would be a challenge to any teacher. But this teacher isn't just any teacher. By listening carefully and knowing just the right thing to say, she quickly learns that the girl's unruly behavior is due to her struggles with reading. And at the very end, we learn what this former student is now: a teacher herself.


The power and influence of a good teacher can never be overstated.  And the little girl who is writing a letter to her former second grade teacher as an adult shows that so beautifully.  I loved how the teacher welcomes the girl to school.  Since this girl prefers to stomp in puddles and explore the world and struggles with school work, she goes to school very reluctantly.  The letter takes the reader through the whole school year through the ups and downs, successes and failures. While neither the teacher nor the student is perfect (and it shows in the story), they do develop a close relationship that ends up paying off in a surprising way.  Carpenter's tender illustrations perfectly illustrate the little girl and her teacher and their learning adventures.  A book that every teacher should own and every school display. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

MMGM: Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power by Jennifer Hamburg


One perfectly ordinary afternoon, a vision flashes through third-grader Hazel “Hazy” Bloom’s mind—of flying peas. The next day in the school cafeteria, a food fight erupts that involves the very same airborne veggie. After one or two more seemingly silly visions come true in unexpected ways, Hazy realizes she has a strange new power to foresee a visual clue about trouble that’s on its way within twenty-four hours. But seeing is not always understanding, and headstrong Hazy quickly discovers that “tomorrow power” sometimes only gives her the ability to make a hilarious mess of things instead of saving the day.


Hazy Bloom loves her best friend, Elizabeth, but not her older brother Milo who is very annoying.  Life is pretty ordinary until Hazy starts having 'visions', glimpses of the future that she doesn't understand.  With the help of her BFSB (best friend since birth) Elizabeth, Hazy tries to figure out what these visions mean.  When a 'vision' of flying peas turns into a food fight in the cafeteria the next day, and a 'vision' of a sparkly blue number 9 turns into saving a friend with an allergy from getting stung, Hazy and Elizabeth figure that she's got a super power.  But as Hazy keeps seeing visions, she starts looking for fulfillment everywhere and begins getting herself in trouble with her teacher, her parents, and even Elizabeth.  Hazy starts to wonder if having this ability is really a good thing or not.  Hamburg and Harney have created a fun character with an unusual ability which makes for an amusing story that is a delight to read.  This is one that I would read out loud to students who think that having a super power would be the best thing ever.  I look forward to reading more about this character who distinctly reminds me of Sara Pennypacker's young Clementine.
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