Thursday, October 11, 2018



It the tradition of Hidden Figures, debut author Patricia Pearson offers a beautifully written account of the remarkable but often forgotten group of female fighter pilots who answered their country’s call in its time of need during World War II.

At the height of World War II, the US Army Airforce faced a desperate need for skilled pilots—but only men were allowed in military airplanes, even if the expert pilots who were training them to fly were women. Through grit and pure determination, 1,100 of these female pilots—who had to prove their worth time and time again—were finally allowed to ferry planes from factories to bases, to tow targets for live ammunition artillery training, to test repaired planes and new equipment, and more.

Though the WASPs lived on military bases, trained as military pilots, wore uniforms, marched in review, and sometimes died violently in the line of duty, they were civilian employees and received less pay than men doing the same jobs and no military benefits, not even for burials.

Their story is one of patriotism, the power of positive attitudes, the love of flying, and the willingness to do good with no concern for personal gain.


I'd heard of the WASP program before reading this book, but I didn't know much about it in terms of specific details.  I know a lot more now having read this book.  Pearson does an excellent job of describing the program as well as the events that led up to its creation and the events that led to its demise.  Specific individuals who played a key role in the program are mentioned by name throughout the book.  I especially enjoyed the experiences of specific WASP participants that Pearson shares throughout the book.  These personal experiences helped clarify the points the author was making about the challenges these women faced in terms of physical, mental, and emotional challenges.  I found it quite disappointing to read about the poor way many of the women were treated because other people didn't think women could be good military pilots, despite their proving their value over and over again.  And yet, I couldn't help but admire the skill and determination that so many of these ladies exhibited in the face of discrimination and poor treatment.  And their hard work did convert some of those around them to the value of the program.  Pearson has written a fascinating, well-written account of an important program in the annals of World War II, where over a thousand female pilots sacrificed a lot to come to the aide of their country.


On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland, filled to capacity with 2,500 passengers and crew, capsized in the Chicago River while still moored to the pier. Happy picnic-goers headed for an employee outing across Lake Michigan suddenly found themselves in a struggle for their lives. Trapped belowdecks, crushed by the crowds attempting to escape the rising waters, or hurled into the river from the upper deck of the ship, roughly one-third of the passengers, mostly women and children, perished that day.
     The Eastland disaster took more passenger lives than the Titanic and stands today as the greatest loss of life on the Great Lakes. Capsized! details the events leading up to the fateful day and provides a nail-biting, minute-by-minute account of the ship's capsizing. From the courage of the survivors to the despair of families who lost loved ones, author Patricia Sutton brings to light the stories of ordinary working people enduring the unthinkable.
     Capsized! also raises critical-thinking questions for young readers: Why do we know so much about the Titanic's sinking yet so little about the Eastland disaster? What causes a tragedy to be forgotten and left out of society's collective memory? And what lessons from this disaster might we be able to apply today?


Sutton has written a compelling account of a tragic disaster that occurred on July 24, 1915.  The SS Eastland, a steamship, was loading up for a trip across Lake Michigan to deliver over two thousand people to a Western Electric picnic celebration.  The ship capsized sending hundreds of people into the water, and trapping hundreds more inside the ship.  Sutton takes the reader through an account of this event, detailing both general events and specific experiences.  The actions of both crew and passengers are explained as well as a general history of the ship.  After reading about the previous stability problems the ship had, I found it appalling that the ship was still in use as a passenger vessel, when the ship had over and over again demonstrated that it was not suited to such use.  Mistakes both old and new guaranteed that a disaster was bound to happen.  This one occurred without the ship even leaving the dock.  It's proximity to the dock allowed people nearby to come to their aid.  Despite the hundreds of people who helped, over 800 people still died, many of them women and children.  This compelling story demonstrates that so many accidents are caused by human error.  And so often those responsible aren't held responsible, leaving the victims and their families to suffer the consequences.  A little known historical tale full of tragedy and courage, loss and bravery, as an entire community faced a disaster that didn't need to happen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: There's a Dragon in Your Book/The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight/ Be Kind



OH NO! There's a dragon in this picture book by bestselling author, YouTube star, and musician Tom Fletcher--author of There's a Monster in Your Book!

First, there's an egg in your book. Then the cutest baby dragon you've ever seen hatches from it. But don't tickle its nose, and whatever you do, don't let it sneeze! ACHOO! OH MY!

Tom Fletcher's infectious read-aloud invites kids to use their powers of imagination--along with some stamping, blowing, and flapping--to save their book from an adorable little dragon's flammable sneezes! Children will be delighted to participate in this satisfying tale, a sequel to There's a Monster in Your Book.


This cute interactive book revolves around an egg that hatches into an adorable little dragon.  But as anyone with pets knows cute often means messy and hard to care for.  And in this case, the dragon offers another challenge: fire!  And fire and books don't go well together.  But never fear, the power of imagination comes to the rescue. This book is bound to be enjoyed by youngsters who enjoy physically and mentally interacting with what they see and hear.  This would work well as a story time book as well, with the teacher/librarian encouraging students to close their eyes and imagine their way out of the difficulties the baby dragon causes. Combine with other fun dragon stories for a rip, roaring good time. 


Can knights and dragons ever be friends?

When a strange-looking creature splash lands in the lake, a kind young boy rushes to the rescue. But this is no ordinary boy, he's a knight in training! And the strange creature is a young dragon, on his very first hunt for a nibblesome knight...


Woollard has written a cute story about a dragon and a knight, born to be enemies, who become friends, not knowing who the other is until afterwards.  A young dragon is sent out to find a knight to nibble on.  After getting caught in a storm and crashing, a young knight comes to his rescue, but without his armor on.  The knight rescues the dragon thinking he's a duck.  And of course, out of his armor, the boy doesn't look anything like a knight.  When the misunderstanding is discovered, the two realize that their societies expect them to fight, but can they really fight each other after getting to know each other a bit?  The illustrations are adorable and really highlight the challenge that the dragon and knight face confronted with the so-called enemy.  I loved the theme as well.  The theme of course revolves around the idea that once you get to know someone, it's a lot harder to be enemies, when that enemy relationship is based on incorrect ideas.


When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate contemplates how to make her feel better and what it means to be kind. From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving and thoughtful story explores what a child can do to be kind, and how each act, big or small, can make a difference--or at least help a friend.


With so much ugliness in the world today, kindness has become more important than ever.  But sometimes we don't know how.  In this story, a young girl witnesses a fellow student spill a drink on herself and the rest of the students laughing about it.  She remembers her mother's advice to be kind, so she doesn't.  And when her first effort to be kind doesn't seem to work, she's not sure what to do.  While she works on a project in art class, she wonders about what it means to be kind.  After thinking about what kindness means, she tries again to reach out to Tanisha.  I enjoyed this book for several reasons.  First, I loved the story about a girl trying to be kind, even though it takes more than one effort to succeed.  I also loved all the different ways she comes up with to be kind to the people in her life.  And third, I loved the theme that small kind acts can change the world in big ways.  And the illustrations are darling as well.  That makes the book a real winner in my book. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Unpunished Murder by Lawrence Goldstone


On Easter Sunday of 1873, just eight years after the Civil War ended, a band of white supremacists marched into Grant Parish, Louisiana, and massacred over one hundred unarmed African Americans. The court case that followed reached the highest court in the land. Yet, following one of the most ghastly incidents of mass murder in American history, not one person was convicted.

The opinion issued by the Supreme Court in US v. Cruikshank set in motion a process that would help create a society in which black Americans were oppressed and denied basic human rights -- legally, according to the courts. These injustices paved the way for Jim Crow and would last for the next hundred years. Many continue to exist to this day.

In this thoroughly researched volume for young readers, Lawrence Goldstone traces the evolution of the law and the characters involved in the story of how the Supreme Court helped institutionalize racism in the American justice system.


This wasn't the easiest book to read for several reasons.  First, massacres are never easy to read about because of their appalling nature.  Second, justice was never received.  And third, the court system allowed the murderers to go free, but basically opened the door to allowing them to treat black Americans however they wanted.  Goldstone starts by explaining what happened the day the massacre occurred.  He then flashes back to the end of the Civil War and the events that led up to that horrible day.  He covers the condition the South was left in after the war and the racist attitudes that still ran hot.  He talks about the fighting between the Radical Republicans who controlled Congress and President Andrew Johnson and how that led to the passing of the 14th and 15th Amendments and Reconstruction, all of which was designed to make black Americans equal citizens in the eyes of the law.  The problem was, too many people, both north and south, didn't want equality.  And while Reconstruction forced the South to go along with it for awhile, eventually Reconstruction ended leaving racism alive and well.  Goldstone returns to Grant Parish and provides the background that explains why the massacre (or the riot as the murderers called it) occurred.  He then moves on to the efforts made to bring the murderers to justice.  He provides a fascinating explanation for what happened and why it happened and the reasons the Supreme Court basically said the 14th and 15th Amendments couldn't be enforced by the federal government.

Frankly, it was appalling to read of the utter unfairness of what happened and the way murderers not only went free, but were allowed to retake control of the state governments throughout the South, which directly led to the Jim Crow laws that led to so much suffering for so many black Americans.  Goldstone does a good job of explaining things that are pretty complex in a way that teenage readers will be able to understand, especially those interested in politics and the court system.  This book is a very important one in that it tells a story that needs to be heard, especially as it's become crystal clear that racism isn't a problem of the past.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

CYBILS JUNIOR HIGH NONFICTION REVIEW: D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History by Deborah Hopkinson


The WWII invasion known as D-Day was the largest military endeavor in history. By June 6, 1944, Hitler and his allies had a strong grip on the European continent, where Nazi Germany was engaged in the mass extermination of the Jewish people. The goal of D-Day was the total defeat of Hitler's regime, and the defense of free democracies everywhere. Knowing they had to breach the French coast, the US, Great Britain, and Canada planned for the impossible.

D-Day was an invasion not for conquest, but liberation, and required years to plan and total secrecy to keep the advantage of surprise. Once deployed, Operation Overlord involved soldiers, sailors, paratroopers, and specialists. Acclaimed author Deborah Hopkinson weaves together the contributions of not only D-Day's famous players, but African Americans, women, journalists, and service members in a masterful tapestry of official documents, personal narratives, and archival photos to bring this decisive battle to vivid, thrilling life.


There are many books available about the D-Day Invasion of World War II.  But because so many people were involved, there are endless ways for the story to be told.  In addition, for the same reason, authors have to pick and choose what information to share, there is simply too much to share in any one book.  Plus, no two authors tell the story in the same way.  Thus, there is a place for Hopkinson's book on the subject.  And she's done a fabulous job in sharing the information in a way that works for adolescent readers.

The book starts with the experience of a young man flying over France as one of the thousands of paratroopers proceeding the sea-based invasion.  This makes for a great beginning as it pulls the reader right into the story.  Following a brief description of what D-Day was and how the U.S. Army was organized (helpful for those with little military or World War II background), Hopkinson goes back and tells the story of the major events that led up to the invasion itself.  The book is divided up into 7 parts as follows: The Plan, The Gods of War, Night Into Day, Utah, Omaha, Aftermath: More than Courage, Quartermaster's Department.  Each section includes important information related to the general plans and some of the individuals involved in creating those plans.  As this book is written for American youth, it focuses on the two invasion sites that the Americans helped invade, the beaches code named Utah and Omaha.  I especially appreciated the widespread use of quotes and experiences from individuals who were there.  The story feels more real when one reads the words of an actual person.  The inclusion of 'dispatches' and 'Reader's Invasion Briefings' helped create context in relation to specific issues that came up during the invasion.

All in all Hopkinson has created a compelling account of a day that changed the world forever.  A day that young history buffs will want to know about.  This is a book that would be easy to recommend to young readers who want a glimpse into the experiences of those involved in both the planning and executing of D-Day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell


Kaylee loves pulling pranks: from dropping water balloons on passers by to even tricking Santa Claus, she’s a prize-winning prankster!

But is she the Princess of Pranks? No! That title is held by none other than the Tooth Fairy. But when Kaylee loses a tooth and the Tooth Fairy goes about her usual tooth-taking business, Kaylee pranks her with a fake frog. As Kaylee and the Tooth Fairy try to out-prank one another, things get way out of hand, until the two finally see eye and eye and decide to share the crown!


I am not a huge fan of pulling pranks.  I think that it can be very unkind and mean. But the consequences of pulling pranks is seen in this story as Kaylee and the tooth fairy face off.  Kaylee loves to prank and so when she loses a tooth she naturally turns the tooth fairy's visit into a prank and gives the tooth fairy a fake frog rather than her tooth.  But she doesn't realize that the tooth fairy is a prankster herself and is more than willing to give back.  As the pranks go back and forth though the problems created by the pranks get bigger until it finally becomes obvious that things have gotten out of hand.  But have they really learned their lesson?  The illustrations are darling and full of life and spirit, the sparkles on the cover are bound to catch the eye of young readers.  The twinkle of mischief in Kaylee's eyes is hard to miss and adds to the appeal of the story.  This is a book that is bound to be enjoyed by many a young prankster.

Monday, October 1, 2018

CYBILS 2018!

I am happy to announce that it is Cybils time once again.  For those who aren't familiar with this award, here is the description right from their website:

The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

I am pleased to say that once again I have the privilege of serving as a judge.  I will be serving as a Round One panelist for the Junior High/Senior High Nonfiction category as I did last year.

The description for my category is as follows:

Novels may get all the glory, but we know that truth is stranger than fiction any day of the week.

We’re currently in a golden age of nonfiction. Forget the dry stuff they used to read in school to help with homework–today’s authors understand how important a great nonfiction piece of writing is to both students and teachers, both for the learning opportunities in school and outside school walls. Great nonfiction can sweep readers away to far off lands, different time periods, and have you walk the shoes of someone else’s life as easily as fiction–for in our case, these people, lands, and events really took place. Young adult readers do not need to be lectured, they want the information presented to them so they can make informed decisions for themselves. Because of this, authors have the ultimate responsibility of bringing truth alive to these discerning readers–do not try to sugar coat, lie, or belittle or you will lose them instantly. Young adult nonfiction readers will not and should not shy away from controversial topics, they rely on accurate and up-to-date information to help them form opinions on what matters most to them. While some topics are not easily discussed, we need these resources so they have a safe place to turn to for the information they seek.  

What we are looking for in Junior High/Senior High Nonfiction category is the best of the best in nonfiction. At least 50% should be narrative nonfiction–something that “reads like a story.”. It might include informational graphics, pop out boxes, an index, good citations, and more.  While how-to nonfiction and textbooks are fantastic in some cases, for CYBILS purposes, that is not what we are looking for so please do not nominate them. If you have read or written an engaging narrative nonfiction book for those in fifth through twelfth grades, we would love for you to nominate them for Young Adult Nonfiction!

We’ve broken YA into two age categories and are awarding Junior High and Senior High separately. How do I decide which category to nominate in?
  • Junior High Nonfiction: Intended for readers in 6th-8th grade
  • Senior High Nonfiction: Intended for readers in 9th-12th grade

Here are my fellow panelists:

Round 1:

Anne Bennett
My Head is Full of Books

Rebecca Aguilar
Mostly About Nonfiction

Laurie Thompson
Laurie Thompson Blog

Heidi Grange
Geo Librarian

Jennie Rothschild
Biblio File

Round 2:

Adrienne Gillespie
Books and Bassets

Katy Manck

Terry Doherty
The Reading Tub

Wendy Gassaway
Falconer’s Library

Karen Yingling
Ms. Yingling Reads



1968: Today's Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change Edited by Marc Aronson
Crash: The Great Depression and the Fall and Rise of America by Marc Favreau
Blacklisted: Hollywood, the Cold War, and the First Amendment by Larry Dane Brimner
Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend by Karen Blumenthal
Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII by P. O'Connell Pearson


Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo
Capsized: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster by Patricia Sutton
In Harm's Way: JFK, World War II, and the Heroic Rescue of PT 109 by Ian Martin
The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century by Neal Bascomb
Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chesnut Tree by Sally M. Walker
More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War by Kenneth C. Davis
Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Tonya Bolden
March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Pattillo Beals
Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin

Friday, September 28, 2018

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Float by Laura Martin


From the critically acclaimed author of the Edge of Extinction series comes this fast-paced, action-packed, and heartfelt adventure about a group of kids with uncontrollable abilities, perfect for fans of Gordon Korman, Lisa McMann, and Dan Gutman!

Emerson can float…he just can’t do it very well.

His uncontrollable floating is his RISK factor, which means that he deals with Reoccurring Incidents of the Strange Kind. The last place Emerson wants to be is at a government-mandated summer camp for RISK kids like him, so he’s shocked when he actually starts having fun at camp—and he even makes some new friends.

But it’s not all canoeing and capture the flag at Camp Outlier. The summer of fun takes a serious turn when Emerson and his friends discover that one of their own is hiding a deadly secret that puts all of their lives in danger.

It’s up to the Red Maple boys to save themselves—and everyone like them.


When Emerson first arrives at Camp Outlier, he doesn't want to be there.  As a RISK kid, he's been treated as an outsider his whole life, and the steel boots and vest that he has to wear don't help things any.  Then he discovers that being at a camp with other kids like him, who have uncontrollable superpowers, isn't so bad, and he fits in better than he could ever have imagined.  For the first time in his life, Emerson isn't spending all his time playing video games, and he has friends.  But things take a dangerous turn when Emerson discovers that one of his camp mates has a dangerous secret that will change everything.  And since the adults can't or won't do anything, it's up to Emerson and his new found friends to save the day.  

Martin has created a thoroughly entertaining book about some rather unusual children.  While the characters all have strange abilities, they are still children who want to belong, and who are tired of being treated differently.  The craziness that results when they come together results in some rather amusing events.  And yet the themes of friendship and adapting to differences shine through loud and clear.  And mixed in with all of that are typical camping experiences involving fires, latrines, and girls.  I enjoyed watching Emerson and his friends change over the summer as they become friends as well as cabin mates. In addition to the more serious themes, there is enough silliness (and yes, grossness--roping pigs anyone?) to satisfy most middle grade readers.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: The Adventurer's Guide to... by Wade Albert White


Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes--or face the horrible consequences.


If you enjoy snarky comments and plenty of humor, this enjoyable fantasy novel is for you.  I'm a fan of snarky comments and humor so I really enjoyed this book.  Anne has spent her entire life at St. Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children (orphanage).  The existence is not a pleasant one as the children spend most of their time completing punishments or doing chores.  The only thing that made it bearable was the presence of her best friend, Penelope, and the library out of which she sneaks books to read.  Anne is thrilled that the day has arrived that will allow her to leave.  But things don't turn out the way she hoped.  First she's told she has to stay for another year, then while tending the Matron's fire lizard, she falls off the end of the world (the world is made up of tiers that do end) before being recruited to a quest academy.  But things get worse when she ends up in the orphanage dungeon followed by a crazy escape that leads to being blown on by a dragon and an encounter with zombie sharks.

Once she and Penelope arrive at the quest academy, Anne hopes things will calm down.  But it turns out she inadvertently started a quest that she must complete.  The problem: she has absolutely no training whatsoever and it's a high level quest.  Disaster continues to plague Anne and her companions as they set out on their journey.  But Anne's determination, Penelope's fierceness, and Hiro's magic may not be enough to save them.

The book contains advice from various quest-related books but in reality isn't very helpful.  For example, in a pamphlet entitled: The Limitations of Forever: the reader is told "don't bother trying to picture infinity.  It's impossible".  For readers who enjoy a good dose of laughter along with their adventure this is a fabulous series.  The unusual combination of quest literature, world tiers that end, and strange references to technology also make for a fun read.



Get ready for dragons, robots, and an even more dangerous quest in the sequel to The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes!
Anne, Penelope, and Hiro have returned to Saint Lupin's Quest Academy for Consistently Dangerous and Absolutely Terrifying Adventures, where there's only one way to leave: pass or fail. At the annual Quest Academy awards, they're recognized for their success in their first outing-Best Illegal Quest That Nearly Destroyed the Entire World--but a strange boy steals Anne's gauntlet and activates a new quest that pits them against all of dragonkind. Their charge: kill the dragon queen. The problem is, Anne doesn't want to kill any dragons! But ignoring a quest can have horrible consequences, just as killing the dragon queen would start an all-out war between people and dragons. To avert disaster, Anne and her friends will have to dodge robot attacks, defeat new foes, and survive the dangerous dragon trials just for a chance to explain.

With charming, funny text and lots of heart, The Adventurer's Guide to Dragons is the perfect read for anyone who likes fantasy with lots of laughter.


White has written another snarky, humorous adventure novel with this book.  After their first madcap adventure, Anne, Penelope, and Hiro have enjoyed a bit of calm as they settle in at Saint Lupin's Quest Academy for Consistently Dangerous and Absolutely Terrifying Adventures, which Anne owns.  But it's the calm before the storm.  After arriving at the capital city of the Hierarchy to receive an award, things begin to go wrong in monumental ways.  Anne's gauntlet gets stolen, iron robots come alive, and Anne ends up with another unexpected and unwanted quest.  And this quest isn't just life-threatening, but war-threatening.  Once again it's up to Anne and her friends to somehow save the day in their rather unorthodox way.  

One of the things that I've especially enjoyed about this series is the twists and turns that jump out at one from behind almost every chapter.  One really can't predict where the story is going to go next.  Which is why I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in the series which involves pirate treasure.  So many fantasy stories follow tried and true tropes that I always find it refreshing to find one that stands on it's own as uniquely as this series does.  The combination of fantasy and science fiction elements is so unique that I can't really think of any books to relate it to. Just know that if you have a middle grade reader who enjoys a strong dose of snark and sarcasm with their fantasy adventures, this series makes for a wonderful place to start.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: The Lizard Lady/Dear Komodo Dragon


Join the Lizard Lady as she cuts her way through thick Caribbean forests searching for critically endangered St. Croix ground lizards. Hunted to extinction on the island of St. Croix by invasive species brought by colonizing farmers, these lizards are now only found on surrounding islands in the US Virgin Islands. Readers learn that scientists can be women and that the day in a life of a scientist can be anything but boring. Co-author Nicole F. Angeli IS the Lizard Lady--can she help save these animals?


This brief book takes a look at the scientific work of Dr. Nicole Angeli as she strives to help save the endangered St. Croix ground lizards.  Dr. Angeli is one of the co-authors of the book and adds a legitimacy to the story.  This narrative nonfiction gives young readers a glimpse into what it's like to be a field scientist and the importance of what they do.  The story follows Dr. Angeli as she searches for a lizard, finds one, and gathers data about it to help her studies.  As with other Arbordale titles, this book contains suggested activities and additional information at the end of the book, making it especially useful for teaching and families that like to extend their reading.  


Lots of children have pen pals but one little girl has a real-life dragon—a Komodo dragon—for a pen pal! Leslie plans to be a dragon hunter when she grows up. When she and Komodo become pen pals, the wise-cracking dragon adds a generous helping of humor to letters that are chock full of accurate, interesting facts. Leslie learns not only about the world’s largest lizard, but also about the dangers they face. As their friendship builds, will Leslie change the way she thinks about dragons?


This book shares information about komodo dragons in a rather unusual way.  A girl corresponds with a komodo dragon through letters.  And through the letters the komodo dragon tells the girl about himself and how he lives.  This makes for an imaginative presentation of information in a fictional format.  The illustrations are charming and relatively accurate for a komodo dragon writing letters.  There are several activities included at the end of the book for extended interaction with the book and it's information.  Additional resources can be found at the publisher's website.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Pluto is Peeved!/Look at Me!


Pluto is peeved. And who can blame him? He was once considered one of the Solar System’s nine planets but was unceremoniously demoted. “Why do scientists think it is all right to change things?” Is just one question Pluto asks as he roams the science museum in search of answers.

Pluto Is Peeved!, a comic-book-style picture book, takes you on a scientific journey side-by-side with Pluto, who speaks with other museum inhabitants -- such as a dinosaur, a germ, and the Earth -- and learns what exactly scientists are interested in. The answer is: everything, including him!


The animated comic format picture book addresses Pluto's feelings about being rejected as a planet.  He doesn't understand why he was downgraded and goes searching through the museum in search of answers.  Instead he discovers some of the subjects that scientists work to learn about, including dinosaurs, bacteria, and rocks.  Eventually he realizes that though he's not considered a full-sized planet anymore, that doesn't mean he isn't of interest.  This is a fun way to explore an interesting topic.  This Pluto would be glad to know that some scientists are now saying that Pluto should be a planet after all.  Extra information at the end of the book provides further development of the ideas raised in the main section of the book.


With his signature breathtaking art, plus stunning gatefolds, acclaimed naturalist Jim Arnosky introduces children to the most eye-catching creatures in the animal kingdom!

Meet the show-offs! With their wacky eyebrows, beautiful patterns, and bright feathers and scales, many animals seem to be saying: “Look at ME!” That behavior certainly won’t protect them from predators, so why do they do it? Jim Arnosky explores a multitude of creatures from across the globe to reveal the reasons behind their attention-grabbing behavior. His spectacular art, including amazing gatefolds, presents brilliantly colored poison arrow frogs of the rainforest; the breeding plumage of egrets and peacocks; the impressive antlers of deer and elk; the threatening hoods of cobras; the balloon-like displays of African bullfrogs; and the dramatic color transformation of spawning fish.


As in his other books, Arnosky has once again created beautiful paintings to go with his informative text about animals that use various methods to stand out.  Mentioning everything from fanned tails, to horns and antlers, skin spreading, noise makers, inflators, and fancy feathers, Arnosky shows the reader some of the things that make these animals so interesting.  Some of the animals are shown in beautiful, full-color glory, others are shown in pencil drawings, with a few gatefolds showing off these animals unique traits.  Arnosky has delivered another beautiful book honoring the natural world in which he has spent so much time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Monsters for Sale/When the Ground Shakes/Don't Ever Look Behind Door 32


"Each day came and went with no child to take them home. The monsters decided it was time to make a plan of their own." Joy and contentment soon lead to worry as three toy monsters realize their plan to find the love of a child is falling apart. Will she return them? Will she give them away? Or maybe-just maybe-she will help them to discover that simply being themselves is always enough.


This is a cute story about the importance about being yourself.  While it felt a bit didactic in its delivery of that message, the illustrations are cute enough to overlook that.  Here we have three monsters who are afraid that no child will ever want them the way they are, too many children have walked away.  So they put together a plan and hide as much of themselves as they can behind clothes.  When a young girl adopts all three, they feel like their lives are set for good, until their clothes get dirty and tattered and must be taken off.  Will the girl still love them when she sees them in all their glory?  The book is missing a bit of polish, and the changing colors of the text is a bit distracting, the book is still cute.


Preparing children for an unpredictable event, such as an earthquake, is one of the best ways to reduce trauma and maintain children's mental and emotional well-beings. We combined our experiences as a Marriage & Family Therapist and School Counselor to write this book, both specializing in work with young children for more than 20 years. Our first-hand experience helping children cope with traumas, including natural disasters, is what opened our eyes to the need for this type of self-help guidance book. This book was written to introduce the concept of an earthquake, and to provide children with tools to stay safe and cope during the event. There are books available that teach children what to do during an earthquake. The purpose of our book is to address children's emotional well-beings and to help reduce their anxiety and fear. Children learn through repetition. We recommend reading and practicing the skills introduced in this book on a regular basis. This book can also be used post-earthquake to help kids cope with their emotions and help them make sense of what has happened. When children know what to do, they are less likely to be scarred by the traumatic event.


With natural disasters being a part of life in most parts of the world, it becomes important for parents and teachers to teach children how to cope with the possibility of living through one.  This book sets out to teach children how to face an earthquake.  The book is clearly intended to be used with fairly young children as it is quite repetitive.  But that isn't a bad thing in this case.  The book helps children understand what an earthquake is and how to respond if caught in one.  I appreciated the inclusion of counting and singing favorite songs.  I thought those were great strategies for controlling fear.  Advice for how to be safe in different conditions is also helpful.  While the illustrations are too animated for my taste, the solid nature of the advice makes that easy to overlook.  And young readers will probably be comforted by the cartoon illustrations.  I'm now interested in having a look at the activity book that goes with this one to see if the activities are as solidly helpful as this book is.  I'd highly recommend this title for those who have children and live in an earthquake zone.


The magical Hotel of Hoo is a mysterious place with some very unusual occupants. As our guests explore the strange hotel, they are invited to experience everything it has to offer with just one warning… don’t ever look behind door 32.

This imaginative picture book aims to take children beyond the first ten cardinal numbers, and introduces them to the patterns of counting in a fun and accessible way. With rooms to explore and unique objects to count, children will enjoy lingering on each page as they make their way closer to the forbidden door.


I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  The rhymes are delightful, the illustrations adorable, and the ending a surprise.  It's also a fun counting book.  As the hotel's host shares with the children the many unusual guests and rooms in his hotel, he continually reminds them that door 32 is off limits.  As the children get closer and closer to the banned room, I started speculating about what might be found there, but what is behind the door was not at all what I was expecting, and made me laugh out loud.  A fun book all around.  There was only one spot that bothered me and that was where the illustrations and the text didn't match.  The text says a red broom, but the broom isn't red.  The goblin in the picture should be purple to match the goblins mentioned earlier, but is green instead.  But that is a smile gripe in the face of such an enjoyable book.

Monday, September 10, 2018

MIDDLE GRADE REVIEW: Captain Superlative! by J.S. Puller


"Have no fear, citizens! Captain Superlative is here to make all troubles disappear!"

Red mask, blue wig, silver swimsuit, rubber gloves, torn tights, high top sneakers and . . . a cape? Who would run through the halls of Deerwood Park Middle School dressed like this? And why?

Janey-quick to stay in the shadows-can't resist the urge to uncover the truth behind the mask. The answer pulls invisible Janey into the spotlight and leads her to an unexpected friendship with a superhero like no other. Fearless even in the face of school bully extraordinaire, Dagmar Hagen, no good deed is too small for the incomparable Captain Superlative and her new sidekick, Janey.

But superheroes hold secrets and Captain Superlative is no exception. When Janey unearths what's truly at stake, she's forced to face her own dark secrets and discover what it truly means to be a hero . . . and a friend.


Like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Captain Superlative is a book that touches the heart.  I ended up in tears more than once. As in Wonder, this book revolves around the changes brought about by one person.  But in Wonder, the main character is the one that inspires change.  But in Captain Superlative, the main character, Janey, is a bystander.  She goes out of her way to be invisible.  She doesn't consider herself the type to rock the boat.  Especially when Dagmar Hagan decides to torment Paige.  Janey knows it's wrong, but she has no desire to become a target herself and so like everyone else, she does nothing.  Things take a strange turn however when Captain Superlative shows up in full-on superhero costume, blue wig, red cape and all. Captain Superlative's declaration leaves Janey feeling strange and overwhelmed.  At first Janey is just curious about this seventh grader running the halls of the school doing good deeds.  But she feels increasingly drawn to this girl who seems to have no fear of Dagmar and her cronies or of being called a freak.  After following her home from school one day, Captain Superlative approaches her at school and invites Janey to be her sidekick.  At first Janey appalled by the very idea.  But after witnessing Dagmar crossing a line, she's unable to hold back any longer and finds herself joining Captain Superlative's campaign of goodness.  But there is more to Captain Superlative than there appears, and Dagmar certainly isn't going to take her loss of power lying down.  Will Janey find the courage within herself to carry on, even if she must do it on her own?

Puller has created a story full of joys and heartaches as Janey learns about the possibilities that exist outside of social invisibility.  And yet, stepping forward into the spotlight can be terrifying, especially when a bully is just ready and waiting to make you a target.  I loved the relationship between Janey and her father.  Her father's sense of humor helped balance Janey's serious nature and encouraged her to take a leap of faith after Captain Superlative sought her help as a sidekick.  The awesome kind acts that Janey and Captain Superlative do made me smile as Janey learned the happiness that comes with helping others.  I'll admit though that Dagmar's actions bothered me greatly, especially since there was never a teacher around to do anything about it.  I figured out her reasons for behaving the way she does quite early in the story, but it didn't make her behavior any more palatable.  Puller does a nice job though of combining humor with emotion, leading to a story that isn't as heavy as it could have been.  It's impossible not to root for Janey and Captain Superlative and their campaign of kindness.  A campaign that leaves the entire school changed.

Friday, September 7, 2018

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby


Twelve-year-old Flossie is no ordinary ghost — she’s the caretaker of every soul in Highgate Cemetery. And during World War II, even the ghosts are unsafe.

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, it’s Flossie’s job to ensure that all the souls buried in the cemetery stay at rest. Not an easy job for a young ghost, but a task made especially difficult by World War II: London is being attacked every night by enemy bombers, and even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object that seems to exist in both the living and spirit worlds, she becomes suspicious — what is the officer up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could destroy not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie and her ghostly friends stop the soldier before it’s too late? History collides with the supernatural in this exciting, ethereal mystery from Allison Rushby.


I've read books combining ghosts and history before, but none quite like this one.  I admired the way Rushby created a believable ghost world revolving around seven major cemeteries in and around London while also connecting that world to the historical events of World War II London.  Flossie is the turnkey of Highgate Cemetery.  That means she's in charge of keeping the interred happy in their internment.  While she's still learning about how to help her charges, she finds satisfaction and contentment in her job.  At least until she runs into the spirit of a Nazi officer running around London during the Blitz.  He doesn't behave like any run-of-the-mill ghost she's ever met.  Her curiosity leads her to visit other cemeteries looking for help spotting the man again.  When he does reappear it's in a place he shouldn't be and it's clear that he poses a threat to both spirit and living worlds.  With the help of friends and acquaintances, Flossie seeks to find out what the Nazi officer is up to while still fulfilling her duties, but it proves to be harder than she expected.  The story is a fascinating one, providing enough details to help the reader envision what's going on while still moving the story along briskly. An enjoyable read perfect for young readers who want something a little different in their ghost story while not being scared out of their wits.  
Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Story Time kit by Kristin Aagard