Friday, July 27, 2018

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead


A classic middle-grade tale of magic and friendship, about a girl who helps an old friend find home, by two New York Times–bestselling authors Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead.

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, two masterminds of classic, middle-grade fiction come together to craft this magical story about the enduring power of friendship.


I wasn't sure I was going to like this when I first started it.  But by the time I finished it, I had developed a fondness for it.  The relationship between Livy and Bob is at the heart of this story.  The friendship that first developed between them when Livy was five-years-old and visiting her grandmother in Australia.  Bob has patiently lived in a closet for five years, awaiting Livy's return.  But Livy doesn't remember Bob or any of the things that they experienced together.  And Bob doesn't remember where he came from, he just knows he wants to get back to the home he must have, somewhere.  Despite not remembering him, Livy decides to help him find his way home, but in order to do so, she must investigate the events that brought them together in the first place.  At the same time, her grandmother's neighborhood is enduring a horrible drought that may drive them from their homes.  The story alternates between Livy's and Bob's points of view.  Each voice is unique and fun, Livy's near teen skepticism and Bob's undying hopefulness.  The story is relatively short and quite easy to read.  In fact, I think this one would make a fun read aloud.  The handful of illustrations add a nice touch.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: Famous Phonies/Thrilling Thieves/Fantastic Fugitives


Fakes, frauds, and phonies. Sounds like a book filled with criminals and delinquents, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. Some of the biggest names in history can be found between these pages—and the light isn’t flattering. (We’re looking at you, George “I must not tell a lie” Washington.) Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History is the first book in a new nonfiction middle grade series that will explore the underbelly of history, making you question everything you thought you knew about history’s finest. Follow the fake lives of these twelve history-changers to uncover the fabrications of the famous, and the should-be-famous!

Famous “Phonies”:
Confucius • George Washington • Pythagoras • Hiawatha • Gilgamesh • Major William Martin • William Shakespeare • Pope Joan • Homer • Prester John • Huangdi • The Turk


So many kids have the mistaken impression that history is boring.  Unfortunately, many textbooks make this problem worse by being boring themselves.  I don't think I've ever read a history textbook that wasn't boring.  That's why narrative nonfiction books like this one are so important.  Not only is the snarky tone of the author interesting and bound to be appealing to teenagers, but the information is fascinating.  History is actually very messy with very little known about some people and events.  And often what has been learned in school is either incomplete or incorrect.  For example, George Washington, the 1st President of the United States, has attained legendary status in the minds of many Americans, but that leads to the overlooking of his flaws and mistakes.  In this book, DuMont shares some of the things that made George Washington all too human.  That makes him easier to understand as a real person who helped establish a country.  Some of the individuals included in this book were real people such as Confucius, George Washington, Pythagoras, and William Shakespeare.  Yet there are questions about the legitimacy of the credit they've been given for changing the world.  Others discussed in the book are not verified to even have existed and yet somehow managed to leave a mark on the world.  This is a fascinating, snarky book that proves that history doesn't have to be boring.


What do Mother Theresa, Honest Abe, and Mahatma Gandhi have in common? They’re all too good for this book, that’s what.

In this exciting third book in Brianna DuMont’s Changed History series, it’s the thieves, pirates, and rogues who alter history. Sure, there are a few familiar faces like Queen Elizabeth I and Thomas Edison, but even behind their angelic smiles are cunning con artists who stole their way to gold and greatness. Inside you’ll find fascinating stories about:

The Venetians
Francisco Pizarro
Queen Elizabeth I
Catherine the Great
Madame Chang
Robert Fortune
Robert Smalls
Boss Tweed
Thomas Edison
Vincenzo Perugia
Klaus Fuchs

Follow the trail of these twelve troublemakers to uncover the dishonest origins of the Louvre museum in Paris, the modernization of New York City, and the creation of Hollywood. Find out why the Mona Lisa is the most iconic painting in the world and who propelled her to fame. (Hint: It’s not her creator, Leonardo da Vinci.) Watch empires rise and fall with the theft of a simple tea plant. Enjoy learning about how much our world owes to miscreants through the tales of these thrilling thieves!


In this follow-up to her Famous Phonies book, DuMont takes the reader briefly through the lives of some famous individuals who changed the world, but did it through thievery of various types.  Whether you are reading about Catherine the Great who stole a kingdom from her husband the Tsar of Russia or Napoleon who stole numerous pieces of art from each of the lands he conquered or Robert Smalls, a slave, who stole a boat to make his way to freedom, each of the people in this book were real and left their mark on the world they lived in.  For some, there remains in the modern world evidence of their work, such as the Louvre where some of the artwork Napoleon stole still resides or movies that Thomas Edison helped create through his thieving and bullying ways.  Once again, DuMont has created a fun book full of interesting information about people who changed history but not always using the best methods.  It raises the question, do the ends justify the means?


Think fugitives are always bad guys running from the law? Think again! The twelve fugitives in this book annoyed everyone, including queens, presidents and popes. But they didn’t let the peeved or the powerful stop them from breaking laws. They stood up for what they believed in, which could be as noble as freedom or as greedy as money. They founded countries, won wars, and even ended empires—all while on the run! Follow the twists and turns of these lawbreaking lives to learn how anyone can change the world. Even you! Just make sure you have your running shoes tied tight.

Fantastic Fugitives: Criminals, Cutthroats, and Rebels Who Changed History While on the Run! is the second book in Brianna DuMont’s Changed History series. The series includes Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History (2015) and a forthcoming book on thieves who changed history.

Fantastically fast fugitives hiding inside:

Spartacus * Cleopatra * Martin Luther * Koxinga * Mary, Queen of Scots * The Pilgrims * Harriet Tubman * Typhoid Mary * John Dillinger * Emmeline Pankhurst * Virginia Hall * Nelson Mandela


Brianna DuMont has created a fun series with her Changed History series.  This book in the series focuses on individuals who changed the world while on the run.  Some of the individuals were criminals such as Koxinga and John Dillinger.  Others were seeking something others didn't want them to have such as Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mendela, and Spartacus.  Others wanted more than they had and offended many in their efforts to get it such as Cleopatra and Mary, Queen of Scots.  But all of the people discussed in the book left a mark on the world, sometimes good, sometimes not so good.  All of these individuals though have stories that make for some interesting reading.  The snarky tone of the author will make the book that much more appealing to some readers.  Others might not enjoy it so much.  But all in all, an entertaining informative read.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Ocean Meets Sky/Pie is for Sharing/Drawn Together


Finn lives by the sea and the sea lives by him. Every time he looks out his window it’s a constant reminder of the stories his grandfather told him about the place where the ocean meets the sky. Where whales and jellyfish soar and birds and castles float.

Finn’s grandfather is gone now but Finn knows the perfect way to honor him. He’ll build his own ship and sail out to find this magical place himself!

And when he arrives, maybe, just maybe, he’ll find something he didn’t know he was looking for.


In this gorgeously-illustrated story, a young boy named Finn misses his grandfather.  Living by the sea allows him to look out his window and dream of the place his grandfather told him about where the ocean meets the sky.  This fantastical place has flying whales and jellyfish and floating castles.  One day he builds a boat and then falls asleep inside.  When he wakes up, he finds himself out at sea.  He sees images in the clouds and knows that he is on his way to the place where the ocean meets the sky.  With the help of the great golden fish he continues his journey.  But will he find what he is looking for?  And will he ever return home?  As they did in The Night Gardener, the Fan brothers have created an exquisitely beautiful book about finding hope and love in the stories of those we love.  The fantastical parts of the story are intriguing and are bound to catch the attention of young readers and listeners.

Pie Is for Sharing is a gorgeously illustrated ode to sharing by debut author Stephanie Ledyard and acclaimed artist Jason Chin.


There are some illustrators that I know will create beautiful pictures every time.  Jason Chin is one of those illustrators.  In this book about the joys and challenges of sharing, he beautifully illustrates the generic words as a family vacationing at a lake with friends.  This is one of those books where the illustrations take the words and make them so much more.  As the author talks about sharing pie, sharing time, sharing a tree with a bird, and sharing a hug when one gets hurt, Chin takes the reader on a trip with a bunch of kids as they enjoy a day swimming and playing.  The book is a beautiful tale of the joys of relationships and learning to share with each other, even when it's sometimes hard.


When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens-with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.

With spare, direct text by Minh Lê and luminous illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat, this stirring picturebook about reaching across barriers will be cherished for years to come.


In this tender story of a grandfather and his grandson, the reader discovers quickly that the two don't speak the same language, literally.  This creates a frustrating wall between the two as they eat dinner and then watch TV together.  Finally, the boy goes to the table and starts to draw with his markers.  He draws himself as a superhero.  To his surprise, his grandfather gathers his drawing materials and creates an image of himself as a warrior.  Together they draw a story of the two of them fighting off the bad guys, until they find themselves relating in ways they never expected.  There are words in the story, but they don't start until mid-way through the book when the boy and his grandfather start to communicate..  The symbolism of that is powerful.  Santat's illustrations beautifully complement Le's words as he makes the drawings of the boy and the grandfather visually distinct which allows the reader to see how the two learn to communicate and relate to one another.  A truly winning story about the creativity that is sometimes needed to help people overcome differences.

Monday, July 16, 2018

MMGM: Breakout by Kate Messner


Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek--two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town's maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics--a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project--Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who's really welcome in the places we call home.


Nora Tucker and her best friend, Lizzie Bruno are looking forward to the end of the school year.  The upcoming field day will provide Nora a chance to prove her running skills and earn her the chance to throw water balloons at the principal.  The cookout and other activities promise to make the day a fun way to end the school year.  But the arrival of Elidee Jones who runs faster than Nora and the escape of two inmates from the local prison change everything.  Told through letters, poems, newspaper articles, transcripts of 'recordings', and texts, Breakout, tells the story of not only Nora, Lizzie, and Elidee, but the story of this small town that revolves around the prison.  The girls face the fears associated with having two murderers on the loose, but also the prejudices of not only themselves, but those around them.

I enjoyed this book immensely.  Not only did I like the format (although not everyone will) but I enjoyed the characters and the themes.  Themes related to friendship, racism, white privilege, and the justice system pervade the book, but not in overwhelming ways.  As Nora's eyes start to open to the biases of those around her, she starts to see things she never noticed before.  And as she points out at the end of the book, she can't go back to the way things were before, and that's a good thing.  I also appreciated the unique voice of each girl.  Nora is a bit nosy and blunt in her observations and perspective.  Lizzie has a snarky voice, and she enjoys comedy and writing parody articles for Nora's practice newspaper.  Elidee struggles to find a place in this new place, but finds inspiration in copying the patterns in the beautiful poetry she reads.  Reading her poems even inspired me to go looking for the works of the poets she references.

Messner has written an excellent novel that makes for both an enjoyable read, and a social commentary on current issues.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mystery & Mayhem series by Nomad Press w/ Guest Post by Author Judy Cummings


Feel a tickle in your throat? Do you still have that headache? Could you be falling victim to a deadly virus?

From history’s earliest days, bacteria and viruses have stalked humans. Stowing on wagons, ships, and airplanes, these diseases traversed the globe, infecting people in city streets and isolated hamlets. Epidemics and Pandemics: Real Tales of Deadly Diseases tells the tale of five of history’s most critical contagions.


Disease has long played an important role in both historical and contemporary events.  In this book, the author takes the reader through five such diseases and specific times when those diseases changed history.  The diseases covered include the bubonic plague that wreaked havoc during the Middle Ages, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that almost destroyed a nation, smallpox that inadvertently destroyed a people, the Spanish flu that killed more people than World War I, and the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.  A brief description of the disease is given followed by a narrative of the events in which the disease played such a key role.  Each section is fascinating and well told.  The stories are compelling and easy to read.  Enough detail is given to carry the stories forward without the narrative getting bogged down in detail.  That makes this book and others in the series well designed for reluctant readers.  The plentiful white space and short paragraphs also make the books attractive for middle grade readers.  The only concern I had with the book was the lack of a bibliography or works cited page.  Suggested websites, books, and videos were provided but no list of resources.  However, I've read about these events before and everything I read here is consistent with what I've read elsewhere, so it's clear the author did her research.


We might think humans have control over our environment, but Mother Nature has proven us wrong again and again.

Earth, Wind, Fire, and Rain: Real Tales of Temperamental Elements tells the story of five of America’s deadliest natural disasters that were made worse by human error, ignorance, and greed.


While natural disasters are inevitable and uncontrollable, they are often made worse when people make poor decisions in response or fail to prepare.  This book in the Mystery & Mayhem series focuses on five such disasters.  Those events include the deadliest fire to ever occur in America (Peshtigo), the "Great Blizzard of 1888" that shocked New Englanders through and through, the Johnstown Flood, the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and the Dust Bowl.  Each story is told clearly and succinctly with plenty of background information provided.  Each story is compelling and well-told.  The timelines and photographs help support the stories.  The only problem I had with the book was the lack of references or a bibliography.  The book does have a glossary and suggested books, websites, and videos to check for more information.  The compelling stories combined with the white space and short paragraphs make this a good book for reluctant readers.


Have you ever felt the earth shake beneath your feet? It's a scary feeling! In Eruptions and Explosions: Real Tales of Violent Outbursts, kids ages 10 to 13 learn about five different explosions, both natural and man-made, that were big enough to cause chaos across the world. Another installment in the Mystery and Mayhem series, which combines hair-raising, real-life mysteries with primary sources and rich language for middle school readers to gobble up.


This book in the Mystery & Mayhem series by Nomad Press focuses on natural and man-made explosions.  The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 and the damaging effects it had worldwide is the first story told.  The second story is about the 1865 explosion of the steamboat Sultana as she made her way north up the Mississippi with over 2,000 former Union prisoners.  The third story is about the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.  The fourth story talks about the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine.  And the last story looks at the Deepwater Horizon explosion that sent millions of gallons of oil flooding in the Gulf of Mexico.  As in other books in the series, these stories are well-told with enough detail to be compelling and interesting.  The wise use of white space and the short paragraphs make it an easier read for struggling readers.  The book includes a glossary and suggestions for places to go for more information.  The only thing the book is missing is a list of references.


Why on earth would anyone want to dig up a grave? The characters in Tomb Raiders: Real Tales of Grave Robberies all have their reasons. Whether they're starving, greedy, poverty-stricken, or hungry for knowledge, the real people who are portrayed in this nonfiction book for early middle schoolers are driven far enough to disturb the bones of the dead. Another installment in the Mystery and Mayhem series, which combines hair-raising, real-life mysteries for kids with primary sources and rich language.


The accounts of grave robbing that are described in this book are both a bit gruesome and fascinating.  Cummings looks at the hungry settlers of Jamestown who robbed graves to avoid starvation, the robbing of graves to provide bodies for dissection by early doctors that lead to a riot, the attempted theft of Lincoln's corpse for ransom, grave robbery associated with Egyptian royalty, and the Lord of Sipan and the looting of his grave.  All of the stories are well written and easy to follow.  There is enough detail to understand what is going on  without the story getting bogged down in details.  The timelines, glossary, and suggested resources are all nice touches.  The only thing I would have liked to have seen would have been a list of references, but young readers aren't likely to care much about that.  A nice entry in the series that would be great for handing to reluctant readers. 


Judy Dodge Cummings was a high school history teacher for 26 years and has written 20 nonfiction books for children and teens. When she isn’t researching or writing, she is busy building a time machine. The test run is scheduled for April 1, 2050. Connect with Judy on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Think like a Historian to Time Travel
I read history books so I can travel back in time, and I write history books so young readers can do likewise. But with the right mental equipment, kids don’t need my books. They can learn how to time travel themselves. All they have to do is think like historians.
What does it mean to think like a historian? Students will be happy to know it does NOT include memorizing dates, places, and names. They can look that stuff up in a book.
Historians are detectives of the past.
They frame questions about important events and unsolved mysteries, and then they interrogate historical sources to answer these questions. Those historical sources open up doorways through which historians experience life from an earlier era. Of course, speeding across dimensions of time and space in a machine traveling faster than the speed of light is way cooler than time traveling like a historian, but we have to work with what we’ve got.
Until a real time machine is invented, educators should follow these steps to help their students time travel the historian’s way.
First, reframe your concept of what history is. Define history as a verb, rather than a noun. The Greek word for history is ἱστορίa, “learning or knowing by inquiry.” History defined this way demands action. It is not enough for students to read a chapter of the social studies textbook or listen to a teacher lecture, even if that teacher is a riveting storyteller. To really understand the past, students need to actively engage with historical data. For more on how to mentally reframe history as a verb, check out my post Doing History.
Second, teach kids how to ask good questions about the past. The questions they frame are the GPS coordinates for their time machine. The right questions will lead students to sources that will bring their topics to life. The internet is full of resources to help you breakdown the essential elements in a well-written historical question. A good place to start is Glenn Wiebe’s History Tech blog.
Third, teach students how to interrogate primary sources. Diaries, letters, photographs, newspaper articles, and court proceedings recorded by people of the past offer students the chance to view a previous era through the eyes of its contemporaries. When I was teaching, I introduced the process of dissecting primary sources with documents from my own youth—report cards, notes written to a crush, angst-filled poetry. The kids eagerly explored this glimpse into their teacher’s private life.
Homecoming Court 1978--Can you find me?
Model how to find the author, date, and purpose of the document and then teach students how to do a close read of this source. The Stanford History Education Group has a lesson plan on how to close read the image in this poster. (sign up for a free account to access their stuff)
Fourth, corroborate the evidence. If a student was traveling back in time to Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, what if the only person he talked to was an officer in the British army? Almost certainly that student would conclude that the upstart American rebels fired the shot that launched the American Revolution. But the truth is much more complicated.
Historians never just interrogate one witness in their quest to interpret the past. Guide students in evaluating multiple sources and identifying and reconciling the disparities and biases in these sources. Another great lesson from the Stanford History Education Group called Who Started the Lunchroom Fight teaches the skill of corroboration in a way kids can relate to.
Fifth, contextualize. A real time machine would not take you back to 1863 just so you could meet Abraham Lincoln in an empty void like the place Eleven visits in Stranger Things.
Image result for eleven in empty room in stranger things
Darn it, I forgot my book!
You’d see Lincoln in the White House, coordinating the Union’s war effort. You’d hear people debating the Emancipation Proclamation and you’d read newspaper coverage of the war. It’s impossible to understand the poetry of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without some knowledge of the three days of carnage that occurred in Gettysburg just a few months before Lincoln penned those memorable lines.
Contextualization is the skill of placing events in their proper framework. This is where the teacher’s riveting lectures, the dramatic History Channel clips, and the books from that awesome nonfiction author Judy Dodge Cummings (shameless plug), come into play. These secondary sources provide the background students need to understand the people and events they meet in the primary sources.
Every time machine must return to the present. Your students will emerge from their investigation of the past, and their next job is to interpret what they discovered and communicate their position to the public. Historians develop written and verbal arguments in defense of a thesis. The blog Two Writing Teachers offers lots of ideas and resources for how to help students write history.
Someday we’ll get to time travel in a DeLorean like Doc and Marty in Back to the Future.
Image result for back to the future
Why Didn't We Just Think Like Historians?
But until that day comes, encourage your young charges to enter the past by thinking like historians. They never know who they might meet.
Guess who he Claims Started the American Revolution?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Speediest!/How They Choked/Life on Surtsey


Caldecott Honor winner Steve Jenkins is back with more Extreme Animals, perfect for young readers looking for accessible nonfiction chock full of incredible art. Speediest! will focus on the fastest members of the animal kingdom. 

Through illustrations, infographics, facts, and figures, readers will see how big each animal is compared to humans, where it lives on the globe, and just how quickly it can move!

With his signature art style, Steve Jenkins' Extreme Animals reader series explores nature's truly superlative animals. These readers are fact-packed and span the globe, detailing the astounding abilities of every shape, size, and species. Each installment focuses on amazing and unusual animals, making these nonfiction readers accessible, informative, and fascinating.


As in his other books, Speediest combines interesting animal factoids with gorgeous cut paper illustrations.  This book focuses specifically on the fastest animals in the world.  Animals that are highlighted include cheetahs, ostriches, brown hares, the road runner, and the falcon.  The size of the book makes it particularly appealing to children in grades 1st through 3rd.  In addition to each two page spread, Jenkins includes a glossary, bibliography, and graphs comparing the different animals.  A great addition to a fun series that is sure to be popular with young animal lovers.


Over the course of history, famous people made mistakes that were so monumental they could never escape them, no matter how brilliant their successes! Ferdinand Magellan is credited as the first man to sail around the world . . . but he only actually made it halfway. His terrible treatment of everyone he met cut his life journey short. Queen Isabella of Spain is remembered for financing Columbus’s expeditions—and for creating the Spanish Inquisition. J. Bruce Ismay commissioned the unsinkable marvel of the sea, the Titanic—and then jumped the line of women and children to escape death on a lifeboat. Readers will be fascinated well past the final curtain and will empathize with the flawed humanity of these achievers.

Famous successful “failures” include:
Marco Polo • Queen Isabella of Spain • King Montezuma II • Anne Boleyn • Ferdinand Magellan • Isaac Newton • Benedict Arnold • George Armstrong Custer • Vincent Van Gogh • Susan B. Anthony • Thomas Alva Edison • J. Bruce Ismay • Amelia M. Earhart • Joseph Jefferson Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”)


The snarky tone of this book is bound to make it interesting to young adult readers.  So often history books don't provide details about the people they mention, depriving young learners of the depth needed to truly start to understand historical events and people.  Books like this one provide a look at people who left their mark on the world, bringing about change of various kinds, but they didn't necessarily do it in good ways.  Whether one is talking about Queen Isabella of Spain who proved that women were capable of ruling a country, but who tortured many of her own people or George Armstrong Custer who became a general because of his daring, but who pridefully led his men to their deaths, Bragg focuses on famous individuals who succeeded in some things but failed utterly in others.  A fascinating account of just how human our predecessors were. 


On November 14, 1963, a volcano fifteen miles off the shore of Iceland exploded under the sea, resulting in a brand-new island. Scientists immediately recognized Surtsey for what it was: an opportunity to observe the way life takes hold. 

Loree Griffin Burns follows entomologist Erling Ólafsson on a five-day trip to Surtsey, where since 1970 he has studied the arrival and survival of insects and other species. Readers see how demanding conditions on Surtsey can be, what it’s like to eat and work while making the smallest impact possible, and the passion driving these remarkable scientists in one of the world’s most unique fields ever!


One of the things I love about the Scientists in the Field series is the chance to visit other places vicariously.  I'm not much of an adventurer myself, but reading these books makes me appreciate those who are.  In this book, Burns gives the reader a glimpse into the study of a newly born island, created through volcanic activity.  The author follows a group of scientists to the island where they spend a week gathering information about the plants and animals taking root on the island. The author provides an close-up look at the work of the scientists as well as a glimpse into Icelandic culture and the conditions that field scientists live with as they work in the field.  It's always fascinating to me to read about the information gathered by field scientists as well as the methods used.  Burns focuses on the work of Erling Olafsson, an entomologist, who has been studying the insects on the island for over thirty years.  For young readers who enjoy science this series opens windows into fascinating worlds and the work people do to understand those worlds better.

Monday, July 2, 2018

MIDDLE GRADE REVIEWS: Argos, The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog/The Wizard's Dog Fetches the Grail


From a compelling new voice in middle grade comes a reimagination of The Odyssey told from the point of view of Odysseus’s loyal dog—a thrilling tale of loyalty, determination, and adventure.

For twenty years, the great hero Odysseus struggles to return to Ithaka. After ten years beneath the walls of Troy, he begins the long journey back home. He defeats monsters. He outsmarts the Cyclops. He battles the gods. He struggles to survive and do whatever it takes to reunite with his family.

And what of that family—his devoted wife, Penelope; his young son, Telemachos; his dog, Argos? For those twenty years, they wait, unsure if they will ever see Odysseus again. But Argos has found a way to track his master. Any animal who sets foot or wing on Ithaka brings him news of Odysseus’s voyage—and hope that one day his master will return. Meanwhile, Argos watches over his master’s family and protects them from the dangers that surround a throne without its king.


Hardy's taken the story of the Odyssey and retold it through the eyes of an imaginary loyal dog.  While Odysseus is attempting to make his way home from the Trojan War, Argos, The Boar Slayer, remains at home attempting to take care of Odysseus's wife and son.  What should have been a simple voyage home becomes much more complicated as Odysseus and his men visit various islands and have a bunch of adventures along the way.  After blinding a Cyclops who happens to be the son of Poseidon, they find themselves facing destruction. Greek gods in this tale were creatures of whim and grudges.  During the ten years that follow, Argos works hard at taking care of his master's flocks while daily seeking news of his master from any and all animal visitors to the island.  Thus, Argos follows along by proxy his master's troubles.  But many on the island believe that after so long a time, Odysseus must be dead, thus a hundred suitors descend on Odysseus's home to court and marry his wife.  Argos and Telemachos struggle to contain the excesses of the suitors while trying to maintain hope that Odysseus will be coming home.  Hardy does a nice job covering ten years of time while keeping the action going both at home with Argos and through the stories of Odysseus's adventures.  This is a fun book for middle grade readers who enjoy Greek mythology and stories about dogs.


For fans of The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom comes an offbeat, comedic spin on the Holy Grail legend as told by the lovable Nosewise--talking dog and wizard-in-training! 

The magical realm of Avalon has gone to the dogs--well, one dog. Nosewise, the hilarious talking pup and wizard-in-training, can wield powers untold...but he has yet to master the powerful sword Excalibur. This dog still has some new tricks to learn.

But Lord Oberon's evil worms threaten to eat all magic in existence. Nosewise and his pack, the street urchin Arthur, the sorceress Morgana, and his beloved master Merlin, must find the Holy Grail, the one item that can save them all. The only problem: the goblet is hidden in the legendary castle of Camelot--which has been missing for centuries! Worse, Queen Mab, sovereign of dreams, is planning havoc of her own. As naps turn to nightmares, Nosewise will have to rely on his smarts and his snout, or the dog days will be over!

Popular author Eric Kahn Gale returns with a fast-paced fantasy adventure that stands out from the pack!


This sequel to The Wizard's Dog proved to be just as entertaining.  Gale has taken the story of Merlin, Arthur, Morgana, and Camelot and turned it on it's head with thoroughly enjoyable results.  Nosewise, the talking, magical dog, and his pack, Merlin, Arthur, and Morgana, think the worst is over after defeating Oberon on the island of Avalon.  But when they return to Avalon after gathering some supplies they discover their fae friend Nivian dead as a result of the worm sprites that Oberon created, that they had thought were dead.  Nosewise being an extremely loyal companion won't accept that there is nothing he can do to help his friend.  After Oberon, who is dying himself, tells them that the only way to bring Nivian back is to find the Grail of life with it's life bringing water, Nosewise is determined to do whatever it takes to find it.  But traversing the land of the fae and confronting Queen Mab, sovereign of dreams, proves to be much more difficult than he ever imagined.  Especially once Queen Mab gains control of Merlin, Arthur, and Morgana through their dreams.  It's up to Nosewise to not only save his pack, but find a way to gain the Grail to save Nivian.  Gale has written a book full of adventure and humor.  Nosewise is an amusing narrator as he strives to understand his human pack.  Each of the characters has their strengths and weaknesses making the book that much more realistic.  But the fun comes in with the adventures that Nosewise and his pack experience.  A thoroughly engaging tale full of fun characters and exciting adventures.
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