Thursday, December 29, 2011

Read to Me Picture Book Challenge: Cats for Christmas

A Bad Kitty Christmas
written and illustrated by Nick Bruel
Roaring Brook Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59643-668-8
Grades 1-5
Reviewed from purchased copy.

BLURBA HILARIOUS NEW HOLIDAY PICTURE BOOK ABOUT EVERYONE'S FAVORITE NAUGHTY FELINE "Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city, not a creature was stirring...Except for BAD KITTY." A greedy Bad Kitty didn't get all the presents she wanted for Christmas, but after she goes on a Christmas caper across town and through multiple alphabets, she makes a new friend, finds an old friend, and learns the true meaning of Christmas. Or not. Nick Bruel's first picture book about Bad Kitty since the uproarious Poor Puppy in 2007 is full of rhyming mayhem... and Christmas cheer.

I have enjoyed all the Bad Kitty books, but I think this one is my favorite.  Maybe because Bad Kitty for the first time, thinks of someone besides herself (a temporary fluke I'm sure).  Once again, the way Bruel uses the alphabet three times in one book is amazing, but it does slow the book down a bit.  I read this to several groups of kindergartners and I think it was a bit overlong.  But first and second graders should enjoy it nicely.  The Bad Kitty books, both picture books and chapter books (graphic novels?) fly off my library shelves.  This would also be a creative way to encourage older students to make alphabet books themselves.  A fun addition to the Bad Kitty series, bound to be enjoyed by any cat fan.

Just a note, there is one spot where the old lady is talking about her family and mentions a family with two mothers.  I wasn't thrilled to see this because of my own beliefs but at the same time many children are bound to have contact with family situations different than their own and this creates an opportunity for discussion if you so choose, but when I read the book to my students, I don't think the students even noticed it.  If they had noticed it I would have simply pointed out that not everyone has the same beliefs or family situation.

Merry Christmas, Splat
written and illustrated by Rob Scotton
HarperCollins Publishers, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-083160-8
Grades K-3
Reviewed from purchased copy.

BLURBIt's the night before Christmas, and Splat wonders if he's been a good enough cat this year to deserve a really big present. Just to make sure, he offers some last-minute help to his mom and, in typical Splat fashion, he messes up completely! That night Splat stays awake hoping to see Santa Claus. But when Splat misses him, he's sure his Christmas is ruined—along with his hopes for a really big present. . . .Everyone's favorite furry cat is back in a Christmas story perfect for any child anxiously awaiting Santa's arrival.  

I am a Splat fan.  I find him amusing and reading any of the Splat books makes me smile.  The children that I have shared this and other Splat books with have enjoyed them as well.  In this story the part I enjoy the most is when Splat is trying to 'help' his mother to prove how nice he is for Santa.  This reminds me of having watched my nephew's attempts to help my sister.  I have to admire her patience in letting him help even though she could get things done easier and faster on her own.  She is both teaching and allowing him to learn to do things on his own, a challenging part of being a parent or a teacher.  Anyway, when I read this to my students they seem to enjoy the part where Splat tries to see Santa but misses him completely.  All in all a fun holiday read.

Watering Level: 25 completed of 36

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I am a big fan of giveaways, so this post is to share some giveaways that I know about.  If you know of others I could add, please let me know.

Tiffany at Tiffany's Bookshelf is offering a $50 Amazon gift card.

Kathy at I am a Reader, Not a Writer presents a list every Wednesday highlighting great giveaways.  Check out today's list.

As a Part of Got a Great Giveaway, I'm giving away one book from the Book Depository for $20 or less.  This giveaway will close on January 6th.  The only requirement is that the book needs to be Young Adult or Children's.  Please leave a comment below, including some way of contacting you.  One entry per person. NOTE: THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

Reviewing Shelf is also hosting an international giveaway on her blog. This closes on January 7th.

There's a Book also has frequent giveaways.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you have a great holiday season!

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

I was excited to participate in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap this year.  Being my first year, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I enjoyed choosing items to send to my person and excited to see what would be sent to me.  My secret Santa sent a variety of fun items. One new book (Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact), an ARC (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children), a fun desk calendar, a small journal, and two bookmarks (one can never have too many bookmarks, I love to collect them myself).  Thanks to Tiffany Harkleroad for being my secret Santa.  I must apologize to my secret Santa, I did not put my name and/or blog name on it, I thought it was really supposed to be secret.  Oops.  Still, I hope Danielle at Mercurial Musings enjoys her gifts.

BLURB: Eleven-year-old Darwen Arkwright has spent his whole life in a tiny town in England. So when he is forced to move to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with his aunt, he knows things will be different - but what he finds there is beyond even his wildest imaginings!

Darwen discovers an enchanting world through the old mirror hanging in his closet - a world that holds as many dangers as it does wonders. Scrobblers on motorbikes with nets big enough to fit a human boy. Gnashers with no eyes, but monstrous mouths full of teeth. Flittercrakes with bat-like bodies and the faces of men. Along with his new friends Rich and Alexandra, Darwen becomes entangled in an adventure and a mystery that involves the safety of his entire school. They soon realize that the creatures are after something in our world - something that only human children possess.

BLURB: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fantastic Friday: The Fires Beneath the Sea by Lydia Millet

The Fires Beneath the Sea
written by Lydia Millet
Big Mouth House, 2011
ISBN: 978-193152071-3
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

BLURBCara's mother has disappeared. Her father isn't talking about it. Her big brother Max is hiding behind his iPod, and her genius little brother Jackson is busy studying the creatures he collects from the beach. But when a watery specter begins to haunt the family's Cape Cod home, Cara and her brothers realize that their scientist mother may not be who they thought she was—and that the world has much stranger, much older inhabitants than they had imagined. With help from Cara's best friend Hayley, the three embark on a quest that will lead them from the Cape's hidden, ancient places to a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea. They're soon on the front lines of an ancient battle between good and evil, with the terrifying "pouring man" close on their heels.

There were several things I liked about this book.  First, there is a cool villain--the pouring man who is always dripping and attacks through any kind of water. Second, the author's detail about the setting (Cape Cod) created a great picture in my mind, which is useful for someone who has never been there.  Third, the use of animals in a location they aren't normally found in, this helps create tension. 

Character-wise, I liked the characters okay but I didn't love them by any means.  I prefer books with characters I can really care about.  The father is the character I found most sympathetic, trying hard to carry on as if things are normal, while missing his wife desperately.  I didn't find Cara, Jax, and Max particularly compelling, interesting, but not compelling.

As far as the plot goes, the first half of the book is rather slow, after that it picks up.  Once the kids know what they are supposed to do the story moves along a nice clip, much more compelling.  The author does a good job of setting the scene, but she takes too long doing it. The most compelling scenes are the ones with the pouring man.

Overall, I liked the book well enough to read the upcoming sequels, but it's not one I'm likely to reread.  The book would make a good read for students who like lots of background and scene-setting detail.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Seasons Reading: The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park

The Third Gift
written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-547-20195-5
Grades: All
Reviewed from purchased copy.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

BLURBFrom two extraordinary talents, a beautifully crafted picture book for the Christmas season. The three wise men, or the three kings, are familiar figures in the Christmas tradition. Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park has taken the brief biblical references to the three as the starting point for a new story. In it we meet a boy who is learning his father’s trade; a man who gathers resin from certain trees; a merchant in the marketplace; and three strangers in brightly colored robes who are shopping for a gift for a baby. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline with exquisite paintings, this simple, moving tale of ordinary people involved in an extraordinary event brings new resonance to the well-known gift list of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  

What do you get when you combine a Newbery winning author and a fabulous illustrator? You get a book like this one.  The story is told beautifully in just the right amount of words and illustrations that put you, the reader, into the background of the story.  I felt almost like I was there watching the young boy and his father harvest tree resin. 

I remember the first time I heard the story of the wise men, I, like many others, had no idea what frankincense and myrrh were.  Gold is pretty self-explanatory, but frankincense and myrrh?  I had no clue.  I admit I just barely learned that frankincense came from trees.  This book taught me that myrrh also comes from trees and has symbolic relevance to Jesus Christ beyond being a valuable gift.  I had no idea that Myrrh was traditionally used primarily at funerals to show respect and caring to the departed.  I appreciated the author's note at the end explaining the origins of the story and the author's interest in the subject.

 As for the illustrations, what can I say beyond that they are gorgeous.  They show so beautifully the tender story of a father patiently teaching his son the art of harvesting the trees.  What a sweet and powerfully symbolic story.  I can't recommend this book highly enough.  I loved it, definitely one of my favorites this year.

Book Review: Grandpa Hates the BIrd by Eve Yohalem

Grandpa Hates the Bird: Six Short Stories of Exciting, Hilarious and Possibly Deadly Adventure
written by Eve Yohalem
Telemachus Press, 2011
Grades 2-4
Reviewed from ebook sent by author for review.
No compensation was received for this review, all opinions expressed are solely my own.

BLURB: “Alas, it is true. Grandpa hates me. He has always hated me, even before I used his ear as a swing toy (his lobes are so long and flappy!). I can’t imagine why. I assume Grandpa hates me simply because I am the bird—and he is not.”

Everybody loves Bird. Joseph and Maya, Mother and Father, Humphrey the dog, Slick the snake. Everyone except Grandpa, who will stop at nothing to set Bird free. Forever.

• How does the battle begin when Bird and Grandpa are alone together for a whole week?
• See classroom chaos in Bring Your Pet to School Day!
• Exactly what are they hunting at the Aw Shoot archery range?

Fasten your feathers and warm up your wings—here are six collected short stories in the Grandpa Hates the Bird series!

I believe this is the first book I have ever read where the character telling the story is a bird.  This surprises me a little because it really is a fabulous idea.  Yohalem brings Bird to life wonderfully.  I found myself laughing my way through each of the six stories in this book. One of the things that makes it funny is the fact that Bird himself seems so clueless as to why Grandpa hates him, but the reader figures it out very quickly.  The second reason the book is funny is of course the way Bird responds to the situations in which he finds himself, such as playing dead (he is very good at this).  

This book would make for a fun read-a-loud and could easily be used to teach point-of-view and visualization.  Clearly Bird's and Grandpa's views are very different.  While I routed for Bird through all the stories, one can't help but feel compassion for Grandpa (at times).  

There were a couple of things that concerned me a little bit.  First, the title, the word 'hates' in the title is a little off putting, at least for me.  I thought that maybe Grandpa versus the Bird would perhaps be a better title, but that could just be me.  Hates doesn't really convey humor to me.  Luckily it didn't stop me from reading and enjoying the book.  The other thing I noticed was the writing seemed awkward in a few spots, once again it wasn't enough to stop me from reading and enjoying the book.  For me, writing becomes awkward when it pulls me out of the story enough that I stop and ponder the word choice or phrasing.  Usually once I get used to the phrasing the author likes to use, I can get passed it (not always, but generally), but only if the characters and plot interest me, which in this case they did.

Overall, I recommend this book to those who enjoy humorous stories about pets, I did really enjoy it and plan to share parts of it with some of my students. Take a look at the author's website for more information.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Three Nature Picture Books

Coral Reefs
written and illustrated by Jason Chin
Roaring Brook Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59643-563-6
Grades K-5
Reviewed from personal copy.

BLURB: During an ordinary visit to the library, a girl pulls a not-so-ordinary book from the shelves. As she turns the pages in this book about coral reefs, the city around her slips away and she finds herself surrounded by the coral cities of the sea and the mysterious plants and animals that live, hunt, and hide there.

This book is gorgeous, that pretty much covers it.  The illustrations take the reader on a journey over and around a coral reef.  Even without the words, I could easily follow the story.  I love the idea of a book taking the reader on a journey to somewhere they may never be able to go in real life.  This suits my lifestyle of armchair adventuring.  The text does add a great deal of information, a little too much for a read-a-loud I discovered, especially when the students kept interrupting to share things they knew.  The students definitely found the bright and colorful illustrations appealing, as did I.  It took some of the students a little time to figure out why the coral reef was growing in a building, but once they figured it out they really got into it.  This is a great book for sharing, there is so much to share and talk about. I highly recommend it for those who have any interest in the natural world.  If you haven't read Chin's Redwoods as well, I recommend that one also.

Swirl by Swirl, Spirals in Nature
written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-547-31583-6
Grades K-3
Reviewed from personal copy.

BLURBA Caldecott medalist and a Newbery Honor-winning poet celebrate the beauty and value of spirals.What makes the tiny snail shell so beautiful? Why does that shape occur in nature over and over again—in rushing rivers, in a flower bud, even inside your ear?  With simplicity and grace, Krommes and Sidman not only reveal the many spirals in nature—from fiddleheads to elephant tusks, from crashing waves to spiraling galaxies—but also celebrate the beauty and usefulness of this fascinating shape.

Swirl by Swirl truly is a perfect merger of words and pictures.  The pictures show so clearly what the text describes.  I appreciated the fact that the different animals are labeled.  This is a book I enjoyed sharing with my students.  It was short enough that I didn't get bogged down reading it, but there is enough detail that we had things to talk about.  This book makes a great read-a-loud for a larger group as well as one-on-one.  I highly recommend this book.

Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons
written and illustrated by Il Sung Na
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-375-86786-6
Grades K-2
Reviewed from personal copy.

BLURB: What do the animals do when the snow falls to the ground and all the trees are bare?  Some fly long distances, while some swim to warmer waters.  Some take a long, warm sleep where they live, while others have a thick, cozy coat and can stay in the snow!  As with Il Sung Na's previous books, Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit is filled with rich illustrations, charming animals, and a simple, lyrical text—all wrapped up in a gorgeous package. It's a gentle introduction to the ideas of adaptation, hibernation, and migration, and an exhuberant celebration of changing seasons.

I enjoyed sharing this book with my kindergarten students.  It provides a straightforward and basic introduction to the seasons.  The unique illustrations are perfect for discussing illustration and some of the different techniques that are used to create them. The students enjoyed this cute book. I recommend it for teaching about seasons or for just plain enjoyment.


Watering Level: 23 of 36 completed


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Read to Me Picture Book Challenge and GIVEAWAY: Razzle-Dazzle Ruby by Masha D'yans

Razzle-Dazzle Ruby
written and illustrated by Masha D'yans
Scholastic, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-545-22500-7
Grades PreK-1
Reviewed from copy won in blog giveaway.

BLURBA regular day becomes a magical adventure in this stunning novelty picture book from an amazing new talent! Ruby can make the ordinary extraordinary! Come skate on a shimmering pond, roll a giant snowball, sled down a snowy hill, and create soaring snow angels with her as she becomes a snow queen and transforms a typical winter day into a gleaming-beaming fairy tale.

When I first saw this book I thought it would be perfect for my kindergarten girls.  It has a really cute little girl (Ruby) in a purple dress and flashing stockings.  It has glitter on the cover which speaks "girl book" loud and clear.  Once I read the book though I realized that the story could appeal to any child, boy or girl.  Living in a state that is famous for its winter sports, especially skiing, the children around here have lots of experience playing in the snow.  The first test was my four-year-old nephew and the book passed with flying colors.  He very much enjoyed the tabs and pulls.  Then I decided to try it with my kindergartners.  I wasn't sure how well it would work with the tabs and pulls, but it turns out the students really liked it, both boys and girls.  The flipping snowman was an especially big hit. I highly recommend this book for both boys and girls who like playing in the snow.  It would go great with Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day or Shirley Neitzel's The Jacket I Wear in the Snow for a story time about playing in the snow.

WATERING LEVEL:  20 of 36 Completed (I also read The Snowy Day and The Jacket I Wear in the Snow the same day).

Check out The Lemme Library for more great book recommendations. Book Talk Tuesday occurs every Tuesday, see here for past links.

To celebrate a year that is almost over and a delightful book, I am giving away one copy of this book through Book Depository.  This giveaway is open internationally.  Please leave a comment below and I will use to pick a winner on December 30, 2011.  Make sure you leave an email address or other method for me to contact you should you win. Good Luck!

THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED! Thanks to all those who entered.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: What to Expect When You're Expecting Joeys by Bridget Heos

What to Expect When you're Expecting Joeys: A Guide for Marsupial Parents (and Curious Kids)
written by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
Millbrook Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7613-5859-6
Grades 1-5
Reviewed from copy received in giveaway at

BLURBCongratulations, marsupial parents-to-be! You're about to meet your tiny bundles of joy. They're called joeys. Some are as small as a grain of rice when they're born! Read this book to find out how many babies to expect, how to help them find your pouch, and what those little joeys will do in there all day long. Whether you're a possum or an opossum, a kangaroo or a wallaby, a koala or even a shrieking Tasmanian devil, you'll find answers to all your parenting questions here.

I'll say right off the bat that I had no problem with the content.  The format is fun and informative.  The information was accurate and the question and answer format was interesting.  I did learn things I didn't know, for example, I didn't realize that some marsupials such as wombats and koalas have pouches that face down/backwards. Unfortunately, the illustration on page 11 contradicts this.  I understand the intention was to create cute illustrations and Jorisch succeeded, but I think they could have been accurate as well.  

It also bothered me that the animals depicted were not labeled (no captions) at all.  If I hadn't already known what a koala or wombat or wallaby looked like I wouldn't have known what animal was what.  I did notice that the illustrator tried to illustrate the animals that the author mentions in the text, but when several animals were mentioned it sometimes created confusion about what animals were being shown.  I would have liked to see more precise illustrations, photographs would have been even better. Overall, the information was great but the illustrations provided a light, humorous touch.  I would recommend Nic Bishop's Marsupials for a more accurate depiction of different types of marsupials.

Head on over to Practically Paradise for more children's nonfiction recommendations.  Nonfiction Monday is a meme hosted each week by a children's literature blogger highlighting children's nonfiction.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Read to Me Picture Book Challenge: Christmas Ducks

Last week I read some Christmas related duck books to my kindergartners and they really enjoyed them.  So here they are.

Have You Been Naughty or Nice?
written and illustrated by Ethan Long
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0-316-01722-0
Grades PreK-1
Reviewed from personal copy.

BLURBIn Have You Been Naughty or Nice? the duck excitedly awaits a visit from Santa Claus until he eats all of Santa's snacks and realizes he just put himself on the naughty list. But never fear, because the duck has a clever plan to get himself back on the nice list. This fourth book in Ethan Long's duck series features a cloth Santa cap on the cover and a fold-out letter to Santa, and is filled to the brim with holiday hilarity that will keep kids entertained for hours.

This book is quite short and makes for a quick read (which is a good thing when you've got squirmy kindergartners).  The children quite enjoyed this one.  The illustrations are cartoonish and deceptively simple.  There are some clever touches such as the duck foot shaped stocking hanging over the fire place and the photo of the duck and poodle on the fireplace (this is humorous if you've read Stop Kissing Me by Ethan Long).  One thing I found fascinating was how the kids responded to the duck's eating of the cookies.  Every class I read this to pointed out that he could make some more.  I explained that he didn't really have time to do that but it was a good idea.  I really enjoyed reading this one aloud because of the emotion that duck expresses when he realizes what he has done.  This one makes it easy to be expressive while reading it. Recommended for those who want a fun read, but also want a simple moral as well.  Duck realizes that sometimes all that is required is an apology, something that many students need to be reminded of.

Santa Duck
written and illustrated by David Milgrim
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-399-25541-0
Grades K-2
Reviewed from personal copy.

BLURBNicholas Duck loves Christmas, and he is happy to try on the new Santa hat that's mysteriously delivered to his house. But when his friends see him and immediately launch into their Christmas lists, he doesn't know what to do . . . until he runs into Santa himself.

I find this book funny for several reasons. First, the things that the animals ask for, i.e. the chicken asks for a helicopter, a hot air balloon, and a hang glider, and a blimp.  Second, the duck's confusion about why the animals are sharing their Christmas lists with him.  Third, the ending, which I won't mention here so as not to spoil it, just know it is quite amusing.  The children I've shared this with quite enjoyed it.  The illustrations are very appealing and suit the story quite well.  The duck is surprisingly expressive for a duck.  There is a nice message here about giving being better than getting..almost.

Santa Duck and His Merry Helpers
written and illustrated by David Milgrim
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-399-25473-4
Grades K-2
Reviewed from personal copy.

BLURBIt's Christmastime, so Nicholas Duck puts on his Santa's helper suit and proudly starts gathering wish lists for Santa. But this year, Nicholas's little brothers and sister want to help. Nicholas is not too keen on the idea, and when the overeager ducks try to outdo each other by promising outlandish gifts-the Hoover Dam for the beaver, a castle for the frog- Nicholas gets fed up. And as he tries to explain to his siblings what Christmas is all about, it turns out the kids have a thing or two to teach Nicholas about working together. 

This is a cute sequel to Santa Duck.  The interactions between the duck siblings are quite amusing.  The quarrel is reminiscent of a lot of sibling relationships.  What I think is especially funny are the efforts to top one another in promising gifts far beyond what was requested.  The children I shared this with seemed to enjoy it.  There is a nice reminder that there is far more to Christmas than just receiving gifts.  Sharing with family can be the best gift of all.

Seasons Readings Challenge is hosted by Maestra Amanda's Bookshelf.

Read to Me Picture Book Challenge:
Watering Level Goal: 17 of 36 completed

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Seasons Reading: A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea

A Christmas Tree for Pyn
written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea
Philomel Books, 2011
Grades K-2
Reviewed from purchased copy.

BLURBChristmas is coming. In the craggy rocks on the snowy mountainside, tiny Pyn has her heart set on decorating her very first Christmas tree. But, "No Christmas tree," Papa says. Still, Pyn won't take no for an answer. She knows that a Christmas tree is just the thing their cottage needs to make the season festive and cheery. Pyn is determined to find the perfect Christmas tree - no matter what. With this story of the love between a father and daughter, Olivier Dunrea captures the true spirit of Christmas.

I love Christmas stories that focus on the reasons for the season beyond the presents and the spending of money.  Not that I don't enjoy that part of the season because I do, I love giving gifts.  But sometimes it is good to have a reminder that there are things far more important than the trappings of the season.  This book does a sweet job of reminding the reader that one doesn't need big expensive gifts or fancy decorations to enjoy the season.

The things that I especially enjoyed about this book include the darling illustrations.  The contrast between tiny Pyn and her "two bunches of hair bouncing off either side of her head" and her father's "loud, booming voice, large, rough hands, and a bristly black beard" were delightful.  The words flow beautifully, one could read the story without the illustrations and still have a good picture in one's mind of what's happening.  But the illustrations do add a great deal to the story.  I think my favorite illustrations is the one where Pyn is in snow up to her waist, carrying a small hatchet, but very determined to cut down the perfect Christmas tree, even if she has to do it herself (which of course she doesn't).  I also really like the way Dunrea did the trees in the background, they are beautiful.  I also liked the natural things that Pyn used to decorate the trees, proving that one doesn't need really expensive ornaments to have a pretty tree.  I highly recommend this book to all who enjoy a great holiday story about family and celebrating.

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Wildfire Run by Dee Garretson

Wildfire Run
written by Dee Garretson
Harper, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-195347-7
Interest Level: Grades 4-8
Reviewed from purchased copy.

BLURB: Just once Luke Brockett would like to do something slightly dangerous, but when your father is the President of the United States, that is not an option. Always surrounded by Secret Service agents and kept in a bubble of safety, Luke sees Camp David, the presidential retreat in the woods of Maryland, as the only place where he can almost be normal. For one week in August, Luke's mother has arranged for Luke to have a 'summer camp' experience, if summer camp had only three kids and the counselors carried automatic weapons. The experience comes to a quick end when a forest fire surrounds Camp David. Luke and his friends are trapped inside, left on their own, the Secret Service agents incapacitated, forcing the three to outwit security systems designed to be unbeatable before the fire gets to them.

Reading books like this one encourage me to be grateful for the life I have.  I have no desire to live a life as structured and stifling as the one Luke lives.  To be followed almost everywhere by bodyguards or the media would drive me bananas.  I like my privacy.  It would also be so very easy to become dependent on those around you.  This kind of book makes me wonder what I would do in the same situation.

In this book, Luke struggles to find a sense of normalcy with his friend Theo which immediately speaks to the reader's sense of empathy.  Garretson does a decent job of creating characters that you care about.  The focus of the story is on the survival aspects of the children's situation.  I appreciated the fact that she doesn't have the kids do things inconsistent with their personalities.  In this sort of book that would be easy to do.  Survival stories have a unique sort of challenge, the situation needs to be intense without being impossible.  There needs to be hope but without making the things the characters do ludicrous.  Wildfire Run has a good balance of challenges emotional, physical, and mental.  The thing that I found the most interesting was how the children came up with ways to overcome the challenges in front of them.  I enjoy reading about people overcoming hard things.  The only thing that I didn't find completely believable was the ending.  The children would to my mind need awhile to recover from the incredible stress they had been under, yet they seem to be perfectly normal at the end.  Other than that however I enjoyed the story and recommend it to all who enjoy a good adventure/survival story.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Talk Tuesday: Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan

Waiting for the Magic
written by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Amy June Bates
Atheneum Books for Young Reader, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4169-2745-7
Interest Level: Grades 3-6
Reviewed from copy borrowed from school library.
The opinions expressed in this review are solely my own.

People may drift apart
But love can hold them together.
Sometimes we find that love through magic –
Sometimes that magic is all around us
This is a story about all of these things.
But it's also a story about how
four dogs
and one cat
help one boy
and his sister
save their family.

This is a rather interesting blurb.  I think this is the first blurb I've read that reads like a poem.  Yet it fits the rather dreamy, gentle nature of the story.  In some ways it reminds me of Kate DiCamillo's work on The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, or The Magician's Elephant.  The writing is certainly as good as DiCamillo's and the illustrations add a nice touch.  I really enjoy middle grade books with illustrations.

I'll admit when I started reading this I didn't really like it, it seemed to unbelievable, I mean adopting FIVE animals after the father walks out.  How realistic is that?  But by the time I finished the story, MacLachlan had won me over.  Yes, the book is not necessarily realistic in terms of the practical nature of real life, but at the same time the emotions it projects are very real.  The anger that William feels toward his father, the confusion of his younger sister, Elinor, seem all too real. 
The talking animals threw me for a loop at first, but gradually the humor and insights of the dogs made me smile.  The dogs seem to represent the 'magic' of the title, but not in the way one might think.  The talking dogs do of course move this book into the fantasy genre, but it doesn't feel like fantasy.  The predominant feeling is one of hope, love, and forgiveness and how people can change when they have the support of loved ones. It's interesting that the book should have such a light, gentle touch considering it's dealing with a hard subject (parental conflict and separation), but the comfort the characters receive through their adopted pets makes the book a good one to share with students not ready for heavier, darker treatments of the same subject. 

I recommend this book for students who like slower paced, gentle reads with adorable characters.

Head on over to The Lemme Library for more Book Talk Tuesday.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Seasons Reading: The Perfect Christmas by Eileen Spinelli

The Perfect Christmas
written by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi
Henry Holt and Company, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8702-4
Interest Level: Grades K-2
Reviewed from purchased copy.

BLURB: Family one: exquisite pastries, a beautifully trimmed tree, and festive cello music. Family two: an artificial tree, rock hard candy, and custom kazoo carols. Full of silly humor, this cheerful picture book proves that no matter how you celebrate Christmas, it’s the spirit of the holiday that counts the most.

This book is pretty straightforward.  It compares the different ways that two families celebrate Christmas.  I enjoyed looking at the differences between the two families. The way the two families come together at the end is a pleasant reminder that we can find things in common with each other if we make the effort.  There is some humor mixed in (one of the grandmother's cookies breaking someone's toe).

The story is written in rhyme that flows fairly well which makes the book good as a read-a-loud.  The illustrations are colorful and pleasing.  I liked the way the collage aspects of the illustrations gave them texture (I like texture). Overall, a very friendly, pleasing read. 

I plan to use this book with my first graders next week and talk about some of the different ways that people celebrate. The students will undoubtedly be more than willing to share different ways that their families celebrate.  I'm always on a mission to help students realize that just because other people do things differently that doesn't make it bad. 

Nonfiction Monday: From Assembly Lines to Home Offices by Jennifer Boothroyd

I'm hosting Nonfiction Monday today.  Nonfiction Monday gives children's book bloggers a chance to share interesting nonfiction books with their readers.  If you would like to participate today, please leave a comment below and I will update the list throughout the day. Thanks.

From Assembly Lines to Home Offices: How Work has Changed
written by Jennifer Boothroyd
Lerner Publications Company, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7613-6748-2
Interest Level: K-2
Reviewed from copy received from school colleague.

BLURBMany people use computers to work from home and other places. And special equipment makes work safer than in the past. But long ago, computers didn't exist. Safety equipment hadn't been invented either. In what other ways has work changed over time? 

I've found that identifying nonfiction books that work well as a read-a-loud is not as easy as I once thought.  Not that there isn't a lot of great nonfiction available, just that many of them are too long for a library read-a-loud, especially for the younger grades. First graders especially have short attention spans.  That's one reason that I like Lerner's Lightning Bolt series. The other reason that I like this series is the consistently high quality of the work.  Attractive designs combined with clear photographs and large texts make these books ideal for nonfiction read-a-louds. 

This particular book is part of Lerner's Comparing Past and Present series.  The photographs and text point out some of the major changes that have occurred in the workplace over the last few decades.  I appreciated the fact that it looks at work from a variety of angles including how the jobs available for women have changed, safety changes, tools available, and the types of work that are most common now.  The table of contents, glossary, index, and further reading features are great for teaching students about nonfiction books.  Highly recommended, especially for elementary school libraries.

Check out these books for some further great reading:

Jennifer at Jean Little Books has The Thinking Girls Treasury of Dastardly Dames. These look like fascinating reading.

Lisa at Reads for Keeps highlights Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman.

The Wild About Nature blog continues their Year-In Review series with book news from Wild Writer Heidi Bee Roemer. Stop to catch up with Heidi and be sure to share your own book-related year-in-review in the comments.

Amy at Hope is the Word reviews An Edible Alphabet: 26 Reasons to Love the Farm.

Brenda at proseandkahn takes a look at Bones: Dead People Do Tell Tales by Sara L. Latta

Shelf-Employed features Mary Had a Little Lamb: The True Story of a Famous Nursery Rhyme.

Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup offers a review of George Ancona's Come and Eat.

Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff has a review on About Hummingbirds.

Myra at Gathering Books shares The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle.

Janet at All About Books with Janet Squires tells us about Barbarians by Steven Kroll.

Margo at The Fourth Musketeer lets us know about Saga of the Sioux: An Adaptation from Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dwight Jon Zimmerman.

Roberta at Wrapped in Foil talks about Into the Unknown by Stewart Ross.

Anastasia at Booktalking Children's Books highlights two nonfiction books today.  First is a Picture Book of the Day called 3-D Theater: Oceans.  Second is Captain Mac: The Life of Donald Baxter Macmillian, Arctic Explorer by Mary Morton Cowan as Chapter Book of the Day.

Be sure to check out these fun and informative reviews. For more great children's nonfiction recommendations check out I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids). Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fantastic Friday: The Amarias Adventures by Amy Green

The Quest for the Scorpion's Jewel
written by Amy Green
Warner Press, 2011
ISBN:  978-1593174323
Interest Level: Grades 3-6
Reviewed from e-galley received from publisher through NetGalley.

BLURB:  The Amarias Adventures begin when 15-year-old Jesse befriends a band of young warriors and risks his life to find a cure for their poisoned leader, Parvel. Though Jesse has a crippled leg, he is asked to join the remaining warriors--part of an elite fighting force known as the Youth Guard--on their mission for the king. Facing danger at every turn, Jesse, Rae and Silas journey over treacherous mountains and across a scorching desert. To make matters worse, an unknown enemy seeks to end their quest before it has even begun. Where is Parvel's God when they need Him most? And with so little information to guide them, how will they ever complete their mission and find the Scorpion's Jewel? Will they even escape with their lives?

I found this book rather intriguing.  First, the setting is a land known as Amarias, which is divided up into districts each with its own governor and subculture.  The features of the land make Amarias very similar to earth, desert, mountains, forests, etc.  I also found it interesting that the main characters, Jesse, Rae, and Silas don't get along and Jesse joins the group over Rae and Silas's objections.  Part of the plot involves these characters learning how to work together despite many differences.  I appreciated how the strengths and weaknesses of the characters all played a role in the story.

One of the most interesting features of this story was the introduction of a villain that isn't completely evil.   Most fantasy's have a villain who is clearly and emphatically evil.  I found Demetri a character with plenty of strengths and weaknesses, but also a character worth redeeming.  I'll be interested to see if that happens.  He has unfortunately been coerced into doing the evil king's dirty work, eliminating Jesse, Rae, Silas, and Parvel.  If he doesn't his brother will be killed.  I did wonder however, if Demetri, who is supposed to be very clever and intelligent, really believed that Aleric and the king would keep their word to him.  Is he really that foolish? It didn't seem quite consistent with Demetri's character.

The writing was clear and crisp and doesn't slow down the fast moving plot.  The character development moves along fairly naturally.  The religious aspect seems a bit awkward and forced at times, but not enough to jolt the reader from the story.  Overall, I found the book enjoyable and exciting to read.  The rapid plot moves the story along quite well.  I also appreciated the fact that the book was not 300+ pages long. 

Escape from Riddler's Pass
written by Amy Green
Warner Press, 2011
ISBN:  978-1593174330
Interest Level: Grades 3-6
Reviewed from e-galley received from publisher through NetGalley.

Jesse and his friends have escaped execution, only to realize that Parvel, whom they left behind, is in danger.  They return to Jesse's village only to find that Parvel has been kidnapped by the Rebellion.  Silas finally reveals why he has such strong feelings against the Rebellion and they set out to find and rescue their friend.  But first they must find the Rebellion's hideout. 

Like the first book, The Quest for the Scorpion's Jewel, this one moves at a nice clip taking the reader across mountains and into caverns and pits.  I enjoyed this book as I did the first one.  This one does have a bigger emphasis on belief in God and morality, but it fits in fairly smoothly for the most part.  It doesn't feel like religion is being forced on the reader, but it is clear what the author's personal beliefs are, this may make some readers uncomfortable.  It didn't bother me however.  There is some character development here as Jesse, Rae, and Silas all continue to struggle with their own demons but the focus is on the action and movement of the story.  Once again the book is a nice length for those who can't or prefer not to read the huge fantasies that have become so common. Recommended for those who enjoy an interesting adventure with some religion mixed in.

I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book Review: It Happened on a Train (Brixton Brothers) by Mac Barnett

It Happened on a Train
Brixton Brothers series Book 3
written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2011
ISBN:  978-1416978190
Interest Level: Grades 3-6
Reviewed from e-book purchased for Kindle.

BLURB:  Retired private detective and current seventh grader Steve Brixton has a new job: he takes out the trash for five bucks a week. But it's hard to leave the old game behind. On a train trip down the California coast, Steve and his best chum, Dana, are pulled into a mystery involving a fleet of stolen automobiles, a vanishing girl, and a phantom train car. For a great detective, the best part of retiring is coming out of retirement.

I confess I was one of those kids who devoured any mystery I could get my hands on, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Trixie Belden.  I have lots of fun memories reading these books, often more than once.  Maybe that's why I enjoy reading Barnett's Steve Brixton mystery series.  These books are so clearly a spoof on those other formulaic books that I get a big kick out of reading them.  What is so amazing is that Barnett manages to spoof the Hardy Boys without his stories being formulaic in any way.  In fact, I would have to say that his mysteries are more unique than many others I've read.  Even with all the humor contained in the story, Barnett still manages to create an intriguing mystery with plenty of twists and turns.  Just when you think you've got the mystery solved, another twist comes your way.  He even makes a kid crawling on top of a train in a bathrobe seem believable. The boy/girl interactions seem so typical of twelve-year-olds, both the mystery and confusion, take me back to my own middle school years. I highly recommend this series for students who are ready to move past Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys, but still want the fast moving plots and excitement of a good mystery.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: A Dog's Way Home by Bobbie Pyron

A Dog's Way Home
written by Bobbie Pyron
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-198674-1
Interest Level: Grades 4-8
Received free in a giveaway hosted by A Patchwork of Books.
Opinions expressed here are solely my own.

BLURB: One late fall afternoon, a tragic highway accident leaves eleven-year-old Abby and her beloved Shetland sheepdog, Tam, stranded at opposite ends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Though each is determined to be reunited with the other, the days separating them turn to weeks, then months, and dangers and changes fill up Abby's and Tam's lives. Will they ever find their way back home to one another? 

I consider myself generally speaking a cat person.  I'm much more comfortable around cats than dogs.  But I do still enjoy reading books about dogs.  When I first heard about this book, I wasn't sure that I would really like it.  Of course, I do really like other dog books.  Jack London's Call of the Wild and White Fang are among my favorite books.  I also really like Jim Kjelgaard's books about dogs. Add this to the fact that this is a Utah Beehive Book Award Juvenile Fiction nominee for 2013 made it a book I needed to read.  Winning an autographed copy of the book was a nice bonus.

I found myself really enjoying this book.  I was afraid at first that it would be kind of slow, but it wasn't at all.  At least, I didn't find it so.  The story moves quickly from the time that Abby and Tam get separated.  The alternating accounts (Abby and Tam) could have slowed the story down, but it didn't.  I found myself anxious to find out what would happen next in the story.  Tam's predicament tugged at my heartstrings and I found myself cheering him on in his struggle.  There is one part of the story that I connected to especially well.  I won't mention what that was in order to avoid spoiling the story for future readers.  Just know that something similar happened to one of my family's pet cats when I was younger, it resulted in us having to put Sparky to sleep.  At this point in the story I wanted to jump into it and give someone a piece of my mind.  To me this is always the best sign of a book that passes just good and jumps to great, a book that makes the reader care so much about the characters that they seem real.  The writing is excellent, but secondary to the story, also a sign of a great book.  The gorgeous cover helps too, there is something very appealing about shelties that the cover shows beautifully. I highly recommend this story for all those who enjoy a story about survival, hope, love, and sacrifice.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Seasons Reading: Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be by John Harris

Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be
written by John Harris, illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Peachtree, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56145-590-4
Interest Level: Grades K-5
Reviewed from purchased copy.

BLURB: It is November 1857 in Savannah, Georgia, and the heat is stifling. Choir director James Lord Pierpont is busy writing a song for the children of the church to perform to usher in the holiday season. He is also worried. Many townspeople are angry because the congregation does not believe in slavery, and someone has thrown a brick through one of the church windows. As Mr. Pierpont sweeps up the glass from the broken window, he recalls his own Boston childhood, the sound of sleigh bells, and the fun of riding in a sleigh through the snow. Suddenly he gets an idea. A few days later - with the happy sounds of children singing and jingling bells and bags of "snow" - Mr. Pierpont introduces the delighted churchgoers to the charms of a northern Christmas!

I enjoyed reading this book about the author's fictionalized account of the writing of the song of Jingle Bells.  The song is well-known and well-loved, but this is the first time I've read about how the song might have come about.  The author explains in the notes at the end, the reasons for his fictionalizing the story.  Apparently the exact origins of the song are unknown.  All that is known for sure is that James L. Pierpont was the writer.  I liked the idea presented in this book, that the song was written for members of the Unitarian Church who had never experienced snow.  The 'recreation' of snow at the end was a fun touch, although the first thing I thought when I saw that picture was, "That's going to take forever to clean up!"  Children won't think twice about that however. 

The gorgeous illustrations compliment the text nicely.  The size of the illustrations and text make the book a good one for sharing.  I'll be interested to see how the students react to it.

Book Talk Tuesday: The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker

The Luck of the Buttons
written by Anne Ylvisaker
Candlewick Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5066-7
Interest Level: Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.

BLURB: In Iowa circa 1929, spunky twelve-year-old Tugs vows to turn her family’s luck around, with the help of a Brownie camera and a small-town mystery.  Tugs Esther Button was born to a luckless family. Buttons don’t presume to be singers or dancers. They aren’t athletes or artists, good listeners, or model citizens. The one time a Button ever made the late Goodhue Gazette - before Harvey Moore came along with his talk of launching a new paper - was when Great Grandaddy Ike accidentally set Town Hall ablaze. Tomboy Tugs looks at her hapless family and sees her own reflection looking back until she befriends popular Aggie Millhouse, wins a new camera in the Independence Day raffle, and stumbles into a mystery only she can solve. Suddenly this is a summer of change - and by its end, being a Button may just turn out to be what one clumsy, funny, spirited, and very observant young heroine decides to make of it.

Tugs makes for a delightful heroine.  Not only is feisty and impulsive, but she is also observant and well-intentioned. Tugs is a character well worth rooting for as she tries to convince her family that one's luck can be altered with effort rather than submitted to reluctantly.  Other characters are also easy to relate to.  The one I related to the best was, unsurprisingly, Miss Lucy, the librarian, who sees the potential in Tugs, rather than the clumsy tom-boy.

The plot starts off with a bang:
Tugs Button darted past Zip's Hardware, stumbled over the lunch specials sign at Al and Irene's Luncheonette, and pushed through the door of Ward's Ben Franklin as if the devil himself were chasing her.
Tugs deals with the sorts of things you would expect in a small town of the 1920s, friends, family, expectations, and luck.  Can Tugs change the so-called Button Luck? Of course she can, but not without the help of an encouraging librarian, a new friend, and the Thompson Twins (my favorite characters outside of Tugs herself).  When Tugs realizes that the town is being conned out of their hard-earned money, she realizes she must do something, Button luck or not.  The Luck of the Buttons is a delightful tale of family, friends, and determination. 

One of the things that makes a book stand out for me is the strength of the setting.  Real or imaginary the setting must be believable with just the right amount of detail.  Enough detail that the place can be visualized, while still leaving plenty of room for the reader to make the place his/her own.  Ylvisaker does this very well.  She integrates her descriptions so well into the story that I didn't really pay attention to how well she did it.  Yet, I finished the book feeling that I knew well the small town in Iowa in which the story takes place.

  Overall, I think this is a book well worth reading and discussing, simply an enjoyable story however one looks at it. Highly recommended.
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