Thursday, May 31, 2018

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEWS: Sparks! by Ian Boothby & Nina Matsumoto/How to Spot a Sasquatch by J. Torres


This Super Dog is the Cat's Meow!

August is a brilliant inventor who is afraid of the outside. Charlie is a crack pilot who isn't afraid of anything. Together these pals save lives every day. They also happen to be cats who pilot a powerful, mechanical dog suit!

Always eager to leap into danger, this feline duo have their work cut out for them as they try to thwart Princess, an evil alien bent on enslaving mankind. Don't let the fact that Princess looks like a cute, diaper-wearing baby fool you. She's clever, determined, and totally ruthless. So when Princess and the browbeaten fools she calls servants enact a brilliant and dastardly plan to conquer Earth, August and Charlie pull out all the stops to save the day.


I'm always thrilled when I find a new graphic novel that I know the students will enjoy.  Sparks! is one of those books.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about August and Charlie and their mechanical dog costume.  Both August and Charlie were experimented on leading to their extra abilities.  August's brains combined with Charlie's piloting skills make for a fabulous dog hero.  But the two don't agree on everything, especially being outside and getting credit for their lifesaving feats.  Unknown to them they become the target of an alien disguised as a baby who plans to control all the animals on earth to take over the earth.  Will August and Charlie be able to overcome their differences in time to save the earth from Princess's evil plans?  Not only is the story entertaining but the art is delightful.  And two cats dressing up as a dog to save the world is endlessly entertaining. I'm hoping there will be more August and Charlie to share with my students.


On a camping trip with the Junior Rangers, Jay feels like the odd one out. He’s determined to get a photo of Bigfoot—but none of his friends believe Bigfoot exists. But if there’s no such thing as Bigfoot, why is there a giant footprint? And who is stealing all the snacks?

Meanwhile, Sass the Sasquatch and her curious forest friends are playing practical jokes on the campers. On the last day of camp, disaster strikes when Jay falls into a rushing river. Sass comes out of the woodwork—despite her parents’ warnings to stay away from humans!—just in time to save his life. Soon after, Jay and Sass become fast friends, proving that nothing is impossible when it comes to friendship.

Told in ten short chapters.


In this short, amusing graphic novel, a young boy goes on a camping trip, planning on finding a Sasquatch (Bigfoot).  The other kids laugh at him and tell him there is no such thing as a Sasquatch  But he refuses to give up.  Meanwhile, behind the campers back, the reader sees a young Sasquatch spying on the visitors (and even swiping a few things).  This is an entertaining, quick read for readers who like light, amusing graphic novels.  The art is pleasing and it's great to see a person of color as the main character without it being an issue at all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Sylvia Rose and the Cherry Tree/Astronaut Annie


This very strange tale began in May

in a friendly forest on a sunny day.

Skipping along a path in the wood

danced Sylvia Rose, and man, she was GOOD!

Laughing and leaping came Sylvia Rose,

Whirling and twirling on twinkly toes.

Bold, adventurous Sylvia Rose loves visiting the animals and trees of the forest. The girl and her favorite cherry tree share almost everything, including dancing and stories, but they can’t travel the world together because the tree is rooted deep in the earth. Determined to overcome this obstacle, Sylvia Rose enlists her animal friends to uproot the glorious tree, and Sylvia and the tree set off globetrotting together, taking in the wonders of the world from the Eiffel Tower to the Sydney Opera House, each sight more amazing than the last.  

Back home in the forest, however, the animals begin to suffer without the food and shelter of their life-sustaining cherry tree. Can the tree give up her newfound freedom and return to her role in the forest ecosystem?


This sweet book revolves around a young girl, Sylvia Rose, and the joy she finds visiting the forest.  All the animals enjoy her visits as do the trees.  The cherry tree especially enjoys hearing of Sylvia Rose's adventures, but is sad because he can't accompany her and see the world himself.  But Sylvia Rose enlists the help of the animals to uproot the tree and take him on a journey to see the world.  And while they enjoy their trip and the many sites and sounds they experience, back home, the animals greatly miss the tree and all he offered them in terms of food and shelter.  The best part of the book is the lovely illustrations which are bright and colorful and eye-catching.  And the themes of friendship, joy in the journey, and the power of home shine through nicely.


Career Day is approaching, and Annie can’t wait to show her family what she’s planning to be when she grows up. But, she must keep it a secret until Friday! So curious family members each ask Annie for a clue. Convinced that she’ll be a news reporter like he once was, Grandpop gives her his old camera and notebook to use for her presentation. Grandma is sure Annie wants to be a champion baker like her, so she offers a mixing bowl and oven mitts to Annie. Hopeful she'll become the mountain climber he aspired to be, Dad gives Annie an old backpack. Mom presents Annie with a pair of high-top sneakers to pursue Mom's favorite sport in high school -- basketball.

Grateful for each gift, Annie cleverly finds a way to use them all to create her Career Day costume. When the big day arrives, Annie finally reveals her out-of-this-world dream to everyone.


Annie is excited about giving a presentation for school about what she wants to be when she grows up.  Each of her family members is excited as well because they think she's interested in being what they were such as a news reporter like Grandpop.  Each family member gives her equipment to use for her presentation representing their own passions.  What I especially enjoyed about this book is the creative way that Annie takes what her family gives her and uses it to create her own costume representing her own dream.  I wish the title of the book was different though, it would have made the big reveal at the end all the more powerful.  The title rather gives away Annie's plans.  The story is a fun one about finding your own passions in life.

Monday, May 28, 2018

NONFICTION MONDAY: The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery


The Hyena Scientist sets the record straight about one of history’s most hated and misunderstood mammals, while featuring the groundbreaking, pioneering research of a female scientist in a predominately male field.

As a scientist studying one of the only mammalian societies led entirely by females, zoologist Kay Holecamp has made it her life’s work to understand hyenas, the fascinating, complex creatures that are playful, social, and highly intelligent—almost nothing like the mangy monsters of pop culture lore.


I love these Scientists in the Field series. Not only do they give the reader a glimpse into what it's like to be a field scientist but the information about the topic is fascinating.  I learned a lot about hyenas reading this book.  As Montgomery points out at the beginning of the book, hyenas are seen by many as evil scavengers, but they aren't.  They live in clans with complex social mores that Holecamp, even after years of study still works to understand.  In addition to sharing some of what she learned about hyenas, Montgomery highlights Holecamp and her research assistants and how they came to work in Kenya.  The challenges of field work aren't overlooked as Montgomery details problems such as flooding, lots of mud, and simply finding hyenas to observe.  Bishop's gorgeous photographs add a great deal to the book by showing both the people and animals involved in Holecamp's work.  A great addition to the series and a fabulous book to offer animal or science loving students.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: Stink: Hamlet and Cheese/Claude on the Big Screen/The Lost Stone


Hie thee to Shakespeare camp with Stink to learn fake sword-fighting, spout silly curses, and prithee try to escape a kiss . . . BLUCK!

It's spring break, and Stink is faced with a difficult choice: hang out at home with his sister, Judy, or become a Shakespeare Sprite with his friend Sophie of the Elves. Hanged be! When Sophie tells Stink that there will be swordplay and cursing at Shakespeare camp, his choice is made. But wait! How now? The eager young thespian hadn't counted on Riley Rottenberger being a Sprite, too. And he positively had not counted on being the only boy! Fie upon't!


I'm not a huge fan of introducing Shakespeare to children.  I had a hard enough time with it in high school.  But McDonald does a great job of making Shakespearean drama seem fun and exciting with sword-fighting and insulting going on.  Stink is eager to participate when his friend Sophie tells him about the swords and the insulting that will be occurring at Shakespeare camp.  He isn't so excited when he discovers that not only is he the only boy, but his rival Riley Rottenberger is attending.  But as things get going and he learns about acting, and costumes, he enjoys himself enough to forget about those things.  Except when Riley tells him that he's going to be getting a kiss before the week is over.  Once again, Megan McDonald has written a winning story about Stink and his everyday troubles and still makes it feel fresh and new.


Claude is no ordinary dog he leads an extraordinary life! When Claude spots a film crew on Waggy Avenue, he and Sir Bobblysock cant wait to help behind the scenes. But when the movie loses its stars, the pals are launched onto the big screen!


I kinda liked the first Claude book I read, but the ones I've read since then I haven't enjoyed as much.  While Claude and his friend Bobblysock are enjoyable enough, the story here made me role my eyes at the stereotypes.  The gorgeous blonde heroine who can't help but show her cleavage helplessly waits for the handsome, foolish hero to come rescue her from the big, dark, dangerous gorilla.  Claude's clumsy attempts to help the show and the impending disaster that the reader senses is coming are the only things that save the book from being downright boring.  That's not to say the book isn't going to find readers.  Some young readers might enjoy the silliness enough to put up with the foolishness.  Readers who've enjoyed the other Claude books will probably enjoy it.  But I found myself rolling my eyes throughout.


Welcome to the Kingdom of Wrenly—a new chapter book series full of fantasy and adventure.

Meet Lucas, the eight year-old prince, and Clara, the daughter of the queen's seamstress. Lucas is an only child who longs to make friends and go on adventures. Clara knows the kingdom well, so she and Lucas team up and explore the lands of Wrenly!

In The Lost Stone, Lucas and Clara search for Queen Tasha's missing emerald. On their exciting adventure, they travel to all the main attractions of Wrenly: Primlox (the island of fairies), Burth (the island of trolls), Crestwood (the island of dragons), Hobsgrove (the island of wizards), and the beautiful Mermaid's Cove. King Caleb has promised to reward the person who finds the precious stone, and Lucas and Clara are determined to search the entire kingdom until they find it!

With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, The Kingdom of Wrenly chapter books are perfect for beginning readers.


The Lost Stone is a cute read for young fantasy lovers who aren't ready for the older stuff yet.  This is the first book in a series of adventures that follows the exploits of Prince Lucas and his best friend, Clara.  In this book, Lucas sneaks out of the castle disguised as a village boy so he can attend the local school and hopefully make a real friend.  But he is quickly discovered and returned to the palace.  Luckily for him, his parents understand his desire for a friend and they allow him to be friends again with Clara.  After his mother loses an emerald that she values, Lucas and Clara set out to find it.  The illustrations are cute and help move the story along.  The text reads smoothly and well, especially for readers new to chapter books.  A fun series that I plan to get for my library.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Gorillas Up Close by Christena Nippert-Eng


Stunning photographs, an eye-catching design, and complete with anecdotes and facts, Urban Gorillas explores the lives of two resident troops of gorillas at the Lincoln Park Zoo. With histories and biographical details for each ape, this book immerses readers in the gorillas' individual personalities while also presenting a fascinating window into their daily routines and care, touching on zoo habitat design and gorilla conservation.


 This is what narrative nonfiction ought to be:  fascinating, beautifully documented, with gorgeous illustrations, maps, and captions.  It's clear a lot of work went into this book.  Hours of observation, interviews, and photograph taking were used to document the lives of these gorillas.  I wasn't too surprised to read in the author's note that the book began as a college class project.  I enjoyed reading about Kwan and the other gorillas, their lives and their behavior.  I learned a lot about gorillas reading this book.  I also found the information about how the gorillas are cared for interesting too.  I've long believed that wild animals belong in the wild, but I'm also aware that with so many species endangered, the work that zoos do is important.  And this book confirmed for me the tremendously important work that zookeepers and researchers do to keep their animals happy while advocating for their wild relatives.  All in all a wonderfully informative, and beautifully designed book.

Monday, May 14, 2018

MMGM: The Creature of the Pines by Adam Gidwitz


Elliot Eisner isn't exactly excited about starting at a brand-new school in a brand-new town; he'd much rather stay at home and read a book. But things take an unexpected turn when he finds out his weird new teacher, Professor Fauna, has planned a field trip for Elliot's very first day. Along with a new friend--brave, outspoken Uchenna Devereaux--Elliot gets caught up in a secret group of adventurers, The Unicorn Rescue Society, whose goal is to protect and defend the world's mythical creatures. Together with Professor Fauna, Elliot and Uchenna must help rescue a Jersey Devil from a duo of conniving, greedy billionaires, the Schmoke Brothers.


I'm always on the lookout for fantasy/speculative books for middle grade readers that aren't really long and difficult.  Not all readers are ready or able to take on Harry Potter or The Lightning Thief.  So I was really interested when I heard about this series.  And it didn't disappoint.  With a couple of fun, but quite different characters combined with an unusual mentor and a delightful mythological creature at the heart of things, The Creature of the Pines works well for younger readers.  The story is intriguing from the first when Elliot climbs on the school bus for the field trip on his first day of school and meets Uchenna Devereaux.  She's the only person who looks remotely friendly, but her tendency to play musical instruments in the air is a little off putting.  But their friendship is really cemented when they venture into the Pine Barrens with their class and stumble across a young Jersey Devil, the last thing they expected to find.  And they certainly didn't intend to take the creature on the bus with them or accidentally turn in loose in the middle of the city.  Professor Fauna seems to be the only one who can help, but he's a bit unusual himself and downright terrifying at times.  This book makes for a fun read for reluctant readers who need some humor mixed in with their excitement and love the idea of magical creatures existing all around us.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

BLOG TOUR: The Inventors at No. 8 by A.M. Morgen


Brimming with mystery and treasure, this action-packed tale sends a boy in need of luck and girl in need of a friend on an adventure that will change their lives forever. Meet George, the third Lord of Devonshire and the unluckiest boy in London. Why is George so unlucky? First, he's an orphan. Second, unless he sells everything, he's about to lose his house. So when his family's last heirloom, a priceless map to the Star of Victory (a unique gem said to bring its owner success in any battle) is stolen by a nefarious group of criminals, George knows that there is no one less lucky-or more alone-than he is.

That is until Ada Byron, the future Countess of Lovelace, bursts into his life. She promises to help George recover his family legacy, and is determined to find her own father along the way--all in a flying machine she built herself. Joined by a mischievous orangutan and the long-lost son of an infamous pirate, Ada and George take off on a cross-continent journey through the skies that will change their lives, and perhaps the world, forever.


An entertaining book so far.  Unfortunately, this time of year is so busy I haven't had time to finish it, but I've enjoyed reading about George and Ada.  The beginning of the story which recites all the unfortunate deaths associated with George, Lord Devonshire the Third.  This makes for an intriguing beginning.  And a girl hidden away in the house across the street who happens to have a mechanical bird that attacks a thief escaping from George's house with the only valuable thing he owns definitely raises questions needing answers.


A.M. Morgen comes from a long line of engineers and researchers but chose to pursue literature over the laboratory. To her family's surprise, she has managed to make a decent living as an editor with her English degree. In her spare time, A.M. enjoys taking long walks in the forest, trying out new hobbies (then abandoning them), and complaining about her mean cat. Despite what you may think, A.M. is not a morning person.


4 Quest Worthy Real-Life Magical Objects 

Some of the oldest stories in the world are about journeys to find a mythological object. These objects were so special that people were willing to die or kill to get them. I’m sure you could name a few of those things right now: The Golden Fleece, the Holy Grail, and Aladdin’s lamp.

Unfortunately, most of the mythological objects in stories have been lost to history, if they ever existed in the first place. But, did you know, that not all mystical objects are legendary? Some of them are real! Maybe you don’t believe that an object can have magical powers, but to some, there are divine symbols in this world that are worth starting wars to protect.

In my novel, Inventors at No. 8, the characters follow a treasure map to find a legendary object called the Star of Victory. The Star is valuable not only because it’s a beautiful gemstone, but also because its owner will be victorious in any battle. Coming up with the backstory for the Star was a lot of fun. It was also very challenging! I needed to create a treasure worthy of an epic quest, so I took inspiration from some real-life objects. Who knows…maybe one of them will inspire you!

Spear of Destiny

The Spear of Destiny is also called the Holy Lance or the Holy Spear. It is supposed to be the tip of the spear that the soldier Longinus used to stab Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. One of these spearheads (there are at least four!) became part of the Imperial Regalia of the Holy Roman Emperor in the 10th century.

According to legend, whoever owned the Spear of Destiny would be able to conquer the world. However, if the Spear was ever dropped or lost, its owner would immediately die. Some of its famous owners/victims have been Charlemagne, Constantine I, and Adolf Hitler. You can visit the Spear of Destiny at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.

Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond is a very large blue diamond that was originally part of an even larger diamond called the Tavernier Blue or French Blue. The jewel was first bought by King Louis XIV in 1669 and was owned by the French royal family until 1792 when King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were executed by guillotine. The stone then ended up in the hands of the Hope Family in England then made its way to America. At some point, the diamond gained the reputation for bringing bad luck to whoever owned it, although the majority of its owners kept their heads. You can visit the Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.

The Three Sacred Treasures of Japan

The Imperial Regalia of the emperors of Japan consists of three objects: a sword, a mirror, and a jewel. The objects were symbols of virtue and were owned by the ancestors of the first Japanese emperor. Later, they became part of the enthronement ceremony for all Japanese rulers from 690 CE to the present day. Owning the Three Sacred Treasures gives political legitimacy to whatever faction possesses it. Because these objects are so sacred, they’ve never been photographed, and they are closely guarded by the current government.

Stone of Destiny 

The Stone of Destiny (also known as the Stone of Scone or Coronation Stone) isn’t much to look at. It’s a rectangular block of stone with two metal rings attached to the top. Despite its unassuming appearance, it’s a very important object. Ever since Edward I took the stone from Scotland in 1296, it’s been used in coronation ceremonies to symbolize Britain’s dominance over Scotland. According to legend, the stone would groan whenever a true ruler sat upon it. In 1996, the stone was finally returned to Scotland by the government with the promise that it could still be used in any future coronations. You can visit the Stone of Destiny in Scotland at Edinburgh Castle.

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