Tuesday, September 17, 2019

BOARD BOOK REVIEWS: PJ Masks Save Halloween!/Where's the Witch?


Catboy, Owlette, and Gekko celebrate Halloween in this action-packed board book based on PJ Masks, the hit preschool series airing on Disney Junior!

The PJ Masks have to protect all the kids from Luna Girl, Night Ninja, and the Wolfy Kids who team up to steal everyone’s treat bags. It’s up to the PJ Masks to save the day—and Halloween!


To put it simply, if you have children who love the show, they will probably love this book.  Admittedly, the story feels truncated which is natural when creating a short board book from a 20-minute TV show.  But most children who hear or read this will have probably already seen the episode it is based on so its not a huge issue.  There is more text in this sort of book than in most stand alone board books and because of that it won't work well for infants.  But it's a fun story with a fun puffy cover for those who love the show.


Five stylishly illustrated spreads show a series of gently spooky creatures hiding behind bright felt flaps in this Halloween offering. A mirror on the final spread makes for a satisfying ending to the book's search-and-find inquiries. A perfect book to share with very little ones.


This adorable book works well for infants and toddlers who love to have flaps to turn over and giggle when something appears.  The book has a repetitive, straight-forward format with each spread having one creature asking where another creature is such as the black cat looking for the skeleton.  The skeleton is of course under the felt house flap on the corresponding page.  The last page asks where the listener/reader is and has a mirror under the ghost flap.  A quick, fun read for young listeners who need interaction and and brevity to stimulate their interest. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Taking Cover : One Girl's Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution by Nioucha Homayoonfar


This coming-of-age memoir, set during the Iranian Revolution, tells the story of a young girl who moves to Tehran from the U.S. and has to adjust to living in a new country, learning a new language, and starting a new school during one of the most turbulent periods in Iran's history.

This true story of Nioucha Homayoonfar offers a window into an at-once familiar yet foreign culture. Religion classes are mandatory at her new school. Nioucha has to cover her head and wear robes. Her cousin is captured and tortured after he is caught trying to leave the country. And yet, in midst of so much change and challenge, Nioucha is still just a girl who listens to music and idolizes pop stars. But she has to be careful when Western music is banned and she cannot be seen in public together with her new boyfriend. Will she ever get used to this new way of life?


This engaging memoir of a young Iranian girl's growing up during the Iranian Revolution was eye-opening for me.  In some ways she had a childhood not to different than mine, but in others, her life was vastly different.  I enjoyed reading about her home life with her beloved parents as well as her experiences both good and not-so-good with her extended family.  The move from America to Iran was a shock for her as a five-year-old, but being young she adapted quickly.  But after the revolution occurred things started to change drastically.  And with an Iranian father and a French mother, the changes didn't sit well with her own families' beliefs and traditions.  Some of the experiences she had would have been truly terrifying.  And yet, despite it all, she still loved her home and extended family, and still misses the good things that not even the revolution could take away. I learned a lot reading this book.  The book is like a window into the life of a young person who grew up around the same time I did, but had vastly different experiences.  The book is well-written and easy to read and is a great example of the memoir genre for the middle grade/young adult age-group. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Truman by Jean Reidy


After his best friend Sarah leaves for her first day of school, a tortoise named Truman goes on an adventure across the living room and learns to be brave in this thoughtful and heartwarming twist on a first experience story.

Truman the tortoise lives with his Sarah, high above the taxis and the trash trucks and the number eleven bus, which travels south. He never worries about the world below…until one day, when Sarah straps on a big backpack and does something Truman has never seen before. She boards the bus!

Truman waits for her to return.
He waits.
And waits.
And waits.
And when he can wait no longer, he knows what he must do.

Even if it seems…impossible!


This cute story about being brave in the face of uncertainty follows the concerns of a small turtle named Truman.  He notices when his girl, Sarah, starts behaving differently, giving him extra food, as well as putting on a sweater and a backpack.  And then he sees her get on the bus.  He's never seen that before.  He waits and waits and waits.  Finally, he decides he's waited long enough and sets out to find her.  At first it seems impossible, but as he looks around him he starts seeing possibilities where before he'd only seen the ordinary.  For a small turtle, he makes quite the journey and I have no doubt he would have continued on his way had it been necessary.  He persists despite the fears and challenges he confronts.  A back-to-school story that looks at things from a different perspective and honors the bravery and determination it takes to face the unknown, however big or small it might be.  A delightful book about a sweet friendship and a creative, brave friend who is determined to find his Sarah. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

HI, JACK! and Jack Blasts Off! BLOGGER BLITZ!


Meet Jack: He lives in a tree house. His interests include snacks, petty theft, and lipstick graffiti. Jack also loves his friends, the cranky "Lady" and a sweet pup named Rex. He just has a funny way of showing it sometimes . . .

Welcome to the laugh-out-loud and irreverent world of Jack, a new early reader series by the bestselling and award-winning team of Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzoli. A perfect read-aloud with snappy, rhythmic text, this series will bridge the gap between picture books and chapter books and fill the Elephant-and-Piggie-shaped hole in young readers' hearts.


Mac Barnett is the New York Times bestselling author of more than forty books, including Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, Extra Yarn, and the Mac B., Kid Spy series. His books have won numerous prizes, including three E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards, two Caldecott Honors, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Mac lives in Oakland, California.

Greg Pizzoli is an author, illustrator, and printmaker. His first picture book, The Watermelon Seed, won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, and his book Good Night Owl was a Geisel Honor. His Viking nonfiction picture book Tricky Vic was a New York Times Best Illustrated of 2015. He lives in Philadelphia.


Jack is a rabbit who lives in a tree house and loves snacks.  But after swiping a lady's purse, the narrator has to scold him to get him to give it back.  And in the meantime, Jack plays with the lipstick in the purse.  The following chapters introduce the reader to Rex, a dog, who Jack uses the lipstick on, painting the dog's lips and writing the word Jack all over him.  The last chapter introduces the Lady and her home, near whom, Jack and Rex live.  But after Jack's misbehaves once again and is scolded, he cries and the narrator and Lady give in  and give him a gift.  He repays them with more mischief.  While this book may be funny to young children, as a teacher and adult, I didn't find it funny at all.  In fact, I found Jack's misbehavior annoying and the narrator and Lady's rewarding his tantrum irritating.  Jack does not learn any kind of lesson and his behavior doesn't change.  As much as I wanted to like the book, I really couldn't and it isn't one I would use with classes, except for an example of how NOT to behave.  Children are likely to see the story differently however, and some will undoubtedly find Jack's antics hilarious.  The illustrations are vintage Pizzoli and work well with the text.  The down-turned eye-brows whenever Jack gets ready to cause mischief are a clever touch that hints at mayhem to come.  My final assessment is that kids are likely to enjoy this more than most adults and adults need to be willing to either use the book to teach or be willing to let Jack's poor choices go.


When the Lady is mad at Jack, she decides to send him on a one-way trip to outer space. While she enjoys some rare peace and quiet, Jack and Rex get into trouble, resulting in their exile to the dark side of the moon. After an alien chase and some snacks, Jack and Rex get blasted home to Earth. But will the Lady take naughty Jack back?


I really wanted to like this more than I did.  But it rubbed me the wrong way I'm afraid.  Jack isn't very likable to me (although I'm sure child readers will like him more).  And the Lady sending Jack and Rex away forever because she's mad at them for destroying her books.  Children are likely to see the absurdity of this situation for what it is : funny.  I just didn't find it so.  After landing on the moon, Jack and Rex meet an alien named Zip.  It seems at first that they might be friends, but after Jack refuses to share his snacks, and Rex eats one of Zip's tools, Zip sends them to the dark side of the moon.  At that point they encounter a scary monster and are forced to flee.  Zip rescues them reluctantly and returns them to earth, where he threatens the Lady into taking them back.  A book children will likely find funny even though I did not.  I wouldn't mind Jack's bad behavior if I didn't get the sense that it is very deliberate, not accidental or an overabundance of enthusiasm or something.  No, Jack seems to make his choices very deliberately and without remorse for his unkindness.  A series that children will likely find amusing and enjoyable, but not one I feel comfortable recommending. 


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Flight School/My Grandma and Me/Looking for Yesterday

Source: Publisher for review


Although little Penguin has the soul of an eagle, his body wasn’t built to soar. But Penguin has an irrepressible spirit, and he adamantly follows his dreams to flip, flap, fly! Even if he needs a little help with the technical parts, this penguin is ready to live on the wind.


 As the board book version of the picture book, Flight School tells the story of Penguin who desperately wants to fly.  As a board book, it was clearly shortened, but it still works.  Penguin wants to fly and at first the flight instructors aren't certain what to do with him.  Finally they decide to give him a chance.  To no one's surprise (except Penguin's), he is unable to fly like the other birds.  His sadness as he starts to leave inspires the instructors to come up with a rather unorthodox solution.  Penguin is impossible not to like with his enthusiasm and belief.  I also liked the teacher's creativity in helping Penguin achieve his dreams, even if it wasn't exactly traditional.  The ending is funny as Penguin presents his instructors with another challenge, one they may not be able to meet. Lita Judge has created a winner of a book with great themes, great characters, and delightful illustrations.


While Mina is growing up in Iran, the center of her world is her grandmother. Whether visiting friends next door, going to the mosque for midnight prayers during Ramadan, or taking an imaginary trip around the planets, Mina and her grandma are never far apart. At once deeply personal and utterly universal, Mina Javaherbin's words make up a love letter of the rarest sort: the kind that shares a bit of its warmth with every reader. Soft, colorful, and full of intricate patterns, Lindsey Yankey's illustrations feel like a personal invitation into the coziest home, and the adoration between Mina and her grandma is evident on every page.


In this beautiful book, Javaherbin tells the sweet story of her relationship with her grandma when she was a child.  Since her grandma lived with her family, the two spent a lot of time together.  The story takes place in Iran giving the tale a multicultural flavor.  But it's the tender relationship between a loving, kind grandma and her granddaughter that really shines here.  Together they pray (or rather grandma prays and granddaughter climbs on her back), shop, visit the neighbors (a friend for grandma and a friend for her) are among the activities the two enjoy together.  I had to laugh when I read about how she used her grandma's chadors (Islamic religious covering) to build a rocket ship or pretend to be a super-astro-explorer.   The illustrations are exquisite, beautifully highlighting the interactions between the two characters.  A work of art from beginning to end and a book that highlights a familiar relationship within a perhaps unfamiliar culture. Note : there are some religious elements in the story as the grandma is a devout Muslim and eventually takes the child to the mosque to celebrate Ramadan.  I also appreciated how the story shows a cross-religion friendship.


 How can tomorrow ever be as good as yesterday? Boy doesn't think it can be and puts all his scientific knowledge to use, trying to work out how to go faster than the speed of light and make time go backwards. His grandad discovers him exploring the garden looking for wormholes, a possible shortcut back to yesterday - and reassures him that tomorrow will hold great experiences, which will become new treasured memories.


How many of us haven't mourned directly or indirectly when a wonderful, enjoyable day comes to a close?  How many of us haven't wished that it didn't have to end or that we could go back and experience it all again?  That's what happens in this story of a boy who desperately wants to go back to yesterday.  So much so that he tries to build a time travel device.  This doesn't work of course, so he turns to his grandfather for help.  His grandfather shares some of his past wonderful memories and then gently leads his grandson to understand that while one can't go back, there are always new adventures to look forward to tomorrow and happiness to be found today.  They then set off to create new memories.  I loved the theme of the book and the tender relationship between the grandfather and his grandson.  Some of the illustrations, while beautiful, were more abstract than I prefer (rivers of lemonade, ice cream towers eaten by dinosaurs, etc.).  But the book is a beautiful one with a rather universal theme that most people can relate to.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Goodbye Friend! Hello, Friend!/Just For Me


Change and transitions are hard, but Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! demonstrates how, when one experience ends, it opens the door for another to begin. It follows two best friends as they say goodbye to snowmen, and hello to stomping in puddles. They say goodbye to long walks, butterflies, and the sun...and hello to long evening talks, fireflies, and the stars. But the hardest goodbye of all comes when one of the friends has to move away. Feeling alone isn't easy, and sometimes new beginnings take time. But even the hardest days come to an end, and you never know what tomorrow will bring.


As with The Rabbit Listened, Cori Doerrfeld has written a sweet story that tugs at the heart strings.  Here is the story of two friends meeting for the first time, learning to accept the goodbyes and hellos of life together, before having to say goodbye for good when one moves away.  Somehow Doerrfeld manages to capture the bittersweet nature of life in this book.  Saying goodbye to things we love isn't easy, and neither is facing new, uncertain beginnings but as this book so clearly shows, there is always hope for something new and wonderful to say hello to. In a world where it is so easy to focus on the negative and the losses, this book reminds us to grieve the losses yes, but to look forward with optimism and hope to the joys of the future.  A delightful and powerful book that reminds us all, old and young of the power of friendship and the joys that can come when we open ourselves up to the possibilities of the future. 


When Ruby has something special, she likes to say "just for me!"

That includes everything from her dolly to the colorful candy sprinkles she uses to decorate her cookies. But when a friend comes over for playtime, Ruby takes her mantra just one step too far, and a precious toy is broken. Just when it looks like playtime has been ruined, Ruby realizes that having a friend is much more fun than having everything to herself.

"Sharing is caring" has never felt so spot-on as it does in Just For Me. With sparse text and bright, bold illustrations, this is the perfect story for parents to share with their little readers--and for readers to share with their friends! 


Learning to share can be difficult, especially for toddlers and preschoolers.  This book shows through the actions of a young girl named Ruby how that can be so.  Ruby loves to keep her beloved toys and favorite activities just for herself.  But when her friend comes to play, she struggles to share the 'good' stuff with her friend.  Disaster results when a toy is broken in the struggle and Ruby's dad reminds her that friends share with each other.  The large text and illustrations are perfect for sharing with a group and the simplicity of the story makes it great for preschoolers.  It's human nature to keep things to ourselves, we all have to learn to let go in order to create and maintain relationships.  This book demonstrates that theme very nicely.

Monday, August 26, 2019

MMGM: Charlie Thorne and the last Equation by Stuart Gibbs


Throughout history, the greatest scientists — Einstein, Darwin, Gallileo, Newton — have made discoveries that were too dangerous to trust humanity with, so they hid them. The CIA — and many other people — have been searching for these for decades to no avail.

But now, an evil organization is closing in on the most dangerous discovery of all — an equation developed by Albert Einstein himself that could destroy the world. Desperate, the CIA has no choice but to recruit the most brilliant person they can find to help them: A twelve-year-old genius named Charlie Thorne.

The catch: Charlie isn’t like any genius you’ve ever encountered before. She’s a daredevil. A troublemaker. And possibly a criminal.

Now, Charlie finds herself unwillingly dragged into a perilous mission that will take her from the ski slopes of Colorado to the tundra of Greenland to the secret tunnels underneath Jerusalem. Along the way, she’ll have to crack a series of clues left by Einstein himself. She’ll have no idea who to trust. And her life will be in constant jeopardy.

But she’ll have to survive. Because she’s the only one who can save the world.


Having read a number of Stuart Gibbs books, I was intrigued when I heard about this one.  The description of  twelve-year-old Charlie Thorne as both a genius and a thief caused me to raise my eyebrows.  Definitely a different sort of main character.  So I eagerly picked up the book and read it.  And I was not disappointed.  Gibbs takes the reader on quite the ride along with Charlie and her CIA companions.  Charlie isn't entirely likable at first, at least I didn't find her so, even though her intelligence and abilities are impressive.  She isn't really using her abilities in a productive way, mostly she's using them to skim through her college courses, and manipulate others.  But later in the story after I read her backstory it became clear why Charlie behaves this way.  If my parents simply used me to try to make money or get famous I'd probably be self-protective and cynical as well.  On top of that is her bitterness toward the company she sent a computer program to, only to have them steal the software and make millions off it.  However her stealing from the company and basically ruining them in the process wasn't really the best response.  And it's that choice that gets her pulled into the search for Pandora.

Pandora is a supposed equation created by Albert Einstein that supposedly presents a shortcut to creating energy.  An incredibly valuable item, if it exists.  After seventy years of searching in vain, the CIA is desperate enough to blackmail Charlie into helping them find the equation.  Especially since a terrorist group called the Furies is out to find and exploit the equation as well.  Charlie agrees to help, reluctantly, but she has her own plans related to the equation, she just has to survive in order to do so.

There is much excitement as Charlie faces off with both the CIA and the Furies in a struggle to survive long enough to find the equation.  She makes both good and bad decisions that heavily effect the outcome.  There's plenty of science thrown in along with background about Einstein (although how much of this is actually true, I don't know, but Gibbs makes it believable enough for the reader to buy into the story, despite the fabricated parts).   I did find myself rooting for Charlie as things heated up and she struggled with both the difficulties before her and her own personal choices.    I found it fascinating to follow along as she struggles to work through the little information available to try to figure out where Einstein hid the equation.  There is a decent among of information included involving math, physics, and Einstein himself.  I found that fascinating but not all young readers will, those who do will be enthralled with Charlie's brilliance and her courage in finding something to care more about than herself for the first time.

A fascinating new book in a series that I look forward to reading more of.  I do look forward to reading about Charlie again as she wrestles with some truly immense challenges.

Friday, August 23, 2019

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes


Zane has always enjoyed exploring the dormant volcano near his home in New Mexico, even though hiking it is challenging. He'd much rather hang out there with his dog, Rosie, than go to middle school, where kids call him Sir Limps a Lot, McGimpster, or Uno — for his one good leg. What Zane doesn't know is that the volcano is a gateway to another world and he is at the center of a powerful prophecy.

A new girl at school, Brooks, informs him that he's destined to release an evil god from the ancient Maya relic he is imprisoned in — unless she can find and remove it first. Together they return to the volcano, where all kinds of crazy happens. Brooks turns into a hawk, a demon attacks them in a cave, and Rosie gives her all while trying to protect Zane. When Zane decides to save his dog no matter the cost, he is thrust into an adventure full of surprising discoveries, dangerous secrets, and an all-out war between the gods, one of whom happens to be his father. To survive, Zane will have to become the Storm Runner. But how can he run when he can't even walk well without a cane?

Feisty heroes, tricky gods, murderous demons, and spirited giants are just some of the pleasures that await in this fresh and funny take on Maya mythology, as rich and delicious as a mug of authentic hot chocolate.


With Percy Jackson's story a perennial favorite in my library, I was thrilled to hear about this line of books being published under an Rick Riordan imprint.  Expectations don't always get met however so I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up The Storm Runner.  I am happy to say that young fantasy lovers who adore the Percy Jackson stories (found in Rick Riordan's series Percy Jackson and the Olympians) are likely to enjoy this series as well.  Just as Percy gets in a tremendous amount of trouble, so does Zane.  Zane, also like Percy, doesn't know who his father is as the story opens, nor does he know that he's to play a major role in a Mayan prophecy.  He just wants to get along at school, and enjoy roaming a nearby volcano with his dog, Rosie.  But his limp makes both of those things difficult. When he meets a girl named Brooks, he finds out about the prophecy and his role in it which complicates his life tremendously, especially when he ends up having to make a deal with the god of death.  Unfortunately, unless he finds a way to get rid of the god of death, he is doomed to a very unpleasant future.  With his Uncle Hondo and Brooks along for the ride, he sets out to try to find a way to accomplish a seemingly impossible task.  

Once Zane meets Brooks the story picks up.  Once he meets the god of death, things speed up even more and Zane runs from one disaster to the next, hoping that somehow, he can survive, save the world, and see his mother again.  He's not real thrilled to finally meet his father, who turns out to be a Mayan god who broke a sacred oath.  But without his father's help, he may not survive at all.  Dealing with his feelings toward his father, Brooks, and the knowledge that he's a 'godborn' threaten to derail his efforts to defeat Al Puch (the god of death).  But there may be more to being a godborn than Zane realizes and just maybe, there's more to him than he ever dreamed.

I enjoyed the adventure of this story and the twists and turns that take place.  Just when it seemed the story was heading in one direction, there was a twist and it took off in another direction.  Middle grade readers who enjoy plot-directed stories are bound to get a kick out of this one.  While there is character development as Zane tries to come to terms with who he is as well as his relationships with Brooks and his father, the dominant element here is the compelling plot.  Kids who know and like Percy are bound to like snarky Zane as well.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Survivor Diaries: Dust Storm/Unicorn and Yeti : A Good Team


Stranded after a dust storm hits in a desert in New Mexico, sixth-graders Jen and Martin must call upon real-life skills to come to the rescue. When disaster strikes, they will have to use all their knowledge and grit to survive.


In this fourth book in the Survivor Diaries series, Jen and Martin leave the geocaching group they are with in an effort to get to the cache first.  But when they get caught in a sandstorm they become lost and disoriented.  The fact that they used to be friends and aren't any more doesn't help them work together, especially when Jen senses Martin's competitiveness.  But in order to survive long enough to get help, they must put their differences aside and work together to survive.  This series makes for an action-packed adventure for young middle grade readers who like stories that move along quickly.  Johnson does a great job of establishing the setting and situation quickly by starting the story with the main character being interviewed by a reporter.  Not only is the book an entertaining read, but there are survival tips from the New Mexico Search and Rescue Council included to help young readers understand what the characters did right and wrong on their adventure.  A fun series for young survivalists. 


 Yeti is good at kicking the ball.
Unicorn cannot kick the ball.

Unicorn is good at running races.
Yeti cannot run fast.

Unicorn and Yeti play ring toss, run a race, and go ice skating. These laugh-out-loud stories with full-color artwork and easy-to-read text throughout are perfect for new readers!


This delightful addition to Scholastic's new Unicorn and Yeti series lets readers see the ins and outs of a rather unusual friendship.  Unicorn and Yeti enjoy different activities but want to share their fun with each other.  The problem is that what works for Yeti, doesn't necessarily work really well for Unicorn.  For example, Yeti likes throwing a ball, but Unicorn has a hard time catching it until it gets stuck on her horn.  How can they enjoy the same activities when their abilities are so very different?  It was fun to read about how they compromised an found new activities to do together in order to make their playing together work.  The illustrations are bright and colorful.  A real winner of a series. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: SuperBuns!/If I Built a School


Some superheroes can leap tall buildings in a single bound, some can crawl up a wall, some grow wolfsharp claws, and some have superhuman speed. And Superbuns? Her superpower is being kind. Super kind. She can’t help but be kind: watering a neighbor’s daisies; helping a friend cross the street; feeding a hungry goldfish.

Superbuns’s older sister Blossom is a super know-it-all who doesn’t believe kindness is a superpower. Not one bit. And all this kindness is slowing them down on their way to Grammy’s house, where a yummy carrot cobbler awaits.

But the sisters are being followed by a little fox, and when Blossom learns the fox is not after their cobbler but is lost, she discovers kindness really is a superpower after all.


 This adorable book follows the adventures of young Superbuns and her sister, Blossom.  Superbuns calls herself that because she reaches out to help with her superpower : kindness.  Unfortunately, Superbuns' sister, Blossom, a bit of a know-it-all, chatterbox, informs Superbuns that kindness isn't a superpower like flying, super strength, or speed.  But her sister's doubts don't stop Superbuns from helping those around her as she and her sister take a carrot cobbler to Grammy.  The appearance of a fox sends Blossom into a panic.  Can Superbuns step in and save the day with her superpower?  I enjoyed reading this story about a superpower that often gets overlooked.  Superbuns spends her time helping in relatively small ways, with an umbrella, taking out the garbage, watering plants, etc.  But she leaves those around her with a smile on their face.  I also appreciated the fact that she doesn't let her sister's doubt stop her from doing her good deeds, including acts of kindness to her sister.  I especially enjoyed the adorable illustrations that highlight Superbuns good deeds in the background as her sister prattles on.  A fun way to share the idea that kindness is the truest of superpowers.


My school will amaze you. My school will astound.
By far the most fabulous school to be found!
Perfectly planned and impeccably clean.
On a scale, 1 to 10, it's more like 15!
And learning is fun in a place that's fun, too.

If Jack built a school, there would be hover desks and pop-up textbooks, skydiving wind tunnels and a trampoline basketball court in the gym, a robo-chef to serve lunch in the cafeteria, field trips to Mars, and a whole lot more. The inventive boy who described his ideal car and house in previous books is dreaming even bigger this time.


I discovered the series this book is a part of this summer and I fell in love with it.  Not only do I adore Van Dusen's bright, entertaining illustrations, but his rhyming is first rate.  In this book, Jack tells his teacher all about the school he would build if he was in charge.  He demonstrates a first rate imagination as he details the zoo, glass tubes and pods for transportation, classroom towers, and stylus's that write in the air.  He can't explain how everything works but he with the faith of a child he's positive his school would be great.  The rhyming makes for a great read aloud and the bright illustrations and clever ideas make this a delightful book to share.  The book could even be used to encourage students to design their own schools.

Monday, August 19, 2019

MMGM : The Unbelievable Oliver and the Four Jokers by Pseudonmous Bosch


Nine-year-old Oliver dreams of being a professional magician, but he gets stage fright whenever he performs and ends up forgetting his tricks. Much to his dismay, his friends Teenie and Bea have gotten him invited to a classmate's birthday party as the paid entertainment! Desperately hoping for help with his act, he visits The Great Zoocheeni's Magic Emporium, but Zoocheeni sneeringly refuses to teach him a single trick or sell him any props other than a moth-eaten top hat.

Oliver is in for a lucky surprise, though. Inside that top hat hides a wisecracking rabbit named Benny, who agrees to help Oliver impress at the party. Little does Oliver know that he'll also end up accused of theft and needing to solve the mystery of the missing robo-cat to clear his own name before he and Benny can perform their grand finale.

Each book in the series is named for a classic magic trick (e.g. The Four Burglars, The Rope Trick, Sawed in Half, etc.) and contains a simple mystery story inspired by the trick. Every time Oliver performs, something goes wrong, but with the help of his rabbit, Benny, and the twin girls, Teenie and Bea, Oliver always sets things right in the end. A magic trick may go astray but a mystery never goes unsolved.


Oliver longs to be a magician but his severe stage fright makes it seem like an impossibility.  When his friends Teenie and Bea get him "hired" as the entertainment at a classmate's birthday party he's terrified.  He tries to get help with his act from the local magic store but the magician refuses to help him.  After buying an old top hat, Oliver wonders how he will ever survive.  Especially since the boy he's performing for is a rich, spoiled-jerk.  Things don't exactly go as planned at the party especially when Oliver is accused of stealing one of the presents.  Oliver sets out with Teenie and Bea, and a sarcastic bunny named Benny (from the top hat) to find the real guilty party and it's rather amusing to see how each of them follows a different set of clues.  Can Oliver solve the mystery and clear his name?  Can he actually complete a trick or will he completely humiliate himself?  While I didn't enjoy the book as much as I was hoping.  I did enjoy the magic parts and it was fun to see how Oliver actually used a magic trick to reveal the answer to the mystery.  The talking bunny wasn't my favorite part of the book, but some readers are bound to find him amusing.  The plentiful illustrations, including comic book-like segments break up the text in a fun way adding to the enjoyment.   And the author explains how to perform the trick (The Four Jokers) at the end of the book.  The diverse family (Teenie and Bea have two dads), adds a nice touch without being pushy or even that big a part of the story.A fun read for young readers who enjoy magic with some fantasy (the talking bunny) thrown in.  It definitely has Bosch's touch of the unusual about it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

MMGM: Skyjacked by Paul Griffin


Six friends who attend Manhattan's elite Hartwell Academy are returning from an end-of-summer camping trip together on a private plane. Everything seems normal... except one of the regular pilots is sick, so there's a replacement; Cassie is starting to get violently ill for no clear reason; and they realize the plane is flying west, not east. Soon it's clear: the plane has been hijacked. But by who, and why? Where are they going? What made Cassie so sick? And even if they somehow make it into the cockpit and overpower the hijacker, could they land the plane? Emotions are running high, and choosing who to trust is a matter of life or death. 
Skyjacked takes the reader on a thriller of a ride.  Five teenage friends who attend an elite private academy are finishing up a camping trip.  After hopping on Cassie's father's private jet, they are ready to head back to New York. But things are quite right.  Emily is dating Tim, but seems interested in Jay, who isn't quite comfortable at the school since he's on scholarship and not from a wealthy family like the others.  Cassie and Brandon are best friends, but Cassie's recklessness threatens their lives.  And Tim, despite his large size, is a confused scared kid.
Things take a strange turn when Jay notices the plane is heading west instead of east and the cockpit door is locked, which it isn't normally.  When Cassie gets violently ill, fear enters the cabin and the teenagers and Cassie's bodyguard have to decide what to do.  Meanwhile, Michelle is working as an intern at NATIC (National Air Traffic Investigation Center) in hopes of getting a recommendation to the Air Force Academy.  But after failing a simulation, she's not as confident as she once was.
When it becomes clear that the flight is deliberately off-course, Michelle struggles to find a way to help amidst all the chaos.  And on the flight, the friends frantically try to save Cassie's life while trying to decide what, if anything, they should attempt to do to get the plane back on course.  The hijacker seems obvious at first, after all the co-pilot is a fill-in and they know nothing about her.  But the bodyguard is new as well and Cassie doesn't like her.  As the situation becomes more dire so do the stakes and difficult decisions must be made.
I stayed up late finishing this one because I wanted to know what happened.  To me that's a sign the author did a good job with the plotting.  The story is front and center here, although enough details are given about various characters for them to seem real and unique.  Since the focus is on the tragedy the teens find themselves in there isn't any drugs or sex.  I was also impressed that their isn't any swearing either making this appropriate for middle grade readers.  Middle grade readers who enjoy thrillers that is.  Naturally, the situation doesn't resolve itself in an entirely happy way, there are deaths involved as one might expect in such a situation.  Probably not the best read though for middle graders who don't handle tragedy or tension very well.  But an enjoyable read for those who aren't as troubled by those things.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Truth or Lie Dinosaurs!/Truth or Lie Sharks! by Erica S. Perl


Tyrannosaurus rex's closest living relative is the alligator, right? That's a LIE! The TRUTH is, the massive carnivore was actually more closely related to chickens!! Though this engaging early reader is 100% fun, 25% of it is FALSE! In a unique question-and-answer format, proficient readers are quizzed about dinosaurs to see if they can separate facts from "lies." The book's mascot--the Truth Sleuth--guides readers through this funny and fact-packed Step 3 Reader, which features photos and illustrations of dinosaurs and fossils, with funny, kid-appealing art by Michael Slack.


This new series for young beginning readers is not only informative but gives said readers a chance to play a game and test his/her knowledge of the chosen topic.  This first book in the series is about dinosaurs.  The book is narrated by a stamp called the Truth Sleuth who takes the reader through the book.  The reader is presented with a series of four facts but only three of the facts are true.  The reader is then encouraged to decide which one they think is false.  The next double page spread reveals which one is a lie and why.  The combination of illustrations and photos (as available) add to the fun.  Young readers who are fascinated with dinosaurs will enjoy testing their knowledge and learning new facts at the same time.  The book is also a great way for teachers or parents to teach children not to trust everything they see and hear or might be exposed to through friends or the media.  For me as a librarian, the book will be a great lead-in to lessons on find accurate, reliable information.  A great resource and fun read for young and old alike.


Baby sharks are toothless at first, right? That's a LIE! The TRUTH is, sharks are born with a mouthful of teeth to protect themselves and hunt right away. Though this engaging early reader is 100% fun, 25% of it is FALSE! In a unique question-and-answer format, proficient readers are quizzed about their favorite ocean predators to see if they can separate facts from "lies." The book's mascot--the Truth Sleuth--guides readers through this funny and fact-packed Step 3 Reader, filled with photos of sharks in action, as well as kid-appealing art and humor.


Sharks are a favorite topic for many young readers.  Combining a popular topic with this fun new interactive format makes for a winning read.  The book provides lots of interesting facts about sharks but only 75% are true.  The book is narrated by a LIE stamp named the Truth Sleuth, who presents the reader with four facts about sharks.  But only three of the four are true.  Readers are then encouraged to decide which one they think is false.  The following double page spread reveals which one is a lie and why it is a lie.  Even as an adult I enjoyed testing my knowledge of sharks.  I even learned some things I didn't know before.  In addition to being enjoyable for young readers who are passionate about sharks, the book would be great for teachers or parents who want to help their students/children understand that not everything they see or hear is true.  As a librarian, I plan to use the book to introduce the importance of verifying information and how to find accurate, reliable information.  I look forward to more books in this series.
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