Thursday, June 13, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Moon! Earth's Best Friend by Stacy McAnulty


From writer Stacy McAnulty and illustrator Stevie Lewis, Moon! Earth's Best Friend is a light-hearted nonfiction picture book about the formation and history of the moon—told from the perspective of the moon itself.

Meet Moon! She's more than just a rock—she’s Earth’s rock, her best friend she can always count on. Moon never turns her back on her friend (literally: she's always facing Earth with the same side!). These two will stick together forever. With characteristic humor and charm, Stacy McAnulty channels the voice of Moon in this next celestial "autobiography" in the Our Universe series. Rich with kid-friendly facts and beautifully brought to life by Stevie Lewis, this is an equally charming and irresistible companion to Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years and Sun! One in a Billion.


Moon! Earth's Best Friend is an entertaining way to share facts about the moon with young readers/listeners. Moon is the narrator, telling us about her relationship to Earth as well as her personal characteristics.  Moon shares with readers facts about her size, being a natural satellite, and how she influences the earth through gravity. I especially enjoyed the part about Earth and Moon playing the 'game' of eclipse.  Lewis's adorable illustrations beautifully complement the light, informative text.  Earth and Moon truly look like pals who enjoy each other's company.  The two truths and a myth questions at the end of the book adds a fun interactive element and the additional information is intriguing (I had no idea the moon had so many different names).  A wonderful resource for teachers, and a fun book to read with young listeners.

Friday, June 7, 2019

FANTASY FRIDAY: The Revenge of Magic by James Riley


When long-dead magical creatures are discovered all around the world, each buried with a book of magic, only children can unlock the dangerous power of the books in this start to a thrilling new series from the author of the New York Times bestselling Story Thieves!

Thirteen years ago, books of magic were discovered in various sites around the world alongside the bones of dragons. Only those born after “Discovery Day” have the power to use the magic.

Now, on a vacation to Washington, DC, Fort Fitzgerald’s father is lost when a giant creature bursts through the earth, attacking the city. Fort is devastated, until an opportunity for justice arrives six months later, when a man named Dr. Opps invites Fort to a government run school, the Oppenheimer School, to learn magic from those same books.

But life’s no easier at the school, where secrets abound. What does Jia, Fort’s tutor, know about the attacks? Why does Rachel, master of destructive magic, think Fort is out to destroy the school? And why is Fort seeing memories of an expelled girl every time he goes to sleep? If Fort doesn’t find out what’s hiding within the Oppenheimer School, more attacks will come, and this time, nothing will stop them!


Fantasy novels remain perennially popular among young readers as well as older readers.  I have a special fondness for them myself.  At the same time, I've read enough of them that sometimes the plot lines tend to overlap and even blend.  It's always refreshing to come across a book that that is creatively different in terms of plot and characters.  James Riley's new The Revenge of Magic combines flawed characters with a refreshingly different plot line.  I'm more than eager to see where the story goes in the next volume.

Fort is heartbroken after his father is captured and taken underground by a giant creature.  He blames himself for not being able to save him.  But a voice in his head had told him to run and taken control of him, and after fighting it off the first time, he was unable to make it back to help his father.  When he is offered a chance to learn magic to defend against such creatures, he leaps at the chance to attend the Oppenheimer School.  But when he arrives at the campus, he's startled to realize that it's on a military base and the soldiers seem more on guard against him than ready to protect him.  He quickly realizes that their are many secrets floating around, including his own presence.  Learning magic turns out to be much harder than he expected and he isn't even learning the kind of magic he's interested in. When it becomes clear that there's a plot to send him away, he determines to fight to stay.  When he starts experiencing the memories of a girl that no one will speak of, he's puzzled by their connection and what she has to do with the original attacks. Eventually, he realizes that he needs to find this girl or he may never get answers to his questions.

A fascinating concept and world well-developed into a compelling story of secrets, magic, and revenge.  Riley's created a fascinating new magical story that middle grade readers are bound to enjoy reading.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande by Adam Gidwitz & David Bowles


Elliot and Uchennna have only just returned from their most recent Unicorn Rescue Society mission when they (along with Jersey!) are whisked away on their next exciting adventure with Professor Fauna. This time, they’re headed to the Mexican border to help another mythical creature in need: the chupacabras!

The Chupacabras of the Río Grande is co-written with David Bowles, author of the Pura Belpré Honor-winning book, The Smoking Mirror!


Elliot and Uchenna, along with Professor Fauna, are off on another adventure.  This time they are investigating reports of a rogue chupacabras.  Meeting a former colleague of the professor's complicates things a bit, but the Unicorn Rescue Society needs all the help they can get. Especially when their efforts to rescue a juvenile chupacabras collide with business interests of their foes, the Schmoke brothers.  An entertaining, and informative series revolving around a wide variety of cryptids and the people trying to save them.  This is a fun and funny, speculative fiction series perfect for young readers who enjoy fantastic adventures but aren't ready for big, long fantasy tomes.  One of the things I especially appreciate about this series is how authentic Gidwitz tries to be regarding the stories and locations he features in his stories.  He is so serious about this that each book is co-authored with an expert on that particular location and folklore.  A great combination to my way of thinking, and combined with a fun story makes for a fabulous read.

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: History's Mysteries: Freaky Phenomena


Curious kids itching for real-life Indiana Jones-like intrigue will get swept away with the next book in this spine-tingling series about solving puzzles of the past--from whole civilizations that have vanished to mystifying monuments and urban legends.

Fans of Night at the Museum and the Indiana Jones saga will be fascinated by these real-life mysteries: Is there any truth to the legend of Bigfoot? Why have planes and ships suddenly disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle? Is there really a lost city of gold in the jungle of Central America? The next book in this exciting new series will cover even more of history's most fascinating head-scratching conundrums, including the curse of the Hope Diamond, King Tut's tomb, black holes, the puzzling disappearance of ancient civilizations, cryptic creatures of myth and legend, long-lost treasure, and so much more. Kids can dig into these mysteries, uncover clues, and ponder leading scientific theories to help decipher what really happened. Chock-full of cool photos, fun facts, and spooky fun, this book is sure to keep curious kids engaged as they try to piece together these puzzles of the past!


The world is full of fascinating mysteries, some of which people have found answers to and some where the answers remain elusive.  I, for one, enjoy reading and thinking about some of these mysteries.  Since history is a topic that many children consider 'boring,' I'm always happy to find books like this one that demonstrate beautifully that history can be fascinating and mysterious.  The book is divided into seven chapters: Creepy Creatures, Vanishing Acts, Unexplained Occurrences, Strange Sites, Unusual Objects, Curious Curses, and Unnatural Nature.  Each chapter than addresses two or three specific mysteries including creatures such as bigfoot and mothman, or lost cities or strange physical creations.  The book presents evidence and photographs to explain each mystery and the clues available, but leaves the reader to decide what to believe about it.  A fascinating book perfect for young readers who love to read about real-life mysteries.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: I'll Show You, Blue Kangaroo!/B is for Baby


Lily and Blue Kangaroo are inseparable. Whatever Lily does, Blue Kangaroo is there to see. But sometimes he wishes he wasn't, because Lily has started to show off. Will she ever learn to do as she is told?


I'll admit that I didn't love this book.  The characters are cute enough, especially the blue kangaroo.  But Lily's behavior is out of control.  As a teacher librarian I was shocked at the dangerous activities that her family let her get away with, at least at first.  She's showing off for her toy kangaroo, and of course, young children don't usually think about how risky things can be, so the behavior isn't too unusual.  And Lily's actions do eventually have consequences (she loses Blue Kangaroo and her mother won't let her have him back until she adjusts her behavior).  Although I've worked with children long enough to know that behavior like Lily's isn't likely to change as completely as it does here no matter what the incentive is.  The story and illustrations are cute, but I was not a big fan of the story.


Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank, creators of the award-winning Baby Goes to Market, pair up again for a bright and beautiful first book of words.

B is for Baby. B is for Brother. B is for going to see Baba!

One morning after breakfast, Baby's big brother is getting ready to take the basket of bananas all the way to Baba's bungalow in the next village. He'll have to go along the bumpy road, past the baobab trees, birds, and butterflies, and all the way over the bridge. But what he doesn't realize is that his very cute, very curious baby sibling has stowed away on his bicycle. Little ones learning about language will love sounding out the words in this playful, vibrantly illustrated story set in West Africa.


This adorable book is told entirely through B words such as baby, bananas, baboon, bicycle, and Baba.  It's quite a clever concept that is beautifully executed.  I've long been a fan of Atinuke and her stories of West Africa.  This one is just as good as all the others.  Not only are the illustrations adorable with the baby hidden in the basket of bananas but the use of only b-words to tell the story works surprisingly well.  The gorgeous two page spreads beautifully complement the simple word sentences and tell a large part of the story as Baby and her brother travel to Baba's house. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

MMGM: Grenade by Alan Gratz


It's 1945, and the world is in the grip of war.

Hideki lives on the island of Okinawa, near Japan. When WWII crashes onto his shores, Hideki is drafted into the Blood and Iron Student Corps to fight for the Japanese army. He is handed a grenade and a set of instructions: Don't come back until you've killed an American soldier.

Ray, a young American Marine, has just landed on Okinawa. He doesn't know what to expect -- or if he'll make it out alive. He just knows that the enemy is everywhere.

Hideki and Ray each fight their way across the island, surviving heart-pounding ambushes and dangerous traps. But when the two of them collide in the middle of the battle, the choices they make in that instant will change everything.

From the acclaimed author of Refugee comes this high-octane story of how fear can tear us apart, and how hope can tie us back together.


Fourteen-year-old Hideki is shocked when he is given two grenades and told to use one to kill American soldiers with it before killing himself with the other one.  With no training and scared out of his mind, Hideki hides with the other middle school boys after the Japanese soldiers send them off to fight.

Ray, an eighteen-year-old marine, is stunned by the horrors of combat, both the loss of teammates and how easily the others seem to kill, even those who aren't soldiers.  Before long though the shock and fear teach him the concept of kill or be killed.  But he can't let go of his morals so easily.  As he experiences the horrors of the battle, he begins to collect photographs that he comes across in buildings or on the bodies of the dead.  These remind him that all involved are human beings despite their efforts to destroy each other.

Hideki struggles to survive as he flees from battle to cave and eventually to his family's tomb where he watches his father die.  His father makes him promise to find his sister, Kimiko, the only remaining member of his family that lives and he sets off to find her.  But he can't avoid the fighting and his encounters with both American and Japanese soldiers as well as Okinawan civilians leave him wondering who the monsters really are.

When Ray and Hideki run into each other, only one survives, leaving the other to try to cope.

Alan Gratz has written a powerful story of the horrors of war, but also the resilience of the human soul.  The book is compelling and moves quickly from the very first page.  Despite the focus on the actions of the characters, Gratz manages to invest the story with powerful themes of humanity in the midst of war, and the incredible dangers of fear.  I was reminded once again that no one who experiences it is left untouched by war.  To be honest, the book is rather heartbreaking which means it isn't going to suit all readers.  Gratz, as usual, does not talk down to his readers, and he uses some of the actual language that would have been used at the time, and he doesn't hesitate to show just how horrific war can be.  A powerful war story about survival and hope in the midst of awful conditions that will leave it's mark on those who read it.
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