Note to Readers

I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Disconnected by Lisa M. Cronkhite

Release Date - June 2014

Lisa M. Cronkhite
The Poisoned Pencil

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Let me start by saying that Disconnected was a challenging book. There were times I loved the novel, and other times when I wondered why it was going so off course.

Amelia (Milly) lost her parents, but she's hazy on the details. Since then, she's lived with her grandfather,until his house burned down, and now she and her grandfather live with her aunt in an old Victorian. One thing is clear, she's not comfortable in her own skin. Many of her actions are prompted by a voice only she can hear that of Amelia, and Amelia is a bit of a bully.

When a mysterious older man starts following Milly around, she can't help but wonder - what is happening? Why can't she remember all the details of her past?

There were times I really liked Disconnected. It's a pretty intimate look at mental illness, something that needs more publicity, especially following Robin Williams' death. I think everyone was shocked by that tragic event. Yet, there were other times when I felt like the title - Disconnected.  Milly ends up facing so many issues, and I don't want to give away the ending, but once a revelation is made, I was just really disgusted and wondered if that plot turn really needed to be part of the story, especially the way it was thrown in at the last minute. Her relationship with Blake, it never is really fleshed out enough. Perhaps if the novel had been longer and more fleshed out, I would have connected better.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! by Petr Horacek

Release Date - June 2014

Petr Horacek
Candlewick Press

Book Review by Bob Walch

This well designed and sturdy board book combines pictures of common animals with the sounds they make. It is ideal for a young child who likes looking at colorful pictures and the book’s thick pages are a breeze to turn. Mom and dad will have fun making the sounds that identify each critter.

A good way of fostering a lifelong love of books in a child is to begin with a simple, colorful picture book like Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! You’ll be surprised how often the youngster returns to a favorite volume like this and loves just flipping pages and tossing the book around.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, Moon by Frank Asch

Release Date - March 2014 (Reissue)

Frank Asch

Book Review by Bob Walch

One night Bear looked up at the sky and thought, wouldn’t it be nice to give the moon a birthday present?’

Since Bear didn’t know when Moon’s birthday was or what Moon might like as a gift, he set out to find out. It is a long journey but Bear thinks he does find out when Moon’s birthday is and what Moon would like for his birthday.

Coincidentally, both Bear and Moon have the same birthdays and like the same things or so Bear thinks. This makes things a lot easier for Bear but, as you’ll see, Bear is really dealing with an echo which complicates this odd little adventure.

You’ll find the flat, one-dimensional illustrations in this picture book rather dark because the story unfolds at night. The story is a bit strange and you may have to explain what an echo is to your child (lots of luck!) before this story makes any sense.

On the other hand, if your child has read and enjoyed the other Moon Bear books, this one will probably be a hit too. So happy reading!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Release Date - August 12, 2014

Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

There are no words in Flashight. Children will make up their own story, if they want to, otherwise, it's all about what's outside in the dark.

While the character in the book is warm and cozy inside his tent to start, he ventures out with his flashlight to see what's outside. Along his journey, he spies a boot, some skunks, and eventually finds some unusual playmates.

The art in Flashlight is mostly black and white sketches that I found endearing. The only color in the books involves the areas where the flashlight shines.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Peppa Pig and the Vegetable Garden

Release Date - February 2014

Peppa Pig
Candlewick Press

Book Review by Bob Walch

If your child can’t get enough of Peppa Pig and her buddies on TV, this picture book will probably be a big hit with the youngster. Peppa and her little brother, George, help Grandpa Pig out in the garden. Not only will they learn about nurturing seeds so they become healthy plants but Peppa and George will also discover there are some pretty interesting creatures out in the garden.

Snails, butterflies and birds all call Grandapa Pig’s garden home. The snails and birds also like to nibble on seeds and young plants so there’s work to be done protecting the veggies.

After harvesting some blackberries and some fresh veggies, Mummy Pig and Grandma Pig make lunch. Unfortunately, George  isn’t really into eating salad until Grandpa creates a “Dino-saw” plate. George loves this looks of this special veggie dish and digs in.

The art work in this picture book isn’t all that interesting but young readers don’t seem to mind. The storyline is taken from the TV series so isn’t that original but, if your child loves Peppa, these are minor concerns.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg

Release Date - May 2014

Barney Saltzberg

Book Review by Bob Walch

Everyone has had one of those nights when it is totally impossible to fall asleep. The little panda in this cute picture book experiences this problem. Try as he might, Chengdu just can’t find the right position or get comfortable so he can’t fall asleep.

He turns and tosses. He rolls back and forth. The panda even tries different limbs in the bamboo grove to sleep on but nothing works. Finally Chengdu does find just the right spot, but the second he is ready to settle down along comes Yuan, Chengdu’s brother, and guess what? Right! He can’t find a comfortable spot to settle down and sleep in either!

This book features a number of foldout pages and would be a good bedtime story to share with any little ones in your household who just can’t seem to get to sleep.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wipeout of the Wireless Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy Tales by David Lubar

Release Date - April 22, 2014

David Lubar
A Starscape Book

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Wipeout of the Wireless Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy Tales is the seventh collection of creepy tales for middle readers. Each story is just scary enough for that age group (8 to 12) without being nightmare-inducing. Many of the stories also pack in a good dose of humor, making them ideal for advancing readers.

There are 33 stories in all. While all were good, there were a handful that really stood out with me, so I'm going to focus on them.

After the Apocalypse finds a birthday boy facing a zombie invasion on his birthday. Is his family going to survive the occasion? That story had me laughing, because as a parent I really got it.

The next story to really stick with me was one about bullies - Fabrication. I can think of a few people from my past that I would have loved to do this to!

On a more current note, Walnuts was a hit. My daughter's freshman class faced something like this. Unlike this story, where things take a definite turn, he admitted half a year later that he made the whole thing up, and students who had gotten detentions or suspensions for saying he was faking never did receive apologies. Therefore, I tended to sympathize with the character doing the narration.

Matters of Fax is perhaps most memorable of all because I've often said it would be awesome if a fax machine could do that.

Over all, I cannot

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Let's Eat Dinner by Claire Hibbert

Release Date - June 2014

Laburnum Press

Book Review by Bob Walch
Part of the “Sparklers” series that pictures the foods we eat, this picture book looks at dinner time. Featuring full page, color photos of children from various cultures, the author begins by asking a series of questions. “What time do you eat your dinner? How do you help make dinner? Who sets the table at your house?” are just a few of these questions the reader is asked to respond to.

Next we see some of the items one might find on a family’s dinner table. These foods range from rice, fresh vegetables and pasta to fish, meat and desserts.

Finally, at the back of the book is a recipe for cucumber and yoghurt dish called raita. There are also suggested activities to engage the child in food preparation.

This book is a fun way to engage a young child in a discussion of food and what we eat when we sit down at the dinner table.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Body in the Woods by April Henry

Release Date - June 17, 2014

April Henry
Henry Holt and Co.

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The Body in the Woods is the first in a young adult mystery series by April Henry. The series involves three teens, all from different walks of life, who volunteer for a local search and rescue team. When they get a call that an autistic man is missing in a forest, they join the search party. The teens never imagine that they'll find a body and stumble into a serial killer's sights.

Nick, Alexis, and Ruby definitely are as different as teens come. I like that they are paired, despite being so different from one another, and they form a bond because of their work. Ruby is fascinated with criminal investigations, yet her parents feel her interests are morbid and ban her from continuing her volunteer work, even though it is something that makes her feel happy. Nick appears strong on the outside, but inside he never feels he is good enough. Alexis I really felt for. Her mom suffers from mental illness and often skips her medications. As a result, Alexis often acts as the parent and is forced into tough situations.

With those three backgrounds, the readers form a bond with the three teens. There are times I felt the police were letting them get a little too involved in the police work, especially Ruby, but that also helped propel the story. I loved the details that went into the search and rescue work, it's based on the work of a real team of teen volunteers in Multnomah County. That also helped set the stage for what I think is going to be fascinating series.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Cool Summer Tail by Carrie Pearson

Release Date - February 2014

Carrie Pearson
Christina Wald
Sylvan Dell Publishing

Book Review by Bob Walch

When the summer heats up animals, just like adults, find ways to keep cool. In this picture book for children in the five to six year old age group, the author addresses how various animals adapt to summer heat.

A group of animal babies ask their mothers how humans keep cool and they pose the question in such a manner that they also indicate how they do so. For example, the little frog says, “Do they dig in the dirt so the sun doesn’t hurt their skin when it shines from above?” The mother frog’s reply, “No blanket of leaf bits in a barrow that just fits. They want the warm sun on their skins.”

OK, now you know frogs adapt to the heat by digging a hole in the dirt to lie in or nestle under forage on hot days.

At the end of the book you’ll also find four activity pages that will further engage the child and expand the idea of discussing the way animals (including humans) adapt to weather changes.

Excellent illustrations of the various animals will focus the child’s attention of each set of animals (mother and baby) and the rhymed text is fun to read too. Once you have finished reading, ask your child how humans deal with different changes in the weather.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

Release Date - May 27, 2014

Dana Reinhardt
Wendy Lamb Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Layla and Nell Golden have grown up being as close as twins. The sisters were often inseparable. Now that Nell is starting high school and her sister is starting her junior year, Nell is excited to be under the same roof during the school day. But something's changed. Layla is distant and clearly keeping a secret from her sister. Nell is not used to Layla being curt and secretive. When she discovers the truth, she faces the very grown up decision of remaining her sister's friend or defying her sister and telling all what she knows.

I have to say, We Are the Goldens pulled me in. It's written almost in journal form, a simply journal written from one sister to the other. As the secret starts taking shape, it's understandable why Nell struggles so much. This is a short book, but one that is also very powerful.

Having finished it, part of me would like to see it told from Layla's point of view. I'd love to get a closer look as to what exactly was going through her mind, especially nearer the ending!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Rex the Tyrannosaurus by Jeannette Rowe

Release Date - May 2014

Jeannette Rowe
Allen & Unwin

Book Review by Bob Walch

Although he can be a pretty scary dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex isn’t that fierce in this book designed for young readers. The child will discover that Rex is strong and fast and has very sharp teeth. He is also bigger than a double-decker bus.

Rex never brushes his teeth (which are the size of bananas) so his breath is pretty bad. He also weighs as much as three elephants. Unfortunately, Rex doesn’t have a lot of friends because he tends to eat them soon after they meet. For these and a few other reasons, you probably won’t want to invite Rex to your next birthday party.

You’ll discover a dinosauritis maze game, some dinosaur jokes a nd a page of fun facts at the end of this fun paperback about Rex the Tyrannosaurus.Also, although Rex usually misbehaves when he’s out in public, he won’t scare your little one when he or she reads this book.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell

Release Date - April 2014

Bethany Crandell
Running Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

 It took a while for me to acclimate myself to Summer on the Short Bus. My problems were not with the writing, the pacing, or the storyline, my issue was that I wanted to strangle the main character.

The book starts with a very snotty 17-year-old girl, Constance "Cricket" Montgomery. She's been caught holding a party in some stables and is disgruntled that the stable hand ratted her out. Out of desperation, her father arranges to have her serve out her punishment by banning her from going to Hawaii with her best friend, and instead shipping her off to a camp for special needs children.

When the children arrive, Cricket proceeds to pass out after seeing their issues. The only thing keeping her from running off is the very good looking fellow counselor who appears to be a Zac Efron lookalike. Is the potential for a summer romance enough to keep Cricket working with the kids she refers to as having a "smashed-in, dog-faced look... but they can actually feed themselves and even know how to use the toilets." See, Cricket really isn't very likable.

Despite my obvious issues with Cricket, the other characters in the story are quite enjoyable. It takes quite a while before I was even convinced Cricket would be able to redeem herself. The kids, the other counselors, and the camp staff are the people I really loved reading about. I do know there are many out there like Cricket, and I am thrilled that with my daughter's high school and their participation in A World of Difference, embracing people's differences is changing. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Creatures by Orla Kiely

Release Date - April 2014

Orla Kiely
Egmont UK

Book Review by Bob Walch

British fashion designer Orla Kiely has created an animal concept board book that introduces a variety of animals. The clothbound book is sturdy and the graphics and colors come together nicely to create a very attractive and pleasing experience for both the child and his or her parents.

With its upscale graphics this is a cut above the normal concept books you’ll find in the marketplace.