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.”

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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cottonmouth and the River by C. S. Fritz

Release Date - May 2014

C. S. Fritz
David C. Cook

There is no doubt that the illustrations within Cottonmouth and the River are stunning. They definitely do have the feel of Where the Wild Things Are. That is really where the comparison ends. I liked the story of Freddie Cottonmouth, and I understand the author's message. Yet, I took issue with the choice Freddie was practically forced into making. That's where the book's message became lost on me.

Freddie Cottonmouth's parents left him two years ago. They simply went off and never returned. Now 10, Freddie has survived in a house by a river, living completely alone, wondering if his parents will ever return. While at the river, he spots a mysterious egg. This egg brings an unusual creature into his life, one that will give him everything he wants, providing Freddie makes one promise. It's a promise that means Freddie will never have what he wants most, unless he goes back on his word.

Clearly any child who has been left alone to fend for himself for two years is going to long for parents, especially parents who made him happy and who promised him they'd return. As an adult, I realize that for two years, Freddie must have struggled to survive. The book says he never was lucky enough to get bites while fishing in the river, so I'm betting this is a kid forced to eat bugs, small animals, etc. to stay alive, and at the age of 8, 9, and 10, wishing for his parents to return is human nature. I ended up thinking it was silly of the creature to tell Freddie there were some things he could never wish for.

Realistically, I am looking at this story from a parent's point of view, knowing how much a child needs parents. Children will likely overlook that aspect. The illustrations definitely make Cottonmouth and the River a worthwhile purchase, one that I really recommend, even if I did have issues with that one part of the story.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lots of Spots by Lois Ehlert

Release Date - March 2014

Lois Ehlert
Little Simon

Book Review by Bob Walch

This Classic Board Book combines page upon page of illustrations of critters featuring spots and stripes with short poems that describe each animal.

Tiger stalks
With shiny eyes,
Then takes its prey by swift surprise.

Not only are the creatures that range from butterflies and snakes to birds and fish rendered in a textured, colorful, collage manner that makes them really attract the reader’s eye, but you’ll also find usually three or more critters on each two page set.

Young readers will love this book and return to it over and over again. Mom and dad will also find it quite eye appealing as well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jumping Jack by Germano Zullo

Release Date - May 13, 2014

Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Steeplechase horse Jumping Jack and his jockey Roger Trotter are best friends and a champion team. Together, they've won many championships. When Jack's performance becomes lackluster and sloppy, Roger Trotters seeks every specialist imaginable to find out what's wrong with Jack. The answer is more surprising than anyone might have imagined.

I see Jumping Jack as being an exceptional story for a child who may not be excelling in school, in a sport, or really for any reason. It sends a nice message that sometimes we mess up, and it can take teamwork to figure out what is going on. The illustrations capture the essence of the story in a beautiful, artistic way, rounding out what is a very enjoyable children's story.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love by Ken Baker

Release Date - April 22, 2014

Running Press Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

For Emery Jackson, daughter of a former NBA player and a Laker's cheerleader, being overweight seems to be the worst crime  imaginable. Ridiculed by many of her peers and her perfect older sister and subjected to a mother who feels the best sandwich is one ordered without bread because carbs are evil, Emery finds solace in her equally overweight boyfriend Ben.

When Emery learns her family is on the verge of bankruptcy and that reality TV is the only way out. She agrees to become the star of a show titled Fifty Pounds to Freedom. The goal is to have Emery lose 50 pounds in 50 days. If she's successful, she gets $1,000 for every pound lost and her family receives $1 million. Even Emery knows that with her family about to lose their home, she can't say no.

I love how reality TV is portrayed in How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love. I've never understood the world's fascination with reality TV, it's quite sad the things people will put themselves through in order to gain money. Ken Baker does a great job at capturing how much of a show is really scripted and not impromptu. I also loved that Emery never turned into a fake person like her mother and sister. Her wit, sarcastic nature, and strength came through from finish to end.

That said, the descriptions used to come up with a physical image of Emery often seem over the top. At 199 pounds and 5.5 feet in height, I am not convinced she would have "elbows resting atop rolls of blubber that billow out from the sides below my bra like squishy armrests." Yes, she will have some extra weight, but not quite the blubbery whale the author kept portraying.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Lately Lily: The Adventures of a Traveling Girl by Micah Player

Release Date - March 25, 2014

Micah Player
Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

It seems that Lily has been everywhere. With her parents traveling around the world for their jobs, Lily accompanies them to every corner of the globe. She's traveled by plane, boat, and even hot air balloon, and seen cities like Paris. Join Lily on her adventures around the globe, making friends along the way.

Lately Lily's illustrations drew me in. They're colorful and do not make it immediately obvious where Lily is now. Children and their parents will need to use some of the clues to figure it out. I can see that becoming a fun game to play while reading Lately Lily.

The story itself is ideal for a beginning reader. There are some challenging words, but not too many, and pages often have just one short sentence, so children will not feel overwhelmed as they read each page.