Note to Readers

I have not received any compensation for writing this post other than a free digital or print copy of the book. 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, December 27, 2009

I'm Number One (Picture Book)

Released December 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Here's an unusual story about how to deal with a bully. A little wind-up soldier seems to think he is in charge of all the other toys. "I'm A-One. I'm BIG A-One," proclaims the little soldier. "Let me tell you: A-One rules. A-One is number one."

Although not too happy with the soldier's bravado, the other toys let him bully them for awhile. A-One is so brash and insensitive that he tells Sid, a stuffed pig, "You're the worst."  Then he insults the other toys by saying, "You're no good…you're so bad…you're the worst."

At first A-One's companions feel bad, but then they realize how ridiculous the soldier's comments are and they begin laughing at him. Eventually, A-One sees how silly he has been and how his mean words were uncalled for. Soon he is laughing too, and the toys become friends again with the little wind-up soldier who isn't as self-important as he thought he was at the story's beginning.

You might want to use this picture book for children three years of age and up to launch a discussion about why being a bully isn't right and how it can harm friendships.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Hole in the Sky (Juvenile Fiction)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The Hole in the Sky opens in a mystical world where a queen and a seer strike a deal regarding the queen's first born daughter. As this prologue ends, readers are transported to earth where young Kaela Neuleaf is struggling to fit in at school and come to terms with her mother's death two years earlier.

After stumbling across her mother's diary and an unusual charm pendant, Kaela and her cousin, Shawn, are surprised by the appearance of a strange little man who asks them to follow him through a portal somewhere in Kaela's room so that they can help save those in his world. Kaela has the power to break a curse and save that world's king and queen's son.

At first skeptical, Kaela and Shawn enter this fantasy world and face danger and excitement at every turn. As they head on their quest, Kaela begins to learn that there was more to her mother's life than she knew.

Part coming of age, part fantasy, The Hole in the Sky is a fascinating story. However, I did struggle at first because of the wide array of characters. I ended up with a notepad in hand to keep track of relationships, only to find in the end that there was a character list in the final pages. Many authors place this in the front, so I never even thought to look in the back.

Providing younger readers can keep track of who's who, and I highly recommend using the character list in the end, this is an entertaining fantasy novel. Printed on paper harvested from areas that practice environmentally-friendly techniques, readers can feel good about their purchase.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tinycandy's Gift (Picture Book)

Released October 2008

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I believe that the version of Tinycandy's Gift I received is updated from the original 2008 release. The copyright date has changed and a CD is now included allowing children to read-along with the storybook.  Amazon doesn't show the updated information, however, so I recommend visiting the publisher's website where you can purchase autographed copies for the same price as Amazon.

Tinycandy is one of Santa's elves, but with rounded ears and difficulties walking, he stands out as being different. More importantly, while each elf has a special talent for making a specific toy for the children, Tinycandy messes up whatever he does. This doesn't go unnoticed by the other elves and Tinycandy hears their cruel words when they don't think he's around.

One night, Mrs. Claus hears Tinycandy crying. She invites him into her kitchen where Tinycandy creates an amazing gift that the children around the world will love. Learn what Tinycandy created and how it became one of the world's most popular Christmas treats. The story ends with a recipe that children and an adult helper can make at home.

Tinycandy's Gift is an enjoyable, easy to read picture book. It's a neat explanation for a holiday staple that I can see children growing up and then sharing the tale with their own children. The read-along CD is an added bonus, especially in this time of year where parents' schedules often have them too busy to read to their child at the drop of a hat. Simply pop the CD into your stereo and the child can follow the story. Jingling bells alert the child to a page turn.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weezer Changes the World (Picture Book)

Released December 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This is a cute story about a little dog that, after being struck by a bolt of lightning, suddenly can read, count and talk. Weezer goes from rearranging his master's house (and improving it) to cleaning up the environment, finding a cure for diseases and even pointing the way to world peace.

Everyone agrees this is a very remarkable dog. Weezer's good deeds and farsighted approach to dealing with the problems facing mankind are transforming society. But then the unthinkable occurs and the little puppy reverts again to just being a simple dog. All his special abilities disappear and Weezer is back to playing ball and enjoying his puppy chow.

Now the BIG question becomes will the world forget all the wonderful things this extraordinary pooch accomplished? Will people revert to their former ways of living and harming the planet and one another? That's a good question and one you'll only get the answer to by reading this picture book with your preschoolers!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Capstone Press Expands Popular High-Interest, Middle School Brand for Spring


Capstone Press Expands Popular High-Interest, Middle School Brand for Spring

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Dec. 21, 2009 – Capstone Publishers imprint Capstone Press, publisher of accessible, innovative children’s nonfiction for beginning, struggling, and reluctant preK-8 readers, announces two new additions to its popular middle school, high-interest brand Velocity. Set for release next month, the new series include Hip-Hop World and Bad Guys.

Hip-Hop World explores the history, culture, fashion and stars of this mainstream movement; Bad Guys delves into fascinating tales of history’s bad guys. As with all Velocity titles, both series feature energetic text and high-impact visual design to hook reluctant readers in middle school grades.

Velocity’s popularity with librarians and teachers was immediate upon its launch in Fall 2009. Reviewers lauded The World of Mixed Martial Arts as “an ideal entry point,” (Booklist) and “Fans of the sport will be mesmerized by these books,” (School Library Journal), while the RPM series was praised as “the best to come along in some time,” (School Library Journal).

“For nearly 20 years, Capstone Press has been the go-to publisher for high-low materials. We continue to answer to the demand and redefine high-interest books for reluctant and struggling readers. Adding Velocity, which answers to the need for materials for struggling students in middle school, to our award-winning lineup of high-interest brands Blazers, Snap Books, and Edge Books, was a natural progression of our collection,” said Matt Keller, President of Capstone Publishers Nonfiction.

Hip-Hop World
Series of 4 titles
48 pages ©2010
$20.99 (Library Binding)
Interest Level: 5-9
Reading Level: 3-4

Bad Guys
Series of 4 titles
48 pages ©2010
$20.99 (Library Binding)
Interest Level: 5-9
Reading Level: 3-4

The World of Mixed Martial Arts
Series of 4 titles
48 pages ©2010
$20.99 (Library Binding)
Interest Level: 5-9
Reading Level: 3-4

Series of 4 titles
48 pages Ó2010
$20.99 (Library Binding)
Interest Level: 5-9
Reading Level: 3-4

About Capstone Publishers
Capstone Publishers is the leading publisher of children’s books and digital products and services, offering everything from nonfiction, fiction, and picture books to interactive books, audio books, and literacy programs. Imprints include Capstone Press, Compass Point Books, Picture Window Books, Stone Arch Books, and Red Brick Learning. Visit us at

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Indian Summer (Middle Reader)

Released January 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Usually, twelve-year-old Marcie Horton would be thrilled to be spending part of her summer at her grandparent's lake home. However, this year her friends are not joining her. She's going to be stuck with her brothers. As soon as school lets out, Marcie and her friends head to a local festival for fun and games. There Marcie has a strange sensation that she's flying and soon after spots an Indian girl who leads her through a hay bale maze.

Once at the lake, Marcie learns things may not be so bad. One of the popular girls from her class is also around and befriends her. When Marcie learns her new friend's father plans to bulldoze a large section of woods to build expensive summer homes, Marcie, her brother and area residents team up to stop it.

However, a series of strange occurrences, dreams and sightings have Marcie baffled by the experiences she's having. She's not sure she can handle having a new friend and trying to figure out if she's going crazy.

The writing style of Indian Summer is inviting and does pull readers into the storyline from the first page. It's perfectly suitable for middle readers and I'm sure they'll love the mystery involved within the story.

Topics within the story cover issues that some girls do face, such as bullying and misconceptions of those around them. My own children's school works hard to limit bullying, so I don't find that's as common as it was in my day. However, the issue of deciding what someone is like before really getting to know them does arise and it's nice to see that brought to light.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Elephant (Picture Book)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

What happens when your grandparents are too busy to play with you? Why, you ask your imaginary elephant to amuse you, of course! Unfortunately, when the little boy in this picture book does just that his elephant squashes Grandpa's flowerbed, knocks over one of Grandma's vases, and makes a huge mess in the bathroom.

The question now becomes will Grandpa and Grandma believe that the little boy's elephant caused all this mess? You'll have to read the book to see how they reacted to the boy's continual response that "My elephant did it!"

This intergenerational story not only shows how a little boy's boundless imagination can create some interesting scenarios, but it also underscores the wisdom of his grandparents who seem to understand the problems loneliness can sometimes cause.

Preschoolers three years of age and up will find this story not only amusing but probably one they can definitely identify with.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas

With the holidays approaching fast, I admit I haven't picked up a book since Friday. Too much holiday baking, gift wrapping, shopping and visiting to fit in reading.

With that, I plan to curl up later and catch up. I hate going a spell without reading. I did want to share Amazon's list of suggestions and top-selling products in case you haven't found that perfect gift yet.

Christmas Ideas

Monday, December 14, 2009

The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion (Cooking/Kids and Teens)

Released 2004

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

With the holiday season in full gear, I'm going to return to a holiday favorite around here with both my teens. They both can cook, and I started teaching them how to use appliances as soon as I felt they were responsible enough. I know too many adults who can't boil water, so I made sure my kids could fend for themselves with more than microwave meals.

Given that, every holiday season we pull out a book I received for review in 2004. The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion is a huge book, packed with cookie recipes that range from drop cookies and bars to rolled cookies and shaped ones.

Stand outs for our family have always been the salty oatmeal cookies. I love salt and sweet together and these cookies deliver both tastes in a delightfully moist, buttery cookie. Other favorites include the variety of brownie recipes for both gooey brownies and cakey ones. There are a number of chocolate chip cookie recipes too, so you can pick the recipe that best meets  your cravings.

With more than 500 pages of cookie and icing recipes, you are certain to create Christmas cookies that blow friends and family away. I've tried many recipes and have yet to find a recipe that didn't deliver excellent baked goods.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Ancient Lands: Warrior's Quest-Search for the Ifa Scepter (Middle Reader)

Released December 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

It isn't often that I find a fantasy novel that wraps its way into my head making me push aside other tasks to keep reading. With the intention of reading a few chapters before tackling housework and other mundane tasks, I curled up near the fire and read every page of The Ancient Lands: Warrior's Quest-Search for the Ifa Scepter in one sitting.

In the world known as Madunia, Hatari and his siblings plan to conquer every nook and cranny for complete domination. In this story, Hatari's armies have done well, but he and his armies of ogres remain unable to get control of the Kingdom of Ufalme.

King Jumbe, ruler of Ufalme, is concerned over a drought that is threatening his kingdom's welfare. He is unaware that his youngest son, Bomani, overheard him talking to his adviser. Fifteen-year-old Bomani wants to prove himself worthy of ruling the kingdom one day, and with what he overhears, a plan is hatched.

Legend has it that the gods grew unhappy after the theft of the Ifa Scepter. The king's adviser has a map leading to the scepter. If it is returned to the Kingdom of Ufalme, the drought will end and everyone's welfare will be saved. Bomani decides to make this his quest. Joined by a young sorceress, Farra, who still needs to develop her full powers, and Farra's wolf-pup Pupa, the trio set off to find the scepter and prove they are as powerful as the adults around them.

Descriptive, unusual creatures like the Shadowlight, a soul-sucking black mass; large flies with the legs and fangs of a spider; and grotesque fish, with five-foot tongues that have sharp nail like projections keep the reader and the heroes on their toes. Along the way, the heroes of the novel learn valuable lessons about themselves and the way they handle issues, particularly Bomani who has a tendency to think only of himself. Watching his character grow added layers to the novel making it incredibly enjoyable from start to finish.

If you have a fantasy reader in your house, I think he/she'd be well pleased with this novel. The plot moves swiftly, action never seems to slow down and the author, Jason McCammon does a great job creating undeniable images with words. For those who like to create mental pictures as they read, I found the descriptions, dialogue and setting sprang to life making it easy to visualize every detail.

Along the way, Farra uncovers a new quest, to find the five surviving shape-shifters. This sub-plot leads the way to a second The Ancient Lands novel. I, for one, can't wait to read it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Product Recall from Simon & Schuster


Children's Plush Toy with Attached Board Book


The plastic eyeballs on the frog can detach, which may pose a choking hazard to young children.

Immediately remove the product from a child's reach.

Contact Simon & Schuster to receive a replacement book or for more information


8:30am - 5:00pm ET Monday through Friday

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The King of Quizzical Island (Picture Book)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

The King of Quizzical Island
Had a most inquisitive mind.
He said, 'If I sail to the edge of the world,
I wonder what I'll find?'

And so in a ship made of wood from the Tea-Bag Tree, the king sails off on this wonderful voyage of discovery. Although some of his subjects fear he'll sail right off the edge of the world and never return, that's far from what really happens as the curious king visits Jigsaw Land (which lay all in pieces and took nine days and nights to put in place) and Vertical Land (where everything stands on end).

On he ventured through Hurricane Harriet to the Sea of Dreadful Dreams before the fearless king ended up at the back door of his castle. This means, of course, that he sailed around the world since he left by the front door!

But then one of his skeptical subjects said that if the Earth is flat, the king might have only gone around in a circle to arriver back where he started. Hmmm, that's an interesting theory thought the king, so he decided to "dig a tunnel, far into the world, and come out at the other side!". But, that's another story that must be saved for another book!

Amusingly absurd, this rhymed story is somewhat reminiscent of Edward Lear's work and its silliness is bound to appeal to young readers. David McKee's black-and-white drawings (only the king appears in color) add to the fun of a very remarkable journey made by a very quizzical and brave person!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Science Kids: Weather (Non-Fiction)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Providing an excellent way to introduce a young child to science, the Kingfisher Science Kids series now numbers over 13 books that cover such topics as birds, reptiles, oceans and seas, maps and mapping, and rocks and fossils.

This newest title looks at the atmospheric world. Youngsters will learn why the wind blows, what a rainbow is made of, how rain forms in clouds and all sorts of other interesting weather related facts. They'll discover that 72 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water, that there are different layers of the atmosphere, and that seaweed can be used to predict the weather.

You'll also fine three easy projects to try at home. If your child doesn't wish to make a kite or sun dancer using old CD discs, perhaps creating a rainbow in a glass jar or making a tornado in a big plastic bottle will whet his/her curiosity.

This inexpensive paperback offers a very basic look at some weather related topics. The age-appropriate text is easy to follow, but don't expect a lot of depth in the two page spreads devoted to each topic. On the other hand, the book does offer an ideal launch site from which to begin a more detailed investigation of weather.

Unfortunately, the author does not offer any kid-friendly websites that would further the child's study of a particular area such as snowstorms or the El Nino current.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Pop-up Book of Nursery Rhymes (Children's Picture/Pop-Up Book)

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Pop-up books have become collectibles for older children and adults. The attraction of these novelty items is the intricate paper engineering that goes into their creation. The more complicated the book, the more desirable it seems to be.

Matthew Reinhart's has already been lauded for his pop-ups "The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella". He now brings that same technical expertise to the Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Six spreads of pop-ups and mini-books are featured in this volume. Among the classics you'll find are "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and Pattycake".

Given the nature of this type of book, one must remember folding it back into its compact format can sometimes be a challenge. For that reason, although the intended audience is a child three years of age and up, it is very unlikely a youngster that age can manage this task easily.

If you want the book to last, I would suggest a more dexterous family member be present when the book is in use to assist in getting everything back into place. It would be a shame to see this somewhat pricey title rendered unusable after one or two "readings".

Conversely, those who do collect these books will want to purchase this limited edition before it is sold out. Pop-ups like this one are not usually reissued so don't be left out!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Secrets Girls Keep (Non-Fiction)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Secrets Girls Keep... As adults, we think we know what our 'tweens and teens are experiencing in school and among their peers. We know because we've been there. Yet, some teens remain reluctant to share their day to day experiences with their parents. If those girls lack someone to confide in, they end up feeling alienated and alone. Carrie Silver-Stock's self-help guide helps girls realize they are not alone. It also provides an outlet where girls can join and talk about their experiences with others their age through sites like Facebook. (A note on Facebook, you must be 13 or older to form an account.)

Both my daughter and I read this book. While I leaned towards the personal accounts, my daughter found the self-assessment quizzes to be the most helpful. Obviously, age plays a part in what portion of the book is most helpful.

Secrets Girls Keep is packed with these self-assessment quizzes, real-life accounts, handy tips on many situations and a reference section for more information or additional help. Topics range from friendships to dating to online safety. The book is packed with things that I easily related to and things I know I've talked to my daughter about as she experiences them.

While many schools are doing better at ending bullying and peer pressure, there are still problems out there. This book may be the best book you'll purchase for your daughter as she grows up. Always keep an open channel of communication. Thankfully, my kids come to me with concerns. I just wish I'd had the guts to when I was their age. My self-esteem took a huge beating in middle and high school and, as a parent, it's one thing I am avid against seeing my own children go through.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sydney's D.C. Discovery (Middle Reader)

Released January 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The second book in the Camp Club Girls series heads to Washington D.C. There Sydney is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her new friend, Elizabeth. The pair once again find themselves involved in a baffling mystery.

This time, Sydney learns that someone is leaving cryptic messages and spray painting graffiti at the Vietnam Memorial. As the girls start to unravel clues, they begin to believe that the city is in incredible danger. Are they deciphering the clues correctly? What do all these messages mean?

Let me start by saying if you missed the previous review, the Camp Club Girls novels are being released by a Christian publisher, however the religious messages are never preachy. Therefore, I'm happy to recommend them to any middle reader who likes mysteries. The mysteries are not impossible to solve, though I am older, yet they do require a little logic to come up with the criminal and the reason. My daughter had most of the solution to this one, though she needed a little help on aspects of the Vietnam War.

I think Jean Fischer's series is engaging and sure to please younger readers who are beyond picture books but not quite ready for the longer young adult books. If you have a child who loves mysteries, I'd let them try Sydney's D.C. Discovery.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oceanology: The True Account Of The Voyage of the Nautilus (Non-Fiction)

Released August 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Young readers six and older are invited along on this underwater adventure that retraces the famed voyage of the Nautilus. Another in the very popular "ology" series, the lavishly illustrated volume is filled with pop-outs and fold-outs that map the voyage, describe the denizens of the deep the submarine's crew encountered, souvenirs of where they made landfall, and information about the Antarctic Shelf, the Great Barrier Reef, and Atlantis.

There's also a detailed diagram of the vessel's interior as well as accounts of the discovery of a deep water volcano, a brush with a giant squid and a stop in the Galapagos Islands.

Most of the narrative is in cursive writing which, although very legible, may put off some readers. On the other hand, there are so many illustrations, booklets to delve into, and other material that I think most youngsters will not be too deterred by the print style or the rather small type- face used for the foldouts. If there is a problem, mom or dad can lend a hand.

Not your typical "picture book", Oceanology contains so much information that the reader will spend more than just a few minutes perusing it. This is a volume that demands one's full attention and most youngsters (and adults for that matter) will be more than willing to spend some time exploring its wonders.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Barbour Launches Contest with Camp Club Girls Series

Barbour Launches Contest with Camp Club Girls Series

Uhrichsville, OH— Girls ages 8 to 12 will enjoy the mystery, mayhem, and adventure found in the new Camp Club Girls series written specifically for them! Camp Club Girls & the Mystery at Discovery Lake and Sydney’s D.C. Discovery, the first two books in the 24-book series, officially release from Barbour Publishing in January 2010 but should be available in stores for the holiday shopping season. To kick off the new Camp Club Girls series, Barbour Publishing will be holding a fun readers’ contest.

Readers will be offered a chance to win the “Kate’s Gadget Girl” grand prize gift basket worth over $2,000. Named after one of the Camp Club Girls characters who loves gadgets, the grand prize includes a MacBook computer, Nintendo Wii, iPod Nano, Canon digital camera, video journal, and many more cool gadgets. Running from January to August 2010, the readers’ contest also offers twenty-five monthly winners a Camp Club Girls backpack full of goodies. To sign up, readers can fill out a form found inside the books or enter online at after the books release. The Camp Club Girls website goes live on December 1, 2009.

For more information about the Camp Club Girls series, visit

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Can Draw Wild Animals (Non-Fiction/Instructional)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Part of the I Can Draw series of interactive books, this how-to book takes the child through the process of drawing a giraffe, elephant, zebra, crocodile and a monkey.

Each spread features four small grids that show exactly how to draw each creature. On the opposite side is a full page empty grid where the child can reproduce the animal. The instructions are broken into elements starting with the head, then the torso, appendages and, finally, the finishing details.

The book comes with a special black pen with erasable ink. The wipe-clean pages also make it easy to correct mistakes and start over again if necessary. A clever way to nurture a child's drawing skills, this series also offers similar volumes on household pets, farms and parks.

I'd suggest you start with the animals and then, if your budding artist enjoys creating his or her own pictures, move to the other, more detailed books. Once your child is fairly proficient drawing the animals, switch to regular art paper and encourage him/her to create a stand-alone piece that can be colored.

You child will not only have fun with this creative book, but this will also help develop hand-eye coordination, observation skills, and create a sense of accomplishment in the youngster. Also, remember that it will take a number of attempts to render a recognizable likeness of the animal, so DO NOT rush things. Let the child work at his/her own pace and enjoy the feeling of "doing it himself"!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Camp Club Girls and the Mystery at Discovery Lake (Middle Reader)

Released January 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

If you have a young girl who likes mysteries and needs a book that is geared towards 8 to 12 year olds, the Camp Club Girls series should be a hit. It is a Christian book, but I think any young girl will enjoy the story within.

Alex, Bailey, Elizabeth, Kate, McKenzie and Sydney become roommates at a summer Bible camp. The girls form a strong friendship. Their camp stay becomes a juggling act as they maintain the camp schedule, battle a snobby girl who is determined to best them at every turn and hide a stray dog from their counselors.

This is only the beginning, however. The girls stumble onto a real mystery after hearing strange noises from an abandoned miniature golf course. Determined to find out why one counselor is determined to keep them away, the girls team up to do some sleuthing in their free time.

As as adult, I didn't find the mystery all that perplexing, but I'm pretty sure it will keep younger readers on their toes. In addition, there are some great lessons to be learned from the girl's antics and misunderstandings. Plus, the book's price is perfect for family's on a budget. I'd recommend this book for that inquisitive child.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Roundtable Reviews wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Because I have a full house with both kids and my husband off, posts for the next week will be sporadic. We'll be cozying up for family time and getting some baking done for the start to the holiday season.

If you want a fun activity to do with the kids, I usually start a week before Thanksgiving and put together some homemade sourdough starter. It's simple to do and kids love to watch the progress from day to day.

4 cups water
2 tsp yeast
1 tbsp sugar
4 cups flour

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in lukewarm water for five minutes. Use a glass or ceramic bowl, metal and plastic generally create off tastes. Stir in the flour and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Put it in an out of the way spot and let it sit for two days.

After two days, stir it up and smell it for the desired level of sourness. Once it has reached that point, jar it up and put it in the fridge. I tend to refrigerate mine when it smells like apple cider vinegar (three days in my house.)

You can use the starter in any bread recipe. I have a tried and true roll recipe that takes little time and requires no kneading. If interested, go ahead and drop me a quick email.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Love Christmas (Picture Book)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Ollie loves everything about Christmas. He loves the crinkly paper, tinsel and string. He loves making ornaments that glitter and helping his Nanna bake the Christmas cake.

"I love stars in the sky, and joyful angels dancing by. I love to sing about Santa - he's coming tonight! I love to watch the twinkly Christmas light," says Ollie as he gazes at the family's nicely decorated Christmas tree.

But, best of all, Ollie tells us he enjoys sitting on his bed with Fred, his spotted dog, listening for Santa's sleigh bells.

This simple holiday picture book featuring what appears to be a stuffed animal of some kind (Ollie is rather chunky and has horizontal. gray stripes all over his body) will appeal to preschoolers who will want to add their own ideas about what makes the holidays so special.

As you read this story aloud, be sure to ask your child what he or she loves about Christmas. If the youngster needs a little prodding, ask, "What kind of Christmas cookies do you like?" or "What are your favorite ornaments?" Once your little one gets into the "spirit of the story", you will have turned a passive experience into one that engages the child and gets him or her thinking.

By adding his or her "likes", the text is greatly expanded and this becomes a very enjoyable bedtime read.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Free E-Book

New H1N1 Children’s Book Available as Free Download

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Nov. 17, 2009 – Educators, parents, and book lovers can get a free, exclusive look at a brand-new middle grade novel, Finn Reeder, Flu Fighter. Starting today, Stone Arch Books, a children's fiction publisher, has made the book available as a free download on its website The book will be released in hardcover as part of Stone Arch’s spring 2010 collection in January. Stone Arch Books is an imprint of Capstone Publishers.

In Finn Reeder, Flu Fighter, 13-year old Finn is assigned to keep a journal for his English class. Little does he know that his journal will turn into a record of a major flu pandemic. Somehow, he survives infection, and as his school population dwindles, Finn faces down the school bully, draws comics, catches the principal ordering pizza, endures a string of bizarre substitute teachers, and even manages to study once in a while. By the time the month is over, he’s made it through the epidemic, gotten vaccinated, played the world’s strangest game of solo dodge ball, and – if he plays his cards right -- might even have found himself a girlfriend.

“Kids are curious and have real questions about H1N1. Our realistic and humorous story talks about the pandemic in a fresh new way, explaining the virus on a level kids can relate to and understand. It gives them facts without adding to their fears,” said Joan Berge, President of Capstone Publishers Fiction.

The book’s backmatter includes a glossary, further discussion questions, tips for staying healthy, and author and illustrator information. The free download offer is available until January 1, 2010, at Customers downloading the book can also register to receive 10% off of the hardcover edition once it’s available in January.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mickey Saves Santa (Picture Book)

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Mickey and his buddies are planning a sleepover at the clubhouse on Christmas Eve. Excited about Santa's visit, Goofy, Daisy, Pluto, Donald, Minnie and Mickey are in for a nasty surprise. Mrs. Claus arrives on the back of a reindeer with terrible news.

Santa's sleigh has been disabled and he's stuck on Mistletoe Mount. Mickey, Donald and Toodles take to the air in the Toon Plane to find Santa and help him fix his sleigh. Fortunately, it is Toodles, with his collection of handy tools that saves Christmas Eve and gets Santa back in the air again.

This inexpensive paperback also comes with 25 stickers which can be used to decorate the two punchout ornaments that can be found on the story's final page. Since the stickers are a potential choking hazard, be sure they do not go into the mouths of any youngsters!

Appropriate for children three years of age and older, this Mickey Mouse Clubhouse edition isn't great literature, but the Disney favorites still manage to delight little children with their silly antics. Mickey and the gang continue to be characters that one generation after another wants to read about.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dreamdark: Blackbringer (Young Adult)

Released May 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I'll start by saying that I do not mean the next line to be negative in any way. DREAMDARK: BLACKBRINGER is a fairy tale on steroids. Many aspects of the book remind me of a classic fairy tale, good versus evil, monsters lurking in unknown places waiting to pounce and a heroine, complete with flaws, doing everything she can to save those she loves and come to terms with a changing environment.

If you have a child that enjoys Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings movies, this might be a series worth purchasing. I have a feeling many kids who enjoy that style of fantasy will love this book.

The faerie Magpie Windwitch is unlike other faeries who hide out in the safety of the forest living peaceful lives. Magpie searches the world for dangerous snags, devils who've managed to escape their confinement and are wreaking havoc on man. Magpie travels by crow and fulfills her role happily, acting like her hero, another mighty hunter named Bellatrix who existed 25,000 years ago.

It's Magpie's latest hunt that has her a little shaky. Landing on a vacated boat, Magpie finds no signs of life. She soon learns that one of seven elementals, djinns that vanished 4,000 years ago, has been extinguished permanently. An evil force is on the hunt and it will take everything Magpie has to defeat her enemy and find the missing elementals before it's too late.

Anyone thinking faeries are girly little creatures will need to rethink things. Magpie is as tough as they come. The narrative, characters and dialogue lured me in and held me entranced until the final page. Best of all, this is only the beginning. More Dreamdark books are in the works, including Silksinger (released in September.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oscar and the Snail (Picture Book)

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Oscar is one very curious kitten and he is filled with questions about all the things he sees outside in the garden. Luckily, Snail has the answers to Oscar's questions.

Whether it is what birds construct their nests from, why a feather floats on water and a rock sinks, or how glass for a greenhouse is made, Snail is able to handle each and every one of the curious kitty's queries.

Part of the Start with Science series of books, "Oscar and the Snail" has a reinforced binding that will stand up to the heavy wear youngsters four and older will give it. Preschoolers will discover why we select specific materials to do different jobs, where materials come from and what useful qualities they have.

This is an excellent series that introduces children to core science concepts through engaging stories, fresh illustrations and supplemental activities. More than just a read aloud book, the author also challenges the
child (and his or her parents) to find some special materials on their next outdoor outing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Capstone Press Books Rank #1 With Struggling Readers

Renaissance Learning Report Reveals Student Reading Habits

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Nov. 10, 2009 – Renaissance LearningTM has published the results of a national survey on the reading habits of more than 4.6 million students in grades 1-12. “What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools,” reports titles from Capstone Press, publisher of accessible, innovative children’s nonfiction for beginning, struggling, and reluctant preK-8 readers, are among the most read books by struggling readers.

Of the top 20 high/low books read by more than 20,000 students in grades 4-5, all 20 titles are published by Capstone Press. Titles on the list are from Capstone’s popular Horsepower and U.S. Armed Forces series, both part of its Blazers brand of books. Reviewers have praised Horsepower for “targeting those students struggling with reading and needing stimulating material,” and writing that “the text will challenge struggling readers, but the brightly colored action photographs will hold their interest and encourage them to continue,” (Library Media Connection).

“We’re excited to see that more than 20,000 struggling 4th and 5th graders are actively reading. The fact that all of the books on their top 20 list are published by Capstone Press is a tremendous bonus,” said Matt Keller, President of Capstone Publishers Nonfiction. “We have a long history in publishing cutting-edge high-interest, low-reading leveled nonfiction to motivate and excite struggling and reluctant readers. It’s where our company began, and continues to focus on, most recently with the launch of our newest brand Velocity for middle school reluctant readers.”

Seven Capstone Press titles from the Horsepower series also appeared on the top 20 high/low book list for grades 6-8, and Capstone’s Deer Hunting title, from its Great Outdoors series, was ranked as the 10th most popular nonfiction title overall among 8th grade boys.

Renaissance Learning captured the data for its survey during the 2008-09 school year from more than 15, 000 schools nationwide through its popular reading software Accelerated ReaderTM. The full report is available at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trucktown: Kat's Mystery Gift (Picture Book)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Another in the Trucktown series of ready-to-read books, this level one
story centers on a surprise awaiting Kat, the road grader. Kat finds a gaily wrapped box outside her garage. Gabby, Rosie, Pete and the rest of the gang wonder what could possibly be in the large box.

Perhaps it is a new horn or new tires. Pat the fire truck thinks it might be a siren or flashing red lights because that's what he'd love to have. All Kat replies is, "Could be!" With everyone urging her to open the box to see what is inside, Kat feels a lot of peer pressure.

Does she finally open it? Perhaps the box's content remains a mystery forever. Perhaps it doesn't. You'll have to read the story to find out.

Frankly, there isn't much to this little book other than the colorful illustrations of various vehicles. The beginning reader is offered the opportunity to exercise both his beginning reading skills and his imagination. Unfortunately, I have a feeling most children won't be too excited about the story's final outcome.

On the plus side, this book does feature the right sentence length and vocabulary for a child who wants to "do it himself" and begin reading simple stories aloud. The fact that the content is rather "lame" perhaps isn't a deal-breaker since this paperback retails for under $5 dollars. For the price of a good cup of coffee you can steer your little trucker down the road to literacy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book News: Laini Taylor

Some great news for Laini Taylor: Her short-story collection Lips Touch is a finalist for the National Book Award (winner to be announced November 18)—in addition to starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and being named a PW Best Children’s Book of 2009.

Watch for upcoming reviews of Dreamdark: Blackbringer and Dreamdark: Silksinger.

Laini Taylor Books

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thumbelina (Picture Book)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Brian Alderson revisits Hans Christian Andersen's classic story as he retells the misadventures of a diminutive little girl who encounters some kind and not so kind creatures who make big plans for her future.

First, Mrs. Toad tries to kidnap Thumbelina so she can wed the girl to her precious son Toadikins, but the girl escapes with the help of some friendly fish. Then, she is captured by a maybug but the insect eventually sets Thumbelina free.

When Mrs. Fieldmouse enters the child's life it seems to be an improvement. But initial appearances can be deceiving, as we discover when
it becomes clear Mrs. Fieldmouse wants to marry off Thumbelina to a pompous, old mole.

Fortunately, a swallow intervenes on her wedding day and whisks the blond haired girl away and takes her to be with her "own kind" - a band of Crystal Fairies.

Combined with some beautiful illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, this new version of the Andersen story will introduce a whole new generation of youngsters to the famous tale of a girl no bigger than your thumb.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ruined (Young Adult)

Released August 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

In RUINED, Paula Morris uses the sultry setting of New Orleans to create a dynamic ghost story/mystery. Fifteen-year-old Rebecca Brown is sent to live with her Aunt Claudia while her father attends a business trip in Asia.

Being uprooted is never fun, but Rebecca's life is made harder by her aunt's strict rules, particularly one banning her from a local cemetery where many local teens hang out. Disobeying her aunt's orders, Rebecca sneaks out one night and finds herself face to face with a mysterious young woman, Lisette, the ghost of a teen who bonds quickly with Rebecca.

What Rebecca doesn't know is that her ties with the ghost are going to lead her to discover answers about why Lisette still roams the earn and things about herself she never would have realized.

While the reader has a tad more information going into the story than Rebecca does, I think most teens will be swept up in the resolution to the mystery. I had part of it figured out early on, but I also read dozens of mysteries every year. Some might pick up on subtle hints, but the outcome is still mesmerizing, even if you do have it figured out.

RUINED has a steady pace and keeps the reader hooked. The ended was a little overdramatic for my liking, but teens may get more from it than I did. Otherwise, I'd highly recommend this book.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Delays to Postings

It's a shortened school week here due to Parent/Teacher conferences. With that, I'm not home alone and that usually messes my schedule up.

Plus, we received a new gadget for our TV and given the cold, snowy/rainy weather, it's been harder to get outside. Instead, we've been cozying up and watching old movies.

If you haven't heard of the Roku player, it's something to watch for. To cut our budget, we dropped down to only local channels on Satellite. We live in an area where TV reception is horrible, even with an antenna, so to get local news/tv stations, satellite or cable is a must. After we dropped down to the bare minimum, we'd watch our favorite shows through Netflix's instant watch.

The Roku player is a device that hooks to your TV, links to your Internet and then taps into your Netflix account allowing you to watch any of their Watch It Now movies and shows on your TV.

It's not cheap, but those with a PS3, Xbox 360 or who want to pay the $100 to get the Roku box and already have a Netflix account are all set. We've all become hooked to a British TV show, The IT Crowd and have been catching up on all the episodes.

With Christmas around the corner, the Roku Box might be worth watching for.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

National Panel of Classroom Teachers Recognizes Capstone Publishers’ Products With Three Awards

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Nov. 2, 2009 – Three Capstone Publishers’ products have been selected by a national panel of teachers as top choices for use in the classroom. Products from the company’s Capstone Press imprint and Capstone Digital division are winners of Learning magazine’s 2010 Teachers’ Choice Awards, one of the most recognized and prestigious awards in the education market.

“We’re thrilled to receive this recognition for our innovative resources for student learning from teachers who evaluated our products in actual classroom environments. To receive three awards from this coveted panel is truly an honor,” said Matt Keller, President of Capstone Publishers Nonfiction.

Included among the Teachers’ Choice Awards for Children’s Books winners are Capstone Press’ Kids’ Translations and Sanitation Investigation series. Kids’ Translations translates important historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, into simple language kids can understand. The series recently received a top Editors Choice Award from Library Media Connection magazine, and the 2009 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers.

Sanitation Investigation introduces readers to the world of waste, from the history of the toilets to the mystery of tap water, and has been praised for its obvious kid appeal: “Kids will enjoy reading the truths of water and garbage in words they use every day,” (Library Media Connection) and “That’s so gross! children will be exclaiming when they investigate our sanitation system,” (Science & Children). The series was also a finalist for the 2009 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers.

PebbleGoTM was selected as a winner of the Teachers’ Choice Awards for the Classroom. The animal database for students in grades K-2 integrates content curriculum with early literacy and information literacy skills. Since its launch in early 2009, PebbleGo has received enthusiastic reviews, “deserves an A+ for breaking new ground,” (School Library Journal) and “delightful, well-designed, and well-thought-out resource for elementary education,” (MultiMedia & Internet @ Schools). PebbleGo was also named by Booklist as a Top 20 Best Bet for Student Researchers, and received a Highly Recommended starred review from Library Media Connection.

Teacher teams from across the United States judged the entries in classrooms, evaluating them on “quality, instructional value, ease of use, and innovation.” The Teachers’ Choice Awards is sponsored by Learning magazine, a publication of The Education Center, Inc.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bad Girls Don't Die (Teen)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I'll start by saying I'm psyched Katie Alender is making a series from this book. I'd only read a few pages before I was hopelessly hooked. After pushing aside any thoughts of Sunday housework, laundry and the likes, I sat down and let Alexis's story sweep me away.

Alexis does her best to fit in at high school, but it's hard with few friends. After the cheerleaders share a campaign on healthy living using pictures of various students in the school with captions detailing their bad eating habits, Alexis's best friend, a target of the cruelty, becomes humiliated and moves away. Now Alexis is completely alone, but all that will soon change.

Alexis's younger sister, Kasey, begins acting strangely. Soon Kasey's blue eyes turn green and she's not acting like herself. Alexis isn't sure what's going on, but soon must team up with the enemy, a head cheerleader who is convinced Kasey is possessed.

Toss in a bit of a blossoming romance between Alexis and one of the school's most popular guys. Alexis definitely has her hands full, especially if she's to keep her new friends safe.

BAD GIRL'S DON'T DIE is gripping. The haunting is spooky without being too scary for younger teens. Enjoyable characters, realistic high school problems and a charming setting help boost this book from being good to being a keeper.

Teens who like spooky stories will love this one. With a splash of romance to lighten the mood at key points, the author doesn't back down from the main story of ghosts and possessions.

I highly recommend Katie Alender's young adult novel and can't wait to read more!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Maisy's Street (Picture Book)

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

You are invited to spend some time in Maisy's neighborhood as you open this clever fold -out, accordion book that features many of the vivacious little, white mouse's best friends.

Every section of the sturdy board book also features a flip-open flap. For example, to find Cyril you'll have to open the front door of his blue house and inside the Candy Shop you'll discover a brown cat purchasing two lollipops.

The reader has two options for enjoying this novel picture book. He can either stretch all the pages out on the floor or a table or turn them as he would the individual pages of a regular book. With all the pages extended the book's length extends five feet!

Appropriate for youngsters two years of age and older, there's plenty to see on both sides of these colorful pages. You can visit the monkeys at the fire station, check out Dotty buying a birthday cake or see Doctor Duck working late at his office.

The Maisy books just keep on coming because preschoolers seem to not be able to get enough of the cute mouse and her zany adventures.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Crank (Teen Fiction)

Released June 2004

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

You know how you
stand and stand and stand
in line for the most
gigantic incredible roller
you've ever dared attempt.

Anticipation swelling,
minute by minute by minute,
you choose to wait even
longer, to ride in the front
and finally, it's your turn.

They buckle you in, lock the
safety bar with a jolting clunk!
Hook engaged, the chain jerks
you forward. You start to

Cresting the top, time
moves into overtime
as you wait for that scant
hesitation, just before you
knowing you can't turn back.

You know how you feel
at that instant? Well, that's
exactly how it feels when you
shake hands with the

CRANK uses poetry to tell the story of Kristina Snow. When her long-absent father wins a court appointed visit, Kristina travels from Reno to Albuquerque to spend weeks with a man she hasn't seen in eight years. Her mother, step-father, older sister and young brother see her off not knowing the visit will change their lives.

Kristina's father works when he wants to for a bowling alley where drugs are easy to come by, and he lives in a run down apartment complex teeming with the wrong types of people. After meeting an attractive young man, Kristina becomes bold, calling herself Bree, and enters into her first real relationship. One that introduces her to crystal meth. Her world spirals out of control from this point. Once back home, her addiction leads her to theft, the wrong crowd, date rape and an unwanted pregnancy.

The book is fictional but based on the author's personal experiences when her own daughter become a meth addict.

CRANK is told through poems that adeptly capture the life of an addict. My daughter and her friends raved over and I picked it up to see what the fuss was about. I was horrified and also delighted to hear my thirteen year old say the book scared her tremendously. That's the effect I'd hope it would have.

As a parent, I had a hard time believing the school never called to report Kristina's frequent ditching of classes, slip from being an straight A student to mostly Ds and such, but that might simply be the area. In our small town, the teachers are quick to email or call parents if the child's behavior changes drastically.

If you do choose to have your teen read CRANK, read it with them. Be aware of the signs of drug use and do whatever it takes to step in and get them help. This book may well help you recognize some of the signs.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Louise the Big Cheese: Divine Diva (Picture Book)

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Louise is a little girl with some very big ideas. Louise loves to be in the limelight. She enjoys people making a fuss over her and, most of all, she aspires to be a "big cheese"!

When her school was selecting the cast for "Cinderella", Louise and her best friend, Fern, tried out. "Dream Big! That's my motto," Louise told her friend. Convinced she would get the lead role, Louise was crushed when Fern was named Cinderella.

Quite unhappy with being cast as a lowly mouse, Louise stopped talking to her friend. But on the night of the performance guess who saves the play when Fern gets stage fright and forgets her closing lines? Yup, the little girl in the itchy gray mouse suit saves the show!

Elisa Primavera also includes a fun "Do You Have What It Takes to Make It on Broadway?" questionnaire at the end of the story. Like Louise, your youngster may not have "the right stuff" for a stage career, but no matter. As Louise discovers, there are more important things in life like friendship and perhaps other ways of reaching "Big Cheese" status.

Children four and older should enjoy this picture book and if they do, there will be a sequel out early in 2010 entitled"Louise the Big Cheese and the La-di-da Shoes". I have a feeling Louise's misadventures will be the subject of quite a few picture books in the years to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Freebies from Capstone Books

10 Free Books in Spring 2010!


Purchase $750 from any Capstone Publishers imprint (Capstone Press, Compass Point Books, Picture Window Books, or Stone Arch Books) and receive 10 Spring 2010 titles absolutely free!


Be the first in line for the hottest Spring 2010 titles from Capstone Publishers and stretch your budget at the same time!

Place your order for $750 or more and reference code 09WBSPRG. Capstone Publishers will automatically send you a fantastic selection of 10 brand new titles from their upcoming Spring 2010 collection (including student favorites from the You Choose Books and Claudia Cristina Cortez series) —absolutely free!—as soon as they are available. That’s 10 free books plus free shipping and processing!


Applies to orders placed by mail, fax, phone, e-mail, or through the websites.


Now! Offer expires December 31, 2009.


For more information on this promotion, and to see the selection of 10 free Spring 2010 titles, visit:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Picture Book)

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

First published in 1968, this wonderful classic is back in print just in time for the holidays. A whimsical story of an unexpected visitor who turns an afternoon tea into a very memorable event, this humorous tale begins with a knock on the door.

Sophie and her mother have just sat down at the table when a tiger, of all things, asks if he might join them since he's very hungry. Just how famished is their guest? Well, he devours virtually everything in the house!
In fact, when the little girl's father arrives home, there is nothing left for dinner.

Although he might be a tad skeptical about the events of the afternoon and why there's nothing to eat in the house, Sophie's father takes the family out to a restaurant for a lovely dinner. On the way home, they also stop at the grocery store to replenish their supply of food.

Sophie's mother also buys a very big tin of Tiger Food, just in case their polite but voracious guest ever returns for tea. But, surprisingly he never does!

With over two million copies in print, this Judith Kerr picture book has thrilled and delighted generations of youngsters ages three and older. If you haven't introduced your child or grandchild to Sophie and her very memorable guest, this might be a good time to do so. I guarantee this will become a family favorite for years to come.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cats (Non-Fiction)

Released July 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I adore cats. As I sit typing the review, I have Maine Coon brothers who haven't realized just how big they've gotten trying to sit on my shoulders but missing the mark because they're just about 2 1/2 feet long when stretched out and each weigh 20 pounds.

I grew up with a Siamese who shared my birthday and have owned a cat ever since. I can't stand being in a house without a cat looking for attention, love or simply running around like a crazed lunatic chasing reflections, toys or even flies. Cats amuse me and my interest certainly passed on to my children.

Some children love animals and those are the kids who will love the reissue of Alice Buckland's CATS. The reference book gives a detailed view into the history and origins of cats and the different breeds. Full color photographs of many breeds including American Shorthair, Burmese, Devon Rex, Maine Coon, Russian Blue and Siamese.

The book is set up so that any age will appreciate the photographs. Plus, for children opting to do a report on cats for science, the book serves as a suitable reference manual to the breeds, birthing process and more. Each breed has its own chapter filled with breed traits, coloring, behavior and personality.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ripley's Believe It Or Not (Non-Fiction)

Released October 2005

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Saturday's weather proved to be miserable, so my children pulled out a book we'd gotten a number of years ago for review for my former site and asked me to redo it. It's a book they love, even as they grow older, and still love to flip through from time to time.

RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! PLANET ECCENTRIC is full of the weird, unusual and downright hilarious. I think the hilarious stories of things people have done and probably should have thought twice about always crack me up. This includes the bank robber who gets away with his crime and then realizes he left his hold-up note with the teller and returns to the scene of the crime to retrieve it. Another funny story involves a group of Mexican criminals who dig a tunnel to flee captivity, but eventually come out in the middle of a courtroom where there is a current trial underway.

Also in the book are loads of photographs involving some pretty unusual things such as a daring man who does handstands in some pretty extreme locations, a wedding cake made completely from yarn, a man who eats metal instead of food or the man who can squirt milk from his tear ducts.

Those with weak stomachs or sensitivities to creepy crawlies may need to flip by pages. I have issues with the world's largest spider, shown in its actual size, and flip by that page in a rush. But the rest of the book is entertaining and even informative.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Powers (Young Adult)

Released December 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

In POWERS, a Gypsy named Mari is left alone in the world when her grandfather and close friend are killed by mysterious shadow people referred to as Mulo. For whatever reason, the evil Mulo want all members of the "Standing" dead. Mari's grandfather tells her to seek out another "Standing" member, a prophet named Jaazaniah, who calls himself Jazz. To find him, Mari must leave the shelter of the bayou woods she's grown up in. She's never left this wooded area and the city and outside world is extremely frightening to her.

Once she meets up with Jazz, she finds he barely believes her. He's lived for so long in the normal world that he has no sense of who he really is.

I have a feeling I missed a lot by not having read the first novel in this series, Shade, first. While I did find POWERS filled with action and intrigue, I never quite "got" who exactly the "Standing" were, the importance of them being buried standing up or why the authorities really wanted them dead. What I got from the novel is that the police and government were corrupt and the "Standing" were on the run from them.

Reviews on the back of the book state the book would suit fans of Harry Potter, Lost and Cloverfield. POWERS might be an adult book, but I think teens will find pleasure from the action and suspense. Given that it is a Christian novel, there is little violence and no sexual content.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Christmas Ideas for Children

As you prepare your Holiday Gift Guide, check out top picks from Chronicle Books 2009 Children’s Books.

Ivy & Bean: Doomed to Dance

By Annie Barrows

$14.99 – Hardcover

Ages 6 to 10

The eagerly-anticipated 6th book in the hit series by Annie Barrows. Ivy and Bean beg their mothers for ballet lessons, but soon discover they HATE ballet class. Can they figure out a way to get out of it, or are they Doomed to Dance?

Duck! Rabbit!

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Illustrated by Tom Litchenheld

$15.95 – Hardcover
Ages 3 and up

This New York Times Best-Seller will have readers young and old asking, is it a duck, or a rabbit?

The Little Books Boxed Set

Little Pea – Little Hoot – Little Oink

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Illustrated by Jen Corace

$19.99 – Boxed Boardbooks

Ages 3 and up

Three adorable characters in three adorable board books. These clever twists on dinnertime, bedtime and clean-up time will delight the little mess-makers.

Creature ABC

By Andrew Zuckerman

$19.99 – Hardcover

All ages

This deluxe alphabet book features 120 pages of renowned Andrew Zuckerman's breathtaking wildlife photography. From alligator to zebra,book-info/store,kids/products_id,8225/title,Creature-ABC/


Dinosaurs by Dennis Schatz

Vehicles by Ben Grossblatt

Wild Animals by Linda Falken

$29.99 each – Hardcover

Ages 4 and up

Stereobooks feature built-in stereo speakers, so readers feel surrounded by sound as they listen to the 15 action-packed scenes in each book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lost Worlds (Fantasy/Art)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Some may recognize the name John Howe, the concept artist for all three The Lord of the Rings movies. In LOST WORLDS, Howe matches his mesmerizing artwork with legendary worlds that may or may not have truly existed.

The book opens with a foreword by Sir Ian McKellen, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. Then the author introduces what I think is important for children to know: "History is not necessarily what happened but more often what someone said happened." If you asked two people to explain a historic event, you would get the same underlying story, but with different twists. I wish more history teachers looked at it this way instead of pushing their beliefs on their students.

LOST WORLDS includes 24 legendary locations, such as: Atlantis, Avalon, Babylon, Camelot, the Garden of Eden, Mount Olympus, Pompeii, Rapa Nui, Timbuktu, Thebes and Troy. Each location is detailed with sketches and colored drawings, as well as gripping narrative that middle readers will enjoy. They may need help pronouncing some of the location names, but the reading level should be on par with nine to twelve year olds.

I really enjoyed LOST WORLDS. If your child loves the the "Ologies" series (Wizardology, Dragonology, etc.), they will love John Howe's offering.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Warrior vs. Warrior (Non-fiction/Military)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Many children will be delighted to find WARRIOR VS. WARRIOR under the Christmas tree. The unique hardcover book has a split front cover that creates an arena like setting for the battles to be waged within. The book is a stunning non-fictional mix of military/war history and bright colorful photography that catches your eye.

In WARRIOR VS. WARRIOR, the authors and historians pit history's famous warriors against one another leading to who would have likely been the victor in each match. Information provided includes what the warrior wore, the weapons he/she used, foods eaten before a battle and a bit of history regarding the era they lived in. Warriors include:

1. Viking vs. Aztec
2. Samurai vs. Gladiator
3. Knight vs. Zulu
4. Ninja vs. Gladiatrix
5. Spartan vs. Mongol

The book ends with a glossary of terms and a final thought-provoking question: If you mixed up the matches, who do you think would win and why?

Any child with an interest in battle shows like Pokemon will love this book. Plus, they are going to learn about world history without even realizing it. Making it a great addition to a child who dislikes history lessons. To me, WARRIOR VS. WARRIOR is a keeper!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pigs Make Me Sneeze (Picture Book)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

The saga of Gerald, the elephant, and his good friend Piggie continues in this amusing series of picture books for children four years of age and older.

The bespectacled pachyderm is sneezing up a storm and he's convinced he is allergic to pigs. Since Gerald realizes if he wants to stop sneezing he can't be around his buddy, what's going to happen to their relationship?

Distraught by the ended friendship, Gerald tells Doctor Cat what the problem is. While the cat is diagnosing the situation, Gerald again starts sneezing. "Great. Now cats make me sneeze, too," he says.

Hold on a minute That's not really what is happening here! Doctor Cat's diagnosis is quite simple. It isn't an allergy to cats or pigs that is the problem. No! Gerald has a common, old fashioned cold!

When he rushes back to tell Piggie the good news that he only has a cold and they can still be friends, Piggie is less than thrilled. Guess who is sitting with a box of Kleenex blowing his nose because someone gave him a cold?

You have to love this award winning series. With his illustrations and brief text Mo Willems somehow manages to squeeze every bit of humor out of each situation these two friends find themselves in.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gigi God's Little Princess: Gigi and the Royal Circus (DVD)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Sheila Walsh's popular book character, Gigi, appears on several children's DVDs. The latest offering contains two cartoons: The Royal Pink Circus and The Princess Hair Do. The two cartoons take about 40 minutes, but the remainder of the DVD includes trivia, a read-along story, drawing tutorials and a singalong. There is also a DVD-ROM section that children can access on their home computer.

In The Royal Pink Circus, Gigi and her best friend Frances learn there is a circus coming to town. The girls are excited to go, but something happens and Gigi must decide what true friendship means.

The second cartoon, The Princess Hair Do, finds Gigi becoming infatuated with a real-life princess's short hair cut. When Gigi decides short hair would make her the prettiest princess ever, she grabs the scissors. Gigi quickly learns that a hair cut is not the key to true beauty.

The Gigi videos are girly with bright and muted tones of pink (Gigi's favorite color) being clearly apparent throughout the DVD. The stories are great and provide a strong message for the younger crowd.

There were two points that hit me as being items some Christian families would disagree with. I loves cats and have raised my children to be respectful of both people and animals. I found myself concerned that Gigi's poor cat kept getting hit in the head with tennis balls and juggling balls and no one apologized for the accidental head bonks or even took the time to make sure he was okay. Minor point, but in my house if a cat is accidentally stepped on, hit or whatever, my kids know that they should apologize and comfort the cats.

My other concern, again somewhat minor, is one scene Gigi is imagining tigers at a beauty salon getting their fur dyed pink. Everyone in that salon was gossiping. I know many families where gossiping is considered a hurtful act that children should not take part in.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (Young Adult)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The third installment of Marilyn Kaye's Gifted Series features Emily. Emily is another student in the mysterious Gifted class where teens learn how to use and control their "gifts." Emily's gift involves seeing into the future.

Emily awakens one morning and has a vision that one of the students in her Gifted class will not show up for school. When he doesn't show, Emily and her friends become concerned. As more classmates disappear, Emily realizes she must learn to control her visions if she is to uncover the truth about their disappearances.

If you've been following the series, you'll enjoy this latest edition. Readers discover a tidbit more about Carter and Charles and Martin play more prominent roles in this latest too.

Readers new to the series will not feel out of place. The past stories are quickly recapped to prevent confusion, but once you've learned about the teens and their abilities, you'll want to keep reading. I recommend getting all three novels and catching up.

Ken's story is next. He's one of the characters I've been eager to read more about, so I can't wait for spring of 2010!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stagecoach Sal (Picture Book)

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This story features a young, feisty frontier girl named Sal who enjoys being outdoors, making music and riding horses. But, most of all, Sal loves driving her father's mail stagecoach. One day the young girl's father is unable to make his usual Northern California run and Sal begs to take the coach in his place.

"Don't you worry, Pa," she says. "I'll get the mail from Ukiah to Willits on time." With some reservations her father agrees and Sal is off on her wonderful adventure. Along the route, though, Sal encounters Poetic Pete, a well know but polite stagecoach robber.

The wily young girl not only tricks Pete into riding "shotgun" with her for part of the journey but when the crook falls asleep she handcuffs him. The hero (or heroine) of the hour, Sal takes the rhyming robber right to the jail when she reaches her destination and becomes a local celebrity.

Based on the life of Delia Haskett Rawson, reputedly the only woman to carry the U.S. mail by stagecoach in California in the 1800s, this picture book is passable but the one-dimension illustrations with their washed out color won't excite too many readers.

The text is augmented by the lyrics from various western ballads since Sal likes to sing when she is out on the road. Although the musical stage driver is able to sing Poetic Pete to sleep don't count on the same results with your little ones.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hermie and Friends: The Flo Show Creates a Buzz

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I grew up in a household where The Carol Burnett Show was a weekly fixture. Knowing this, I've always appreciated Max Lucado's popular children's DVD series, Hermie & Friends, because Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence provide the voices for two main characters. They bring life to Hermie and Flo making them enjoyable, quirky characters.

In THE FLO SHOW CREATES A BUZZ, Flo lands her own television show, but things don't go as easily as planned. She responsible for choosing her guests, her outfits and her question list, but never takes time to consider how the other people will feel. As a result, Flo winds up insulting all of her guests.

Now that she has hurt their feelings, she must apologize and that isn't much easier.

THE FLO SHOW CREATES A BUZZ is a delightful DVD with a strong Christian message about asking for forgiveness and being forgiven. Children will learn a lot from this new Hermie & Friends DVD.

Amazon is not listing the DVD for sale yet, they only have the book and even then it says unavailable. You can, however, purchase the DVD at Barnes & Noble and other retailers.