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.”

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mama Loves Her Little Son (Picture Book)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

It is not often a children's author shares the inspiration for a book, but John Carter Cash is very forthcoming about where the idea originated for this work.

"When I was just a small boy, my mother would say to me, 'Momma loves her little son.' She often recalled to me how one day I turned to her and said, 'Son loves his little momma,'" Cash writes. "This is a book about a mother's unconditional love for her son, and of the common dreams they may share within that love. This love is the safest and most certain thing I have found in life. And from it comes an abundant beauty…"

The son of country music legends June Carter and Johnny Cash, the author is a five time Grammy winner for his work as a music producer. He also wrote a book about his mother entitled, "Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash", but this is his first foray into children's literature.

A mother's love knows no bounds and that central idea is underscored throughout this book in various ways. A mother's love is a strong as a great oak, as bright as a rainbow, as tough as a rhino's hide and as tall as a mountain. A mother will sing to her child, hold him "safe and tight" and each day her loves grows more and more.

At times the rhymed text of this tribute to the bond between a mother and son is a little forced and clumsy, but, as we often say, "It is the thought that counts!" The sentiment is sincere and the illustrations by Marc Burckhardt capture the warm feelings John Carter Cash is trying to evoke. So, all in all, this is a nicely executed picture book that mothers and their children can enjoy reading aloud together.

How to Buy a Love of Reading (Teen)

Released May 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The formation of HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING links back to a discussion between the author and one of her students who'd never "read any book she liked." The author sets high expectations by stating she wanted to "write a book that a girl like that would like." I actually understand where the female student is coming from. In middle school, I loved reading. I always had Lois Duncan in my backpack. In high school, teachers deemed books of that nature as juvenile and mandatory reading assignments began. Three years running, I was assigned Romeo and Juliet. Rarely did I like anything we were told to read. In the end, I spent high school avoiding books. Today, I read at least two books per week. There's something to be said about free choice.

In HOW TO BUY A LOVE OF READING, the author taps into a Gossip Girl world. Carley Wells lives in Long Island. She's overweight, much to her size double-zero mother's dismay; is in love with her best friend, Hunter, of many years; and is generally accepted into the elite world of Long Island's Fox Glen because her father is the famous inventor of the Marvel-Bra entitling them to impressive wealth.

Carley's parents, like many of the other Fox Glen parents, are clueless at parenting. Between Carley's mother's snide comments about her fat daughter and her father's ignorance into the pain Carley endures because of those comments, Carley's sole support comes from Hunter, who is addicted to booze, Vicodin and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hunter's passion for literature is lost on Carley. In fact, Carley writes for a school assignment asking about her favorite book that she's "never met one she liked." In an artsy community that one comment is concerning to her parents. For Carley's 16th birthday, they hire a novelist to write a story Carley will adore.

While I have my dreams of wealth, every time I read a book about the wealthy, I start to wonder if they really are that shallow. Honestly, I pitied Carley and hated most of the remaining characters. It's hard to enjoy a book when the characters turn you off. Hunter's mother leads the pack because she's a vapid airhead who should have recognized the trouble her son was in. When he's sober, which isn't often, Hunter had tremendous potential. I'd hoped for a more satisfying ending, but I guess what's done is done.

This leads me to wonder if teens will like this book. It does have that Gossip Girl appeal, but the vocabulary is better and it gives insight into the structure of a novel. But, I'm not sure the average teen really cares about the formation of a book. It comes off, at times, as a writing lesson defeating the entertainment value. Yet, I still found myself intrigued to see where the story would go.

The book is being marketed as teen fiction. Parents should note drugs, sex and alcohol are prominent features in the book just as they are in life. Some parents try to keep their children from reading certain material, a practice with which I disagree. I do recommend reading the book with your teen and being ready to use the material as an opportunity to have a candid discussion on issues that teens face.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Boomtown: Book One-Chang's Fireworks Factory (Juvenile)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

For all intents and purposes, BOOMTOWN is a Christian juvenile fiction novel, though links to Christianity and religion were few and far between. The only reason I knew it was a Christian novel is because it is published by Thomas Nelson.

BOOMTOWN introduces the Button family. After Reverend Arthur Button takes a job as the new pastor at Boomtown Church, they discover life in California may not have been as crazy as they thought. Boomtown's residents are a touch beyond wacky and their habits are strange to say the least. Home to Chang's Fireworks Factory, welcome gifts include high-powered fireworks and blowing things up is an honorable tradition.

Reverend Button soon discovers that the 24 previous pastors in this town disappeared or die unexpectedly. This certainly makes him uneasy. But there is no time to worry, things are vanishing in the town, including the Button's lawnmower, and Reverend Button is asked by the town sheriff to help unravel this mystery.

BOOMTOWN is a very whimsical and unusual read. However, I found the story skipped around too much for me to truly enjoy. After learning how pastors died or disappeared, that part of the storyline is virtually ignored for the mystery of the disappearing items. Even then, the mystery itself played second fiddle to the odd characters and townspeople's traditions like the 8th grade class's annual "blow up Santa" holiday contest or the evenings spent setting off fireworks down by the river.

Perhaps the author was setting the stage for books to come. I'm really not sure. All in all, I did find the book amusing, but never truly became attached to the Button family. It is set in the 1940s, times were different, so you have to deal with Mrs. Button always calling her husband "Mr. Button," something that I simply find annoying. You also have to deal with the fact that the story is told from Reverend Button's perspective, and as a forty-something his perspective doesn't come across as youthful or fresh, it's actually quite rigid and serious.

For this reason, I'm not sure if the intended audience, 9 to 12 year olds, will be as fascinated with the book as they could had the story been told from either of the two younger children's point of view.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fish and Sphinx (Juvenile)

Released on April 2008

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The third novel in Rae Bridgman's MiddleGate series finds cousins Wil and Sophie returning to their second year of wizardry/magic school. Readers of this series know that Wil and Sophie always get drawn into a mystery, and this time is no different.

The school year starts with a project that plays a part on leading Wil and Sophie into their latest mystery. When the cousins see fish appearing on Wil's medallion and on various objects in the academy and around town, they stumble upon a plot to overthrow the Palace of the Blazing Star. This time they'll be aided, though in a vague manner, by a mysterious homeless woman who happens to be a catfish. As she delivers clues in the form of riddles and unusual lyrics, Wil and Sophie do all they can to make sense of her words and keep their town safe from the evil society known as the Serpent's Chain.

Don't worry if you've missed the other books in this series, FISH AND SPHINX works well as a standalone novel. You can go back and catch up on Wil's story by reading the previous two novels, however.

FISH AND SPHINX takes place throughout MiddleGate, which appeals to me because snippets in the school remind me a lot of the Harry Potter story. I find that my mind focuses on comparisons to the Potter series, so having the setting switched around from time to time helped keep my focus on this story.

I loved the second novel in this series and expected something along those lines again. For me, FISH AND SPHINX seemed harder to follow. I'm really not sure why, but my attention wandered and I'd have to stop reading and start back up flipping back a few pages to refresh myself with what happened. I think part of my problem lies with Sophie's backstory. Her father disappeared after being accused of murder. I'm tired of waiting and want to see that decade old mystery tackled in more depth.

I loved the appearance of Catfysh, and I still love the Latin phrases at the beginning of each chapter. It does appear that the fourth book in this series will find the kids traveling to Iceland with their aunts. I'm excited to see where things will go when they leave MiddleGate.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Mythology Handbook (Juvenile)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This interactive workbook has it all - the heroes, gods, and monsters that have made Greek mythology a fascinating subject for both children and adults of all ages.

Filled with facts and curious stories plus plenty of engaging flaps, maps, stickers, hero and monster cards, and fact files on a whole range of mythological creatures, this devilishly clever chapter book will keep the user busy hours.

Paging through this well illustrated handbook you'll learn who never leaves Olympus without his winged sandals, how to can keep the hydra from growing more heads and who Nike was before she became the inspiration for a whole line of running shoes.

An excellent way to pique a youngster's curiosity about Greek myth and history, after spending time with "The Mythology Handbook" your child may wish to move on to more detailed and challenging volumes that deal with the same subject matter.

Someone Walks By: The Wonders of Winter Wildlife (Picture Book)

Released October 30, 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

The forest is alive and in and around and on top of the snow creatures are walking by. The rabbit hops through the deep snow, the otter makes his way carefully across the icy stream, and the red squirrel keeps a careful watch to see who will amble by next. There are many creatures hiding in the forest and no one could be certain of who would be walking by soon. Would the mother bear snuggling together asleep with her cubs in their den be next? Other snuggly creatures are in the forest too!

“Secure deep within the rock,
in a thin and perfect cave,
little brown bat and friends
snuggle and shiver together
in their winter sleep.”

Polly Carlson-Voiles, a very talented collagist, brings winter forest life to life in this book. A little splash of watercolor to the collage is a marvelous touch to the art work. The storyline is very poetic and soothing. There is a large array of animals for children to look at and learn about and there is an “amazing fact” page in the back talking about animals who share a winter habitat and how they survive and thrive. Do I hear a rave squawking at us? “Kruk, Tok! Someone’s coming. Take care!”

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Sandman (Picture Book)

Released May 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Tor was a teensy tiny man only a few inches tall, but he had a big time problem that many people have. He couldn’t sleep at night because his head was full of everything except dreams. He tried all the usual sorts of things to get to sleep and things like counting stars, drinking warm water and taking hot baths. Ugh! Nothing worked for him.

One day when Tor was walking in the forest, he found an unusual thing, a dragon’s scale. When he was smoothing off the sharp edges, he became so tired he fell asleep on his workshop floor. There must have been something magical about the dust the scale created! He began to go to houses where children were and sprinkled some of his sand in their eyes. Tor, the Sandman, soon ran out of his magical dust. He was just going to have to find that dragon because there are lots of little boys and girls who needed a visit from him!

The story is whimsical and imaginative and will entrance your sleepy headed children. Richard Cowdrey’s art work is always stunning is no exception in this book, especially his two-page rendition of the dragon. This is a cuddle up, bedtime story you’re going to love!

She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer (Juvenile)

Released February 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Laura was a sickly baby born to Harmony and Daniel Bridgman, but they didn’t seek out a doctor’s help because that just wasn’t done in1829. People didn’t trust doctors and to have to pay only added insult to injury. When she was an infant, she had “fits,” but these disappeared when she was almost two-years-old, but a few months later scarlet fever took the life of her two sisters, her own hearing and eyesight. She would later remember that horrible time, yet would relish the visual imagery of what came before.

She was inquisitive and quite smart. Her mother taught her to do many household chores and learned to sew and knit. “It was as if her hands and fingers could see.” Communication was quite another matter and she had very few means at her disposal other than pushing, pulling, patting and asking for a drink by putting her hand to her lips. A letter placed in a newspaper by Dr. Reuben Mussey describing Laura brought unexpected help. Samuel Gridley Howe came to Etna, New Hampshire to take her to Perkins School for the Blind where she would begin a new life, one that would astound the world.

This is a very thoughtful and carefully written biography. In recent years more people are becoming aware that there was a young woman before Helen Keller who was equally famous in her day, one of whom more children need to be made aware of. There are numerous photographs, source notes, a bibliography, an index and additional recommended websites listed in the back. This light, airy and well-done biography of Laura Bridgman is a winner!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Face to Face with Lions (Juvenile)

Released February 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

If you took a poll and asked kids if they’d like to have a lion cub as a pet, probably most of them would say yes, but it’s out of the question because lions are dangerous! Beverly and Dereck Joubert could attest to that. They’ve spent a long time photographing, studying them and “trying to steer clear of their teeth.” One time they thought they were going to be lunch when a male charged them. It was quite a scare, but they stood their ground and got a good look at those fangs.

In this book you will learn many interesting facts about lions (scientifically known as Panthera Leo), some you may take pride in already knowing, others you might say, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” Did you know that “females seem to prefer males with darker, longer manes?” Did you know that when someone shoots a male lion as many as thirty other lions can die? You’ll learn these and many other odd facts like how to keep a lion from eating you up, how to live with them, how to track them and an assortment other “wow” facts.

The photography in the book is wild, free and the story is captivating. This is the perfect book for the animal lover to immerse himself in. In the back of the book there are suggestions as to how kids can help in conservation efforts, a “Facts at A Glance” section, a glossary, index and recommended book, article and web sites. Did you know that the skinny, ugly old hyena can scare a lion? Wow!

Mommy Do You Love Me? (Picture Book)

Released March 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

The little playful chick wanted to know if his mother loved him. “Mommy, do you love me? Of course she loved him more that anything and kiss, kiss . . . she showed him. The little chick got into all kinds of mischief in order to test his mother’s love. She loved him when he made faces. She loved him when he jumped in muddy puddles. She even loved him when he lost a race to the ducklings. He could be so silly at times!

Then one day when he was shouting up a storm that tried his Mommy’s patience and she yelled at him. LOUD! He was all upset because she never did anything like that before. Maybe that was it and she really didn’t love him anymore. He was so upset he almost cried, but then something she said made him feel better. “Little Chick,” she said, “sometimes you make me mad, and sometimes you make me sad, but not matter what you say or do, I will always love you.” Mommies always love their little children no matter what, don’t they?

This is a lovely tale of the enduring love a mother has for her child despite any and all circumstances. This is a charming tale that will be read time and time in again to all kinds of children, good and bad, just to let them know that their Mommy loves them, even if they can be little imps and mischief makers at times!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Song for Cambodia (Picture Book)

Released on March 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Arn was a young eight-year-old boy who lived in a Cambodian village with his eleven brothers and sisters, his grandparents and of course his mother and father. It was a very happy home with lots of music and laughter. In 1975, the music seemed to stop when the Khmer Rouge (“Red Khmers”) wreaked havoc across the countryside. Arn and his family became very frightened.

One day the soldiers came and brutally separated the family. Arn would never see his mother again after the family was separated to go to work camps. It was a horrible time for the children in his camp. They worked so hard, but they still were starving. “If they were lucky, the children caught dragonflies, beetles, or grubs to eat.” The music in his soul might save him, but how?

This is the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond. It is heartbreaking, heartwarming and inspirational somehow all rolled into one. According to Arn, “Everyone has good and bad within them. It is up to us to decide how to live. You can literally change the world.” I believe you can.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau (Non-Fiction)

Released on April 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Jacques was a boy who always was fascinated by the wonders of water. Once he read about a man who survived underwater by breathing through a tube, but when he tried it, the experiment was a flop. He was always experimenting with one thing or another and his curiosity was insatiable. Another thing that held great fascination for him was movies and how they were made. He saved up his money and bought a camera.

When he grew up he joined the French Navy and began to see some of the oceanic wonders of the world. This was a world that he would one day capture on film and make him famous, but first he had to figure out how to be able to go beneath the surface of the water for extended periods of time. It was then he invented the aqualung. Later he acquired the Calypso, an old warship and outfitted it for his purpose. Underneath the seas he began to see how people were destroying their environment. What do you suppose he did with that camera and the Calypso? Perhaps you already know the end of this story!

Each page in this book is fully encompassed in the atmosphere of the sea with full color illustrations and a complimentary, enthusiastic story. One pull out page almost makes the reader feel as if he is going into the depths of the ocean along with Cousteau and crew. Manfish brings the world of oceanography and environmental concerns, his passions, into the light once again.

Snow (Juvenile)

Released November 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

There are all kinds of snow. There is the kind snow that “comes softly in the night.” swirling outside in the night until the little children wake up to visit with it. There is the kind that “begins to fall in fat, cheerful flakes” whenever you’d rather be out in it instead of where you are. Snow is beautiful and it swirls in all different kinds of ways and times for every child to enjoy. Some snows are heavy, while others just flutter to the ground.

“Children love snow
better than anyone does,
and they never complain
as they pull on their
red boots and mittens
and make plans
to catch
wet flakes
on their tongues.”

The collaboration between the author and the illustrator in Snow is perfect. The words and illustrations mesh exceedingly well and the joy of falling snow is almost palpable. The art work is beautiful and busy and even the very young child will enjoy this book without knowing how to read. This is a great book for all the little snow bunnies out there!

Corn (Picture Book)

Released on July 2009 (Re-issue)

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

When you go to the gas station have you ever noticed a little sign that tells you that your gas has something called ethanol in it? Some of it is made from corn of all things. Of course you know about corn on the cob, canned corn, popcorn, corn oil and corn muffins, but there are many products you might not ever suspect they had corn in them. For example corn can be found in medicine, jams and jellies, paper products, glue, soap and fruit drinks. Hey, corn is a vegetable, not a fruit!

In this book we find out all about the history of corn (called maize by the native peoples of Mexico and Central America), the names of the parts of a corn plant, the different types of corn, their uses, planting and harvesting of the corn crop and its many uses. And, as many of us know, “corn can also be nutritious and delicious.”

I haven’t met a Gail Gibbons book that hasn’t been colorful and charming, to say nothing of informative. Even the reluctant reader will enjoy reading the text and poring over the busy art work. In the back of the book there are additional corn facts. Gee whiz . . . I didn’t know that there are usually about 800 kernels in a corn cob!

Our Three Bears (Non-Fiction)

Released October 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Bears are very exciting animals to watch, but not up close! Three of the more interesting bears in North America are the black bear, the grizzly bear and the polar bear. Some children have been lucky enough to see one or more of these animals in the wild, but most have probably seen them only in zoos, on television or in wonderful books like this one.

The most common of the three, the black bear, can’t see very well, but if you have food hanging around he’s sure to find it by smelling it out. These are the bears that campers really want to keep at watchful eye out for. The Grizzly bear, or Alaskan brown bear, can stand ten feet tall and is a very heavy bear. He’s the one that even the black bear will consider running from. Polar bears are strong swimmers and are the “largest land predators on earth.” Do you know which of the three bears likes to play fight? Which one often takes naps all afternoon? Do you know which one climbs trees easily? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

The photographs and text mesh beautifully. Often there are several sharp, interesting photographs on each page. There are “bear facts” scattered throughout the text, and several recommended web sites and books listed in the back. This is a book that children will love to read and one that will “bearly” stay on the shelves for any period of time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sarah Laughs (Picture Book)

Released February 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Sarah lived in Ur thousands of years ago. Sarah, whose name means “princess,” was a lively person who drew everyone to her with her smile and laughter. Happy people always draw others to them, don’t they? When she grew up she met a very religious man named Abraham. They married because she knew he was a special man. They only worshiped one God, not idols like many others and they sought to teach others the message.

Abraham followed God wherever he wanted him to go. He often heard God talking to him and told Sarah that “God promised this land to our children,” yet they had none. As they grew old together she remembered the promise and grew sad. Sarah’s smile faded and she no longer laughed. One day some visitors came to visit and spoke to Abraham. “By this time next year, your wife will have a child.” Was this true or would her dreams be shattered once again?

This beloved Bible story comes to life with the endearing art work and poetic retelling of Abraham and Sarah’s faith and partnership. This is a beautifully rendered tale is one that any parent would want to add to their library as an introduction to Bible stories.

This is the Firefighter (Picture Book)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This tribute to firefighters features a rhymed, simple text as it follows a fire call. The alarm bell sends the truck and crew out to an apartment fire where they will have to rescue some families and animals before the fire can be extinguished.

The big, bold illustrations includes details on the firemen's gear, the approach to the situation inside the burning building and how all the units (the pumper truck, hook and ladder, and ambulance) work together to save lives and douse the flames.

If you have a little firefighter in your household, this read aloud book should be a big hit. Better still, if mom, dad, a relative or family friend works for the fire department, this picture book will give your youngster an idea of what the job involves.

Also, be sure to mention that the firefighters are not all males. There is a woman on the crew, so ask your child to look for her as you read the story.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? (Juvenile Fiction)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Sandy was a Jewish kid that grew up in Brooklyn. He was one of those kids who was fabulous at any sport he tried, including baseball, and rumor had it that he could “throw as hard as a pro.” It wasn’t long before scouts came down to see what this whippersnapper was all about. When Al Campanis invited him to join the Brooklyn Dodgers his answer was faster than his pitch.

His pitching was wild and crazy, but his personality wasn’t. Now Sandy Koufax was a guy that could make a church mouse sound loud. Even though Don Drysdale and Don Newcombe tried to get him to relax, he still couldn’t manage it. At the end of the season he got so disgusted he took his uniform and chucked it right in the trash and “says nothin’ to nobody, just leaves. Quitsville.” He eventually became the “greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball,” but how did he make a comeback from being a guy who couldn’t even control his pitches?

This book has a lot of panache and the first person point of view, spoken with a Brooklyn accent, makes this brief baseball biography much more interesting. The full color lenticular cover has a moving illusion of Koufax throwing a strike when you move the book. Sidebars with baseball information and stats are scattered through the book and a concise glossary of baseball terms is in the back.

The Captain's Dog (Juvenile Fiction)

Released August 2000

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Students everywhere have learned about the journey Lewis and Clark took across the United States. However, I, for one, find textbooks never caught my attention. What I remember of their voyage was minimal.

Roland Smith's THE CAPTAIN'S DOG recounts this very journey, but from the eyes of a Newfoundland, Seaman. The story includes text taken right from Clark's journal, but brings it to life as Seaman recounts the smells and sounds found along the way.

I enjoyed Seaman's perspective. Dogs sense things differently and some of the story's details are captured in this manner. The scent of buffalo for the first time, the taste of different meats--some good, some bad. The sensory details stand out.

The story is based on fact. You will encounter entries where AWOL crew members were recaptured and whipped for their abandonment. These events are handled gently, so children shouldn't have an issue with them.

Yoko Writes Her Name (Picture Book)

Released July 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Yoko was a Japanese kitty cat and was very pleased with her efforts to write her name. “I am so proud, my little snow flower!” said Yoko’s mother. When she got to school there were all kinds of different little animal children who were learning to write their names. Mrs. Jenkins thought that Yoko did a beautiful job with her name, but Sylvia and Olive thought her writing was nothing but scribbles. That kind of meanness would make any little girl want to cry!

Even when Yoko demonstrated her numbers on the blackboard, the girls still made fun of her, claiming she wouldn’t graduate school at all. “Those aren’t numbers. Those are just baby marks!” Things just seemed to go from bad to worse until Angelo said she had a secret language and wanted to learn it. Then things started to turn around when all the children suddenly wanted to learn their names in Japanese. Yoko might graduate after all.

This is a charming story that accentuates the fact that ‘differences’ aren’t necessarily a bad thing. On the upper corner of the right-hand page there is a small illustration and an English word below it. On the opposite page, there is its Japanese equivalent. This is a perfect classroom read aloud and discuss book. Can any of you write the word ‘hand’ in both English and Japanese?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hat (Picture Book)

Released March 31, 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Finding a large red hat on a park bench, a little boy's imagination runs wild thinking about all the things he could do with the hat. Besides such mundane uses as shielding him from the sun and keeping off the rain, the magnificent hat could double as a sled or a boat and, in a pinch, it might protect him from a ferocious crocodile.

But then the boy thinks what might happen when the hat's owner comes back to the bench and finds it is gone. Once again, his imagination soars as he thinks of all the bad things that could plague the person if he or she were deprived of his/her hat.

What's the little boy going to do now? Take the hat or leave it where it is? Good question! Of course, I have no intention of telling you what he decides to do.

With its minimalist approach (the text is limited) the author challenges the reader to think about other ways this big red hat could be useful. Have fun with your youngster by figuring out other uses for this chapeau.

Holy Guacamole! And Other Scrumptious Snacks (Recipes)

Released January 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Everyone likes to swing through the kitchen now and then to open the refrigerator to see if there is something scrumptious to snack on, kids not excluded. In Holy Guacamole there are many easy to prepare (and easier to eat!) whip up and serve recipes to satisfy most any palate. The recipes range from sweet to spicy and range from easy to advanced preparation.

Easy recipes include: Pineapple Popsicles, Pimiento Cheese Dip, Quesadilla Bites, Quick energy Trail Mix and Citrusy Soda Pop. Intermediate: Mini Pepperoni Pizzas, Spicy Tortilla Chips, Monkey Milkshakes, Chili Cheese Popcorn, Raisiny Applesauce, Yogurt Fruit Kabobs and Parmesan Pita Chips. Advanced: Gooey Granola Bars and Holy Guacamole!

I read this book from cover to cover savoring the recipes and admiring the art work. In addition to the recipes there is a food pyramid, a note to parents, safety tips, and, for such a short book, a very well done index. A special “code” listed in the back can be plugged into Facthound. There the aspiring cook can find two more health related sites to think about and explore and find four additional kid friendly cookbooks. I think I’d like to go make one of those Monkey Milkshakes!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom (Juvenile)

Released May 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Author Tim Byrd introduces the Wilde's, a family of adventurers who are well trained in all they do. In this debut novel, Brian and Wren learn their grandfather's gone missing. The only clue they have is a photograph of the grandfather standing in front of a frog-shaped cave and an emerald frog with ruby eyes.

Soon the mystery takes a more unusual turn. A new variety of frogs attack their building and the trio are attacked by man sized frogs. They set off on an adventure that takes them to the jungles where they discover more mutant frogs and the challenge of a lifetime.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. I did find it reminiscent of old Johnny Quest with the snappy dialog, unusual foes and general camaraderie between the kids, their father and their father's assistants.

I can't say that all girls will love this series, but I know quite a few who will. Meanwhile, I know for certain that boys, especially those who like Indiana Jones, Johnny Quest and adventure movies like National Treasure and The Mummy will love it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Awakening (Young Adult)

Released April 28, 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Since the Twilight series blew my 'tween away, she always has her nose in a book. However, she's been struggling to find a series that holds her attention as strongly as the Twilight books. And then I was sent a copy of THE AWAKENING!

This is the second book in a series. Suffice it to say, neither of us have read the first book, The Summoning. My daughter is always iffy on jumping into a series that has started, I figure it's all part of the reviewing process. This turns out to be a test to see if the author can catch previous readers up to date and still make them want to read the first. Kelley Armstrong succeeded on both levels.

After a failed attempt to escape the Lyle House, Chloe Saunders is back behind locked doors. She soon learns that she and her friends are part of a failed genetic experiment that has left her able to see ghosts and awaken the dead. Two of her friends, Derek and Simon, were not recaptured. While her captors want her to lead them to the missing boys, Chloe wants to get as far away from the Edison Group as possible. There are two problems. Chloe isn't sure who she can trust. Moreover, the Edison Group is watching her like a hawk, will she have a second chance to escape?

I hate when life becomes so busy that I can't sit down and read a book non-stop. In the end, I got up at 4 a.m. to finish the book before rousting my kids for school. THE AWAKENING is gripping and definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat.

I'm hooked and am dying to read the first book. It will have to wait for now. Our public library doesn't have the book and my daughter's school library feels that books of this nature are not appropriate for middle schoolers. They refuse to stock it despite the fact that it is books like this that are inspiring kids to read! school.

Open-minded parents should not hesitate to get this series for their middle and high schoolers. There is mild violence, but it's nothing that kids do not see every day on the news or even in school.

Wish: Wishing Traditions Around The World (Picture Book)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

All around the world little children traditionally have different ways of wishing for things. Also, different cultures have “lucky symbols” such as a dolphin, a key, a rabbit, a ladybug and many more. In this book you can search through the pictures to see if you can find the hidden symbols. We go on a long journey through many countries: Australia, Brazil, China, Guatemala, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, and, of course, the United States!

“We tie our wishes to bamboo

the seventh of July

as children look for starts that tell

a story in the sky.”

This is a unique and very interesting book. The artwork is very colorful, busy and a young child can tell you the story by looking at and pointing out what is going on in the lovely artwork. Can you guess which nation ties their wishes to bamboo?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventure of Charles Darwin (Juvenile)

Released January 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

There were a lot of interesting things in the house for Charles to
look at. It was not the kind of house where children were told things
like, “children must look, but not touch.” Even his mother had
interesting things to look at, for she raised pigeons. One of his
favorite things to do was to collect beetles. He even learned the
names of them. Charles was learning many things, but not in school.
After his mother died, his father became exasperated with him. “You
. . . will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family ”

When he was sixteen, he was sent off to college to learn medicine, but
he still didn’t get the picture. His grades were lousy and he still
was interested in collecting things as he was a born naturalist, not a
student. Studying to be a doctor was definitely not in the cards so
his father sent him to the University of Cambridge to become a cleric.
And he was still interested in collecting things. Then one day a
letter came from a friend that would change his life forever. In 1831
he boarded the naval ship Beagle and would embark on a trip that would
change his life and would forever alter the way the world thought
about evolution.

This type of simple biography makes it easier for the reluctant
student to learn about a subject as the marvelous visual imagery can
be a great help. The book was adventurous and fun. It makes the
somewhat distant character, Charles Darwin, come alive for the reader.
Obviously this book is not for the creationist, but would make a
lovely addition to the home or classroom.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Freedom Business: A Narrative of the Life & Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa (Poetry)

Released October 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

His name was Broteer Furro, the first son of a prince. He was born in Dukandarra, Guinea in 1729. Broteer’s mother left his polygamous father when he was five and left him in the care of a farmer. A year later, his father came to fetch him, but soon after that his father was murdered and he himself was sent on a four hundred-mile march, only to be sold into slavery. In Anamaboo he soon boarded a canoe bound for Rhode Island.

He was soon dubbed “Venture,” but that was the only thing about Broteer that changed. He remained a determined, fiercely independent person throughout his life. He would go on to raise a family and struggle to buy their freedom. This is his story, a story he dictated for the world to remember him by. It was published in 1798.

I was fascinated by Venture’s story, having never heard the name even though the author’s information claims he was the “first man to document both his capture from Africa and life as an American slave.” The biography was printed on the left-hand page, the poetry on the right. Although both were stunning, I was somewhat distracted by the set up as the story was so interesting and went back to the poetry only after finishing the story.

How to Heal a Broken Wing (Picture Book)

Released August 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

It was the city and no one ever seems to notice anything there because with their fast paced lives they didn’t have the time and so when the little pigeon injured himself flying into a glass window, no one noticed . . . except Will. He was trying to reach for the bird, but his mother appeared to be trying to hold him back. He finally got to him and his mother helped wrap him in a scarf to take him home.

You can’t put back a feather, but sometimes a broken wing can be healed. Mom and Dad carefully placed the pigeon in a box. The pigeon had a splint on his wing. Will was going to count down the days on his calendar, but would the bird get better? Only time would tell and then he would know if the bird would ever fly again.

This charming and heartwarming book is a Red Clover nominee for the 2009-10 academic year. The dialogue is minimal, but the detailed artwork relays this story to the heart much more than any words could convey. The only thing left out is a rocking chair and a young child to share this lovely book with.

Maisy Bakes a Cake (Picture Book)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Lucy Cousins takes preschoolers into the kitchen as she invites them to follow along with Maisy as she prepares a mouthwatering cake. Your child will learn a little about weighing and measuring, adding and mixing and baking and decorating as he or she helps the little white mouse make this special dessert.

This clever novelty picture book invites the young reader to help Maisy by pulling tabs to prepare the cake and open cupboards to find where the cake ingredients are stored. As you gently pull the tabs, you'll help Maisy wash her hands, weigh some flour, stir in the eggs, and sift powered sugar for the frosting. Open the final page and there will be Charley the alligator popping a slice of cake into his mouth!

After this "dry" run with Maisy, you might want to take your child into your own kitchen for a real "hands-on" experience.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

Released March 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Ismi Ali–My name is Ali.

Ali is a boy who lives in Baghdad with his family and friends. Baghdad is the capital of Iraq and is the largest city in that nation. He loves to play soccer, loves loud music, loves to dance, but most of all he loves to practice calligraphy. Calligraphy in his language are letters that flow from the right to the left. Ali is very passionate about his language and says “I love to make the ink flow–from my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head.”

As you can see by the calligraphy in this book, the Arabic language is a very beautiful one to write. Just look at his little sister’s name Yasmin. Isn’t that beautiful? Ali says that some of the words are very hard to write and can “turn into tangled knots of ink” and he has to practice them many times over to get them right. Yakut, his hero, was a famous calligrapher and Ali would certainly have a long way to go to match that talent! Calligraphy was one of those things that Ali practiced a lot in 2003 when the bombs came crashing into his city; it was something that made him comfortable and warm inside. If you want to know how to write the word SALĀM (peace) you can learn how in this book.

I loved the graceful flow of this book and the masterful illustrations illuminated the tale. There are enough examples to spark the interest of the reader to want to pick up a pen and at least try to write a few of the words illustrated in the text. This book is a lovely way to introduce children to another language and culture. In the author’s note he discusses the importance of calligraphy in the Muslim world and gives a very brief biographical sketch of Yakut, Ali’s hero.

Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories (Non-Fiction)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Sometimes things happen very quickly and disasters, whether or not they are on a small are large scale, can be very scary things to live through. It would be nice if there were always someone there exactly when things go wrong, but that doesn’t always happen. Strangely enough, animals can and do unexpectedly come to the rescue of people in crisis. In this book we find nine amazing true-life stories of people who were very grateful for the assistance their animal friends had to share! Let’s take a peek at a few these heroes to get an idea of what they did:

* Roselle, a guide dog, had to lead Mike Hingson down seventy-eight floors in the North Tower on September 11th. Learn how she saved him, even after the conditions outside the building suddenly became even more terrifying than the decent!

* Matt, Christina and Kate had been hiking on Mount, Hood, the highest peak in Oregon when a sudden storm overtook the group of eight they were with. Struggling to escape the storm and climb down the mountain, the group separated. One by one, the group became injured and had to spend the night on the mountain in increasingly dire circumstance. Read the exciting story of how Matt’s dog Velvet kept them alive during a fierce storm until help could arrive.

* Three young women, who were training to be lifeguards in New Zealand, went swimming with one of the girl’s fathers and another lifeguard when all of a sudden seven dolphins appeared out of nowhere and surrounded them. Why were they there? Find out about that great white shark lurking below the surface and how the dolphins bizarre behavior saved them all.

All nine stories in this book were exciting and heartwarming. The photographs will connect each and every reader to the people and animals who overcame and survived disaster. This book is absolutely riveting and I can almost guarantee the midnight oil will be burning if anyone starts reading late at night! Have you ever heard of Binti Jua, the lowland gorilla who saved a three-year-old boy from sure death when he fell over the railing into the rain forest exhibit at the Brookfield Zoo? That story is in here too!

Rules of the Game: Baseball Poetry (Juvenile)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This collection of poems celebrates baseball and all it nuances. The subjects of these 40 plus verses range from the strike zone, batting cage, and infield fly rule to the double play, hook slide and sacrifice bunt.

Don't expect "great" poetry here but if you keep in mind that it is the sport itself that is of utmost important these poems will satisfy the reader.

Illustrated with sketches of the game and players, this poetic "take" on the national pastime will should interest anyone, young or old, who delights in spending an afternoon or evening at the ballpark. Who knows? It might get your youngster interested in poetry. Why not challenge him or her to pen a few lines and see what happens?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Bill Martin Jr. BIG BOOK of Poetry (Poetry)

Released November 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

March winds and April showers

Bring forth May flowers.

– Mother Goose

Many of us have wonderful childhood memories provided courtesy of Bill Martin. No, you say? You might remember Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? How about Chicka Chicka Boom Boom? If those two titles don’t ring a bell, just head to your library and take a look at a few of the hundreds of books he penned. When you see them, I’m sure you’ll have one of those “aaaaah” moments.

This anthology of children’s poetry was put together by Bill, along with the help of his friend Michael Sampson. Eric Carle, the illustrator of Brown Bear and many other of Bill’s stories, wrote the introduction. There are almost two hundred of their favorite poems, illustrated by numerous, highly talented artists such as Henry Cole, Chris Raschka, Laura Logan, Nancy Tafuri, Aliki, Dan Yaccarino and more (if you can believe that!) Topics include animals, the world of nature, around the year, people and places, school time, me and my feelings, family and home, food for me, nonsense and, of course, Mother Goose.

This book is destined to be a modern day classic and, if it hasn’t already, will probably rival or surpass the Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry in popularity and sales. This book simply shouts the word ‘lively’ and will be a family treasure for years to come. The binding has been reinforced, most likely with the expectation that it will see plenty of use!

Foo the Flying Frog of Washtub Pond (Picture Book)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Sue-Lin Salamander, Mao-Mao Mudpuppy, and Foo Frog have grown up together and been best friends for a long time. But as the residents of Washtub Pond mature, Foo Frog grows bigger than his friends. Soon Foo Frog has a very big head and becomes very boastful. All that changes one day when Foo, puffed up with his own importance, embarks on a very unexpected odyssey.

After some hair-raising adventures, he returns to Washtub Pond with a new understanding of his place in the world. He may be a big frog in this small pond, but he is also a very small frog in the larger "pond" away from his friends.

Belle Yang 's amusing fable has a moral that readers of any age will be able to fathom.

Gobble It Up: A Fun Song About Eating (Picture Book)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

All the creatures of the earth need to eat, even the tiniest of them you can’t even see, to the big ones like the great whale. Crunch, crunch, munch, munch and gobble, gobble, gobble . . . yes, come to think of it, even turkeys have to eat! Some kids like to eat and some kids are picky eaters, but no matter what kind you are you’re going to love to read and listen to Jim Arnosky sing about how some of the creatures of the world eat their food.

“If a great whale you could be, you’d dive to the bottom of the deep blue sea.
You’d pick a fight with the biggest kid . . .
And gobble you up a giant squid!
Yes, you would. Yes, you would.
You’d eat that squid up if you could.
Yes, you would. Yes you would.
You’d gobble it up and it’d taste good!”

The CD with the book perfectly compliments the text. It is a simple, folksy rendition of the text with Arnosky strumming on his guitar and singing. Many young children love to sing along as they learn to read and the addition of CDs to books makes that a welcome addition. The critters, ‘n creatures illustrations, poetry and music are great fun. Get ready to tap your toes with the wild raccoon, the crocodile, the great white shark, the great whale and the panda bear!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Twilight: Director's Notebook (Non-Fiction)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Released in conjunction with the Twilight DVD, director Catherine Hardwicke provides Twilight followers with a fully detailed look into this blockbuster movie. Everything you could possibly imagine is covered in detail with color photos included to further demonstrate how the movie was made.

The book opens with the director's insight into why she just had to film this movie. She discusses casting, creating storyboards, the music chosen for the film and even how they had to tweak the weather to make it appear gloomier than the location was.

My own 'tween is a Twilight fanatic and insisted I purchase the book with the movie. I made the mistake of reading the book first. Knowing exactly how the film was shot took away a bit of the magic. I'm not sure this will affect everyone as it did me, but, in hindsight, I do wish I'd watched the movie first.

Regardless, any Twilight fan will want this book on his or her shelves. Especially if that 'tween or teen has any interest in how movies are made.

Our Abe Lincoln (Picture Book)

Released January 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

The school is getting ready for an extravaganza! The children are getting ready behind the curtain, while parents and friends are seated in the audience anxiously awaiting an evening of fun. Two children in front of the curtain are putting up a sign that says “OUR ABE LINCOLN” as the piano player readies her music.

True Abe Lincoln was Praised for his honesty

Praised for his honesty

Praised for his honesty

True Abe Lincoln was praised for his honesty

Many good deeds ago.

Jim Aylesworth cleverly wrote an abbreviated biography of Abraham Lincoln which can be sung to the old classic tune, “The Old Grey Mare.” The original song, accompanied by the music and lyrics, is printed on the end pages. The song is simple (three chords) and lively. This book can make learning history though song a lot of fun! The illustrations are very appealing. Under the author’s note in the back he gives more biographical information. If you would care to make Mary Todd Lincoln’s Vanilla Almond Cake the recipe is on the back cover. Yum!

Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt (Picture Book)

Released October 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Gee’s Bend was one of those old time, out of the way places that no one had ever heard of except maybe the people who lived there. A long, long time ago it was a place where there were plantations. The white slave owners ruled the roost so to speak, but after the Civil War the slaves became tenant farmers and later became proud owners of the land. It was a place where things didn’t change much, including the way quilts were made. It was a community that remained hidden away, unchanged until rediscovered more than a hundred years later.

Little girls often were out of sight, quietly listening, underneath the quilting frame while their elders worked. Baby Girl remembered “the warm brown faces of [her] mama, grandma, and great-gran as they sewed, talked, sang, and laughed” above her. All the quilts had memories. Her Mama told her that “cloth has a memory.” The quilts were pieced together from the clothing of family members. The day soon came when Baby Girl would be ready to make her own quilt. To the women of Gee’s Bend this was a rite of passage. Baby Girl’s cousin Ashlyn, from New York thought that was too country and nonsensical, but Baby Girl knew differently. Many of the town’s quilts became museum pieces, but hers was one that she would lovingly create and use.

This is a beautiful creative nonfiction story of a young girl who learns to quilt and the importance of the work to her family and community. The story is interspersed with dollops of history about Gee’s Bend and our country’s black leadership passed down by Baby Girl’s elders. It’s a wonderful book to read about the heritage of our country and its traditions and discuss your family history with your own child.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Going, Going, Gone! And Other Silly Dilly Sports Songs (Picture Book)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Alan Katz's latest collection of silly, dilly sports songs set to familiar melodies is bound to engage youngsters who love any kind of outdoor game or activity. The fourteen songs cover baseball, fishing, golf, tennis, football and many other activities. Although the humorous lyrics will elicit a few laughs, it is David Catrow's caricatures of the young and old athletes that make this picture book a "hoot.”

If you have already purchased Katz's four previous volumes of silly songs for kids, you'll certainly want to add this to your growing collection.

Jack & The Beanstalk: The Graphic Novel (Juvenile)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Jack and his widowed mother lived in a small ramshackle country cottage in England. One day, as Jack was milking the cow, he sadly discovered that she had gone dry. There was no alternative, but to sell Milky White, because otherwise they would starve. On the way to the market Jack ran into an old man who convinced him to trade Milky for five magic beans. Needless to say, his mother was some unhappy and threw him out, stating he couldn’t come back until he got their cow back.

He planted those beans, which quickly grew into a giant beanstalk. “FEE FIE FOH FUM! I smell the blood of an Englishman!” Whoa, Jack found something totally unexpected when he reached the top . . . a giant. Perhaps you already know the end of this story! Hoena tells it a bit differently, but a little extra spice is always nice in a fairy tale.

The small cast of characters, Jack, The Mother, The Giant’s Wife and the Giant, are introduced in the front of the book. In the back of the book we find information about the author and illustrator, a glossary, the history of Jack and the Beanstalk, discussion questions and writing prompts for classroom or homeschool use.

Graphic novels can oftentimes spur the reluctant reader into action. The “comic book” or graphic visual format is more exciting for some children. Tercio’s illustrations are streamlined and simple. The uncluttered pages are appealing will stimulate the reader’s imagination. These retold tales do make reading a bit more enticing and fun!

The Tiny Seed (Picture Book)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Eric Carle invites young readers to follow the journey of a small seed that, with any luck, will eventually grow into a beautiful flower. The odyssey begins in the fall when many plants go dormant and their seeds either fall to the ground or are carried aloft by the wind.

Who knows where the seeds may end up, perhaps in the desert, on a mountaintop, or in a fertile valley. Some even become a meal for a hungry mouse or bird.

After a long winter, the dormant seeds that survive will be irrigated by the melting snow and spring rain. They will sprout into small plants that will grow into colorful foliage before the cycle starts all over again.

You'll find a seed-embedded paper comes with this book so that you and your child can watch the miracle of the seed up close and personal. Follow the planting instructions and in about six weeks you'll have your own flower.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

God's Dream (Picture Book)

Released August 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

There are all different kinds of children in the world, but two things they have in common are that they are all God’s children and each and every one of them dreams. God dreams too and many little children might just wonder what he dreams about. Archbishop Tutu thinks he might know. Among the many dreams that God dreams he says that:

God dreams that we reach out and
hold one another’s hand and play one
another’s games and laugh with one
another’s hearts.

Not everything goes well in the life of a child, but God will always be with him and in his heart. We are all different, yet we are all in the same family. There is a way to make God’s dream come true. Do you know the secret?

This is a charming book with wide-eyed illustrations that compliment it perfectly. This is a book with no specific audience, but rather one that is universal. It is the perfect book to emphasize the importance of peace, love, sharing and the fact that we are all brothers and sisters.

Fancy Nancy's Favorite Words (Picture Book)

Released April 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Nancy, who is into fancy words, says that when you use one in a sentence, “it’s like adding sprinkles to vanilla ice cream!” Fancy words are fine and dandy and can come in handy when a gal wants to feel a bit more grownup and sophisticated (that kind of means to be a bit more grown up acting and have good taste in things, but that word isn’t in this book). You only have to take an excursion (a special trip) through this book to find all kinds of fancy Nancy words from A to Z that you didn’t know before!

Every letter has a fancy word, a neat definition (one you can understand) and a sentence with the word in it. Take for example, the letters K and L . . .

Knack–a talent or a clever way of doing something
Lavender–fancy for light purple

“I have a knack for mixing and matching ensembles. Take it from me, lavender works with almost anything.”

Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser are a dynamic duo and their Fancy Nancy books are loads of fun, to say nothing of educational. The combination of definition, the inclusion of the word in a sentence and appealing definitions can encourage many children to painlessly expand their vocabularies. They describe their own work with the letter O. “Ooh la la!–French for ‘Look! How Wonderful!’”

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Are You Ready For Baby? (Picture Book)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Cornelius P. Mud is not overly thrilled that he is no longer an only piglet. There's a new baby in the house and Cornelius notices that his sibling is getting all the attention. What's more, the baby isn't much fun. His new brother can't talk, he can't play, he can't walk and he can't even eat pizza.

Since all the baby does is sleep, drink, pee, poop, and cry, Cornelius wishes they could send him back! Not that's not going to happen! So big brother is just going to have to adjust. Fortunately, when he is given a change to hold his little brother Cornelius decides that perhaps they should keep the "lump of clay" after all.

If you have a baby on the way and your other child is not too excited about sharing his or her space this book will help you address the situation.

Ballyhoo Bay (Picture Book)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Mira Bella loves to teach art and share her talent with others. Every Saturday the artist goes down to the water's edge at Ballyhoo Bay where she, teaches "etching and sketching to grannies and kids, and undersea sculpture to swordfish and squids."

Just when she is planning an art fair to showcase the wonderful creations of the seals, pelicans, crabs and seagulls, disaster hits. A big sign proclaims that Ballyhoo Bay beach is about to be transformed into an apartment complex that will close the area to all the "regulars.”

Bella decides this is a ridiculous notion and comes up with a plan to save Ballyhoo Bay, which she takes to the town hall for a village meeting.
The local citizens and beach/ocean critters that accompany her are pretty and Bella is able to convince the village leaders that the beach is for everyone and not just wealthy folks.

The development is canceled, the art fair is held on the beach and everyone in Ballyhoo Bay has a wonderful time celebrating their victory.
The message here is pretty straightforward: a group of determined friends can make a difference and save something that is very important to them.

Derek Anderson's bright, bold, colorful illustrations are very eye appealing, the rhymed text is fun to read aloud, and the preschoolers will enjoy identifying the various sea and land creatures that are featured in the story. What's not to like about BALLYHOO BAY?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Massacre at Virginia Tech (Non-fiction Juvenile)

Released March 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

There are many kinds of disastrous events, yet somehow those that could have been prevented strike us as the most horrifying of all. If a tornado strikes a town tearing down property with a large loss of life, we are sorrowful, but accept it on one level because it is a natural disaster. On April 16, 2007, another disaster was unfolding that many thought could have been prevented if steps had been taken prior to its inception. In the early morning hours almost two years ago, Seung-Hui Cho began his murderous rampage on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, also known as Virginia Tech.

The first to die of Cho’s wrath were Emily Hilscher and Ryan Clark. Initially the local police thought this was an isolated incident and therefore campus officials decided that cancelling classes would not be necessary, a decision that was later regretted. Cho, at that point, traveled to the post office to mail his previously recorded video to NBC news. This video, once broadcast, gave us a devastating glimpse into the eyes and mind of a madman. In all, Cho took the lives of thirty-two students and professors.

I must say that this was an extremely sobering read, but tastefully presented. Some disastrous events are of the heartbreaking type, but have and will always happen. In this book Richard Worth carefully and respectfully discusses the victims (a list is provided), but also ponders the obvious mental illness of Seung-Hui Cho and his life up until that fateful day. He also discusses other young mass murderers and includes a short chapter debating gun control. It’s a difficult subject to write about on a juvenile level, but the author has done well.

The Storyteller's Candle (Picture Book/Spanish)

Released March 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Hildamar was from Puerto Rico and her first winter in New York totally shocked her. It was so unlike the warmth she was accustomed to. She and her cousin Santiago would just have to get used to living in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem). It was 1929 and Mama Nenita, Tio Pedro, Titi Maria (Santiago’s parents) and the children were all missing their native land and were apprehensive about the upcoming Navidad, their first in America. It was going to be very different for them because Spanish wasn’t spoken everywhere and that could be difficult and unsettling.

But one day something very special happened. A woman named Pura Belpré came to school to tell them about the public library and tell them stories with puppets in both English and Español! The exiting thing for Hildamar was that they had books in Spanish. Ms. Belpré would make the library a very special place for Spanish immigrants of all ages. She would even help them celebrate their favorite holiday El Día de los Reyes, Three Kings’ Day, in a very special way. At the end of each storytelling session Ms. Belpré would whisper:

“Now close your eyes and make a wish. We’ll blow out the storyteller’s candle and your wish will come true.”

This gentle biography was very appealing. I loved the illustrations and the unique embedding of period newspaper articles in the collage. The text is bilingual with the storyline on opposite pages or in some instances, one language on top of another on the same page. This is an excellent book to introduce children to another language, an especially nice introduction given the charm of the tale.

Amber Ambrosia (Juvenile)

Released April 2007

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

In this follow-up to The Serpent's Spell, Rae Bridgman returns readers to the lives of cousins Wil and Sophie who are enjoying their new status as heroes. After unraveling the mystery of the vanishing snakes, Wil and Sophie are at the Secretariat on the Status of Magical Creatures (SSMC) so that Wil can register his magical snake. In the bathroom, Sophie overhears a mysterious conversation. Bees in MiddleGate are becoming infested with Apiponis Destructor, a type of mite, and are becoming sick. The honey supply is dwindling and the pair decide to investigate.

When a beekeeping apprenticeship at Gruffud's Academy becomes available, the pair sign up. There they learn all about bees providing them with insight needed to help unravel this troubling mystery.

My next-door neighbor keeps two hives of bees, so I have a little insider knowledge into beekeeping. The details included in AMBER AMBROSIA offer incredible detail into the structure and management of hives. This drew me into the story and held my attention throughout.

The mystery itself wasn't too difficult for me to unravel, but I think children will find it more perplexing. I am curious to see if my suspicions about one of the characters is correct. I'll keep reading the MiddleGate series to find out!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nit-Pickin' (Picture Book)

Released July 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Some things can drive a little girl practically insane and one of those things are named COOTIES! Those nasty bugs were a-crawlin’ on her head and driving her crazy.

I was scritcha-scratchin’
while a batch-a bugs
was hatchin’,
yes, those cooties were
attachin’ to my head.

No one even noticed her crisis except perhaps the dog and her pet turtle. Daddy, Mama, her sister, Gramma and Gramps were all busy doing their own thing. All of a sudden Gramma noticed. “There’s bugs throwin’ a picnic on your head.” Everyone soon jumped into action and had ways to get those “itty-bitty nitties” out of her hair and some of those ways were not all that fun! Nope, not fun at all.

I found myself chuckling several times reading this book (well, maybe honking.) It was a perfect way to “talk” to children about lice. As a parent and former teacher who has experienced this “crisis” with many children, I feel it would be a welcome comic relief. The comedy we see in many situations often comes at a much later date, but this book would be a nice way to bridge from the upset to the laughter.

Greetings From The 50 States (Non-Fiction)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Which state’s name has only one syllable? How fast can you spell Mississippi? What is the capital of the Alligator State? Do you know which state was the last to join the union? Do you know all the state capitals? If you don’t, you can search the map on the adjoining page of each state and find the starred city. The other facts might take a little searching or, in the case of spelling Mississippi, a bit of practice. Greetings from the 50 States has a lot of interesting little facts hidden in its maps if you look closely!

The states are arranged in alphabetical order beginning with Arkansas. Hmmm, is that a fact or am I pulling a fast one here? Young people who know their states can spot this fib in a minute, but others will have to check it out. Each state is accompanied by a colorful map and if you look closely you can discover many interesting things from products to famous people who either discovered the state or lived there. Each state page has a brief, but concise history of its origins and several facts to remember. In the upper right-hand page there is a large star. Inside it tells the reader when the date on which the state joined the union. On the bottom right it has an illustration and gives the name of the state. Have you figured out which is the Alligator State yet?

This book is an excellent resource for not only the origin of the state’s name, but many other interesting facts. It is a large, comfortable lap book or can easily be laid out on the floor for a few youngsters to pore over. It is far from stuffy . . . it is bright, colorful and has some surprising tidbits hidden inside the maps. It even has a caricature of Bruce Springsteen on the New Jersey page! For those strict historians it also includes Sir George Carteret. This book is a keeper and the price is very reasonable for the hardcover edition.

The Lost Lake Dig (Juvenile)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

In P.W. Cross’s THE LOST LAKE DIG, readers meet two boys from 1750. Joey is despondent because his best friend Ben is moving away. Imagine his surprise when he and Ben wind up in an alternate world, the Land of Lights, where they are asked to help retrieve a powerful gusher from a crazed miner.

You see, in this alternate world, bubbles known as squirts and gushers containing ideas are mined. Though most humans can’t see them, the most brilliant ideas of mankind come from these idea bubbles. However, the idea miners who find the biggest ideas, known as gushers, tend to go crazy once they encounter one. That’s where Ben and Joey are needed.

The dwarfs who mine the ideas are in awe of humans from the other world and treat them like royalty. Ben and Joey are the last hope for retrieving the gusher and delivering it to where it belongs. With evil trolls hot on their trail, Joey and Ben face the quest of a lifetime!

THE LOST LAKE DIG is the first book in The Idea Miners series. The concept is unique and imaginative. I like that. Many of today’s adventure books seem to stick to wizards, vampires and devious mastermind criminals. I love the freshness of this storyline and feel most kids will appreciate it too.

The book itself is pretty good. There were a few sections where I felt the pacing changed, and I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit. However, given the unique plot, this was bound to happen because of the descriptive mining process and breakdown what gushers and squirts are.

Now that the premise is built, I am very curious to see what adventure Joey and Ben take in the future!