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, May 31, 2009

What Do You See (Toddler)

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Not only is this lift-the-flap, novelty board book all about endangered animals but also, being made from 100 percent recycled material, it is eco-friendly.

Five endangered creatures are featured in the book that is age appropriate for children youngsters between two and five. Hints are provided about the identity of each animal. "I'm black and white, but I don't moo. I'm a fussy eater who likes bamboo. What can I be? What do you see?” Open the flap and you'll discover a little panda bear.

It won't take many readings before your child will be able to answer the "What can I be?” question before you flip the flap. The rhyming text will also make it easy for reader participation. Let the youngster take on some of the reading aloud chores as he/she becomes more familiar with the text.

The third title in the Little Green Books series, "What Do You See?" is an improvement over its predecessors. The illustrations are still a little murky (probably because of the recycled paper) but the text seems to be slightly sharper and a tad larger, plus the story line is better.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Body of Christopher Creed (Young Adult)

Released November 2008

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The story begins with Torey Adams recalling the disappearance of a classmate named Christopher Creed. No one knows what happened to Creed, he simply sent an email to his principal that hinted of suicide and was never seen or heard from again. No body, no clues, no sightings...

Torey Adams feels partially responsible for Creed's disappearance. Adams bulled Creed in the past. In addition, Creed listed Adams as one of the people he is most jealous of because Adams "gets everything--athletic abilities, good personalities, beautiful girlfriends..."

Eventually, Adams teams up with a friend to try to unravel what really happened to Creed. Things escalate when Adams becomes a suspect in the disappearance.

THE BODY OF CHRISTOPHER CREED is a fascinating story. It captures teen angst incredibly well and draws the reader in with familiar teen lingo and realistic situations.

As an adult, I found a few things that bothered me. Despite all he learns, Adams never really gives up his bullying ways. I would have expected more growth following his experiences. However, I also remember how quickly teens revert to their old ways following a tragic experience, so from a teen's perspective, this will probably make perfect sense.

Carol Plum-Ucci's story will appeal to mystery fans. It's enjoyable and definitely draws you into the lives of the students in Steepleton.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Please Pick Me Up, Mama! (Picture Book)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Little Raccoon is quite a handful. She's up or down and never quite sure exactly what she wants or where she wants to be. First it is, "Please pick me up, Mama. Kiss my perfect nose." Then, a few minutes later, "Please put me down, Mama. Warm my chilly toes."

"Brush my velvet head…Let's have jam and bread!….Sing to me and whirl. See how fast I twirl!" Little Raccoon keeps her mother busy from sun up to sun down, but Mama Raccoon doesn't seem to mind since they both are having a lot of fun.

Any parent with a toddler who can't decide what he/she wants to do can relate to the dilemma facing Mama Raccoon. "Pick me up!" and "Put me down!" are familiar requests all moms and dads have had to contend with.
But, that's just part of parenting and, let's admit it, when our children are this age they have us wrapped around their little fingers! For a while, we are like puppets and our kids are pulling our strings.

For children between the ages of 3-5, the repetition in the text makes this a good book to use for starting a child on the road to reading. Let your son or daughter handle the refrain, "Please pick me up, Mama!" and “Please put me down…”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Chicken of the Family (Picture Book)

Released February 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Henrietta’s two older sisters Kim and Clare were always teasing her and trying to get her upset. Older sisters are good at that sort of thing, but when they told her a big fib she fell for it. “We have a secret to tell you . . . you’re a chicken.” At first she didn’t believe it, but the more information the girls gave her, the more convincing they sounded. They told her she had long toes like a chicken and yellow legs. Well, they were kinda yellow and she sure did have long toes.

“I am not a chicken.
I am not a chicken.
I am not a chicken.”

On and on they went and try as she may, she couldn’t shake that feeling that she was really a chicken. In the morning when she got out of bed she saw an egg and two feathers. Kim and Clare did say they plucked her feathers out before she got up. WAAAAAA! She really was a chicken and the only thing she could do was to run away to Barney’s farm and home to her family . . . a bunch of chickens. Would she ever realize she was just a little girl again?

This charming tale lovingly brings to light what can happen if siblings tease each other needlessly. This imaginary tale has adorable cartoon-like illustrations that are bright and busy. This tale can be read aloud or read alone by the more advanced young reader. This story, understandably, has been nominated for the Vermont Red Clover Award for the 2009-10 season. It is a children's choice picture book and will be a sure fire hit with any youngster!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gifted: Out of Sight, Out of Mind (Middle School)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Amanda Beeson is Meadowbrook Middle School's most popular student. If you fit into her crowd, you have it made. If not, expect to be picked on. Amanda's latest target, Tracey Devon, is a nobody. Her plain looks make it obvious that she puts no effort into attempting to be fashionable.

Amanda has a secret. By being cruel to others, she keeps herself from feeling pity. When she feels pity, she winds up in the other person's body. Amanda's in for the surprise of her life when she wakes up in Tracey's shoes.

Once the most popular, somehow Amanda's in Tracey's body and experiencing the wrath of the popular crowd. She's definitely not happy with this new situation and wants out! However, unlike past experiences where the body swap lasts minutes, this time she can't get out.

Marilyn Kaye's Gifted Series introduces nine middle schoolers with unusual powers. It's surprising just how much I came to admire the snobbish Amanda. The author does a great job of portraying Amanda in a new light, making it easy for the reader to understand her actions and sympathize with her plight.

Having finished OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND in one sitting. I find myself eager to read the other stories now. I'm especially interested in seeing the author handle the male perspective, particularly with Ken and Charles.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Little Yellow Leaf (Picture Book)

Released August 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

The little yellow oak leaf was afraid to let go, but other leaves swirled around and fell to the ground. “I'm not ready yet.” It was harvest time and birds were starting to migrate. The leaves were being gathered into piles and children played in them. It was starting to get chilly and winter was fast approaching. Would the help of another leaf help the little yellow oak leaf relax, let go and fall to the ground?

“Not ready,
thought the Little Yellow Leaf
as a heavy harvest moon
in the starry sky.”

The art work in this book is beautiful and has a crisp, fall feel to it and ends with that midwinter frosty touch. The subtle message of letting go in order to face the unknown would make this an excellent read aloud homeschool and classroom discussion book. “Into the waiting wind they danced . . . off and away and away and away. Together.” If your child has trouble letting go, perhaps this will be an ideal book for him to read and find encouragement in its pages.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Problem with Puddles (Picture Book)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Every married couple has to make a few compromises. In the case of Mr. and Mrs. Puddle that means that after tying the knot they both agreed it would be quite acceptable to disagree. Now that might be OK when there were just the two of them, but when the baby came along things got rather complicated.

For example, since they could not agree on a name, Mrs. Puddle calls her daughter Emily and Mr. Puddle calls her Ferdinanda. Everyone else just calls the eight-year-old girl, "Baby"!

Then there was the issue of a new dog. Neither of the Puddles could agree on the breed so they bought two dogs and called them both Sally. (Remarkably, they did agree on a single name!) Now, it gets even better when one summer the family leaves the two Sallys behind in the country when they go back to their city home. Will they agree to go back and get the two mutts? If they do go back, will they find the dogs? Perhaps the most important question of all is - Will Mr. and Mrs. Puddle ever learn the meaning of the word "compromise"?

An outrageous farce about a likable, albeit bizarre, family and their two Sallys, this chapter book is sure to delight children eight years of age and older. Mom and dad might just want to sneak a peek too, especially if they are curious about what all the giggling is about!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pilot Pups (Picture Book)

Released May 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Three Pilot Pups are sitting on the bed all snuggled up in front of the pillow, but something is missing. Many of the other toys that belong on the bed and in the room are missing. It’s time to climb up on the shelf and into their plane and go on a reconnaissance mission and find those toys, the ones that never did get put away!

“Start the engine,
buckle up.
Down the runway . . .
Rolling faster,
lift up high.
Soaring, roaring–
to the sky.”

This is an charming book any preschooler will want you to read again and again. This is a gentle lesson book that will encourage children to keep their rooms neat and to pick up their belongings. The art work is adorable and appealing and makes this book a page turner for the little ones. Is your room picked up and is everything neat and clean? If not, you could take a few reminders from this book!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Missing (Pre-Teen)

Released August 2009 (Paperback)

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

MISSING tells the story of thirteen-year-old Maxine Moody. Close to a year ago, her older brother ran away. Since then, her parents have forgotten her. All they talk about is Derek and push her aside. When her parents are called to London to identify a body, a body that turns out to be Derek's, Maxine hopes things will improve; instead, they worsen. And then one night, Maxine gets a phone call from a boy who sounds a lot like Derek claiming he is alive and wants to see her.

My daughter loved MISSING. She read it in one sitting. I found it equally enjoyable. I'd like to think the bullying that happens in Maxine's school is exaggerated, but my daughter said that even her school allows bullies from "troubled homes" to get away with many of their actions. I find that disgusting and am glad this book opened that door so that we could talk about it.

The hardcover version of MISSING is available here:

Otherwise, the paperback version comes out later this summer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Call It Courage (Juvenile)

Released January 2008

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

In 1941, Armstrong Sperry won the Newberry Award for his juvenile offering. More than 60 years later, the book has been reissued.

Since his mother's death, Mafatu's been terrified of the ocean. At the age of three, Mafatu and his mother became trapped in the ocean during a storm. She managed to get them to shore, but she only lived long enough to save them. Since that day, Mafatu refuses to go anywhere near a boat. His Polynesian family and friends are not as forgiving and say harsh things about his fear.

Tired of the scorn, one day Mafatu gets into a boat with his dog by his side and heads out into the ocean on an adventure he'll never forget.

All these years later, children will relate to Mafatu's journey. He is bullied, not physically but definitely emotionally, and gains the strength to overcome his fear. The book is not overly long, around 120 pages, and flows nicely from beginning to end.

I can't say it is my favorite story of all times, I never felt a solid connection with Mafatu or his people. However, it's definitely a great choice for boys or girls who like adventure stories.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tsunami (Picture Book)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Ojiisan was a simple man living in Japan long, long ago. His name meant “grandfather.” One day when his family was preparing to go to a festival, he refused to go. He sensed something was very wrong so he and his grandson, Tada stayed behind. As he watched the festival below, he felt the earth rumble beneath the soles of his feet. An earthquake was stirring the earth beneath his feet. No one was alarmed, but somehow “Ojiisan, who had felt hundreds of earthquakes in his time, thought this shock strange.”

The sea “darkened suddenly and was moving against the wind.” It was a “Tsunami–the monster wave.” Ojiisan knew that something had to be done to rescue the villagers down below. They were running to the sea to watch instead of running away from it to save themselves. He ran to his own precious rice fields and sadly set them on fire. Would the four hundred souls down below rush to his aid? If they rushed to save his fields, perhaps they would unknowingly save their own lives!

This is a beautifully told Japanese legend that will mesmerize the adult reader and widen the eyes of the young. I enjoyed the tale and the combination of gouache, pastel painting and collage artwork was unusual and stunning. This is a charming story that illustrates the fact that we, as human beings, are all in the same boat and need to help one another.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

News From Chronicle Books

Congratulations to DUCK! RABBIT! It's made the May 24th New York Times best seller list! Chronicle Books came out with a neat site celebrating the book that's packed with activities for all ages!

*Vote on whether you see a duck or a rabbit
*Desktop wallpaper
*Print-able poster
*Teacher's guide

LITTLE OINK (joins Little Pea and Little Hoot as the newest title in their Little Books series):

*Sweepstakes: you could win $2500 in merchandise from Pottery Barn Kids (Little Hoot), the entire line of Method cleaning products (Little Oink), free veggies from Green Giant (Little Pea), and more!
*Event kit (mask templates, pin the tail on Little Oink, sticker sheets, etc.)
*Print-able poster
*Teacher's guide

HORSE CRAZY (Kirkus Reviews says, "Saddle Club, step aside.”):

*more details about each of the horses
*animated video
*party invitation
*gift card

Speak (Teen Fiction)

Released March 2009

Puffin Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I actually picked this book up to read because of my daughter's recommendation. Laurie Halse Anderson pens an emotionally rich tale of a high school freshman. Melinda is a typical teen, nervous about starting high school and she and her friends attend a party over the summer that changes everything. Something happened at that party that changed Melinda's life. She speaks to few, and those who do talk to her call her names and treat her cruelly.

The story is told from Melinda's point of view and the reader has no idea what happened until Melinda is ready to reveal the truth. You learn clues along the way, but most of the story focuses on flashbacks and present day scenes in which Melinda is alienated by her closest friends and prefers the quiet solitude found in her art class, where her art teacher helps her express feelings through her work.

For those interested in book to movie translations, Twilight's Kristen Stewart plays Melinda in the movie adaptation. It is just as good and had me grabbing Kleenex.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Talent for Quiet (Picture/Photography)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Amazon places A TALENT FOR QUIET for the 9 to 12 age group. I think younger readers could handle it, especially children who have a new step-parent in their life.

After Reanie's mom remarries, she finds it hard fitting in with her new stepfather. He's into sports, she's not. He's loud and boisterous, while she's quiet and reserved. While he always tries to include her, she quietly rejects him and hides out in her room. However, his passion for cameras intrigues her.

One day, he asks Reanie if she'd like to go on a "photo safari." She agrees and soon finds that she and her stepfather have more in common than she could ever imagine.

Instead of using illustrations, the author's book is filled with beautiful photography of the wildlife you find in and around a river. I liked that change of pace. The book contains details on photography making it suitable for any child with an interest in taking photographs.

All in all, it's a well-written, emotional story that I hope leads to a series. I'd like to see more of Reanie as her relationship with her stepfather grows.

The Lovely Bones (Teen and Adult)

Released 2006 (Paperback)

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Years ago, I received an advanced copy of Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES. For two hours, I ignored the world around me and become entranced by the heartwretching tale of fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon, a murder victim. Susie tells the tale of her disappearance and murder from an unusual vantage point, she's in the clouds awaiting her acceptance into heaven.

The story delves into Susie's feelings and her attempts to help her family and friends through their grief. At the same time, she wants to be able to make people realize that their quiet neighbor is not so sweet and innocent. She wants him caught and tried for his crimes against her.

While marketed for adults, I've always felt that it is perfect for teenagers. It's a topic that you see in the news time and time again. It's fresh and told from a unique viewpoint.

Now that the movie is wrapping up and scheduled for release later this year, Seventeen Magazine is recommending teens read it before they see the movie. I wholeheartedly agree. If my 'tween was interested, I'd let her read it and we could discuss the scary statistics together. The book clearly portrays the emotions of young teens as they grieve the loss of their friend and how the death of a child impacts an entire community.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Princess Baby Night-Night (Baby/Toddler)

Released January 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Princess Baby is supposed to be getting ready for bed, but she is jumping on the bed with all her babies. “But I’m not tired.” She gathers up all her toys when someone from the other room calls out to ask her if she’s done so. Directions, directions! Princess Baby has gathered her two teddies, her piggy and her bunny in her arms.

“Did you put them where they belong?"
“Yes, right where they belong.”

Next it’s the jammies as she waltzes around the room. Princess Baby is still all dressed up with a sparkly crown on her head. She has to get her babies in them first. It’s a lot of work to get everyone ready for bed! Getting them a sip of water, washing their faces, picking out a book and giving them all kisses can be very tiring. Awww, Princess Baby has fallen fast asleep.

This is an absolutely adorable bedtime book for a little princess. Karen Katz’s artwork is colorful, bright, delightful and adds the perfect touch to the Princess Baby books. If you have a little princess in your life, I’m sure she’d love to cuddle up with this book night after night. Is your little princess getting ready for bed? “Princess Baby, night-night.”

Alligators and Crocodiles! (Juvenile Non-Fiction)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Creatures that resembled them lived on Earth for over two hundred million years. Today, the group of reptiles called crocodilians can be found on five continents. Alligators and crocodiles come in various sizes from six to 23 feet (the Indopacific croc) although most fall in the 12-20 foot range.
A lot faster than their squat, low slung, bulky form would suggest on land, these awe inspiring reptiles are lethal adversaries when confronted in their natural habitat-water.

Although the shape of the head and snout provides an important clue in discerning whether you are looking at American alligator or crocodile, the eyes and body colors, patterns of bumps on their backs, arrangement of teeth and how far apart the nostrils are also help identify various species of the large reptiles.

As you page through this book you'll learn all sorts of interesting facts about these creatures' characteristics and habits. For example, young readers will learn that not only are these the largest living reptiles but also the noisiest.

You might not think they have any natural predators besides man, but actually, the alligator snapping turtle stalks alligator hatchlings along with birds, snakes and the occasional otter and raccoon. In South America, jaguars and anacondas have been known to attack medium sized caimans.

Over twenty of the most common species are featured in the book with lifelike illustrations provided by Meryl Henderson. This book might be a little too "scary" for younger children, but those seven and older would probably find it fascinating. Far more than just a picture book, there's enough solid material here to make this an excellent resource for anyone doing a report on alligators and crocodiles.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Robot and the Bluebird (Picture Book)

Released October 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

The little Robot had a broken heart. He put his hand on his head, the other close to his chest next to a heart that had literally fallen out of his chest. Everyone tried to help him out and fix him, but nothing was working. It looked like there were many replacement parts, but there wasn’t anything to help him and he was “sent to sit on the scrap heap with all the other old machines.” He just sat on that heap through all kinds of weather and through several seasons. Nothing.

Then on one cold and snowy day, a Bluebird landed on him. Robot wanted to know where he was going and when he found out the little bird was exhausted he offered him the space where his heart was. The little bird nestled inside his heart. “My old heart only ever said ticktock,” said the Robot, “but now my heart is singing.” The bird would soon have to leave . . . what would Robot do? Would his heart forever be empty?

This is a beautiful, heartwarming tale. If this was a movie, the reader might be tempted to sit in his seat until the last of the credits ran off the screen. This is a book that a young child will want read to them time and time again to visit with the Robot and Bluebird. The parent, teacher or care giver will want to read it so they can warm their hearts and smile at the ending!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet (Juvenile)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Calvin Coconut. What a stupid name! His real name was Calvin Novio, but his Dad, who had a huge hit with a song called “A Little Bit of La-la-la-love” figured that Coconut sounded better. For him maybe, but not Calvin. A nine-year-old has enough problems without a dorky name. At any rate his father left when he was five and never came back. He had his Mom and little sister Darci to watch out for and didn’t need him any way. He didn’t need Stella either. She was coming from Texas to babysit them! Ugh.

Kailua, Oahu was a fun place to be with his friends Julio and Maya. A fun place if he could stay out of trouble. Sometimes he acted just like his name . . . stupid. When he “watched” an older guy’s kiteboard it somehow got loose and he got pretty beat up in the process. He was supposed to walk his sister Darci home from school and left her there. He had one of those oops moments with the bully Tito and said to himself, “Tito will pick his teeth with my bones.” Then there was Mr. Purdy, his new teacher. It was the first day of school and he was thinking about his rules. “Study. Try hard. Don’t picky my nose.” Hey, where did that centipede go to?!

I fell in love with that mischievous Calvin Coconut, even if his name was a bit dorky and he couldn’t keep his nose clean if he tried. For some odd reason he reminded me of Pippi Longstocking. They both are loveable and have “attitude” and, if you ask me, attitude is a very loveable trait . . . so long as you aren’t in Mr. Purdy’s classroom! Of course Calvin is quite a bit tamer that Pippi. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Calvin in his next book!

Trucks (Picture Book)

Released May 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Part of the popular Ready-To-Read series, this Level One book is designed for youngsters 4-6. When the sun comes up, it's time for a fleet of trucks to hit the road. Some are fast and others are slow but, no matter their size, all these vehicles have special jobs to do. Garbage trucks, big dump trucks, a cement truck and even small pick-up trucks - they are all busy working.

This Level One book is ideal for a child who is ready to start reading and also likes trucks. Short sentences and plenty of action words (illustrated by the pictures) will enable the child to master this simple story fairly quickly. The author also includes a few "opposites" (up and down, tall and small, fast and slow) and some simple counting too (count the trucks) so there's more than just simple word mastery involved in the read aloud story.

My copy of the paperback had a decided "chemical" smell which was due, no doubt, to the amount of ink used to completely cover each page. I'd air the book out for awhile before I'd give it to a child. I don't think this is a major problem but it is something to consider, especially since the book is probably going to have multiple readings.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (Biography)

Released July 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Jerry Siegel wasn’t crazy about school. He would much rather be home with his imaginary friends, Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. His father was dead, everyone was looking for a job, the Great Depression was in full tilt, but even so his superheroes kept him going. Every night he would read these fantastic stories about them. He also would sit up in the attic in front of a window, one in which he could see his other young men his age playing, typing his “own adventure and science fiction stories.”

He was shy and most likely no one even knew he existed, except for one other person. His name was Joe Shuster, a guy who looked and acted so much like him they “could’ve passed for brothers. The only difference was that Joe’s passion was not writing, but drawing . . . all the time. These guys became fast friends and had a plan, one that once they got going, no one could tell them they were wasting their time. It was a “science fiction story in cartoons.” At first they were heartbreakingly rejected by a publisher, but then Jerry’s mind lit up like Broadway one night. He had an idea and this time Joe and Jerry would persevere until they were published. They would leap tall buildings in a single bound, or at least climb hundreds of stairs until someone wanted their Superman comic strip.

I loved this biography of two young men who, in spite of numerous rejections, persevered and went on to amazing heights. The writing captures the spirit of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and the art work brings them to life. This book will have wide appeal to young dreamers with big imaginations because like the authors, who once dreamed and acted out their superhero fantasies, know how to render a tale any reluctant reader will snap up!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Twenty short poems about dinosaurs are featured in this book. Although some of the rhymed verse is clever, too much of it is just plain silly. I know that probably means youngsters in the first or second grade may find the silliness appealing, but I doubt older youngsters will.

Here's the poem for the Minmi - "What's Minmi's BIGGEST claim to fame? / It has the smallest dinosaur name."

The Spinosaurus verse isn't much better - "What kept the Spinosaurus warm / When it was colder than the norm? / Spines much like a solar panel. / (And long underwear of flannel.)"

Although it is certainly colorful, the accompanying art is also a disappointment. The "cave art” approach may be considered clever by some reviewers, but I'm not one of them! Often cluttered backgrounds envelope the dino illustrations to the point that they actually get lost on the page. For example, I can hardly make out the pictures of the Triceratops, Minmi, Ankylosaurus and Stegoceras . I would expect a child would have an even more difficult time trying to see the creatures.

Naturally, I must also admit that although I was totally turned off by this book, a very young child might find the silliness hilarious. So, rather than recommending you avoid this title, I'd suggest you preview it with your child. If he or she likes it, forget everything I just wrote and buy it!

The Complete Fables of La Fontaine (Poetry/Fables)

Released November 2008

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Suitable to child and adult, Craig Hill's translation of Jean de La Fontaine's poetic fables captures both the fables and witty morals set forth with each tale. Children may miss the author poking fun at society, but they will enjoy the fables themselves.

Many of the fables set forth in La Fontaine's complete collection will seem familiar. Remember the crow and the fox? The fox used flattery to get the crow to drop the cheese teaching that vanity is not always a good thing. Other tales include the Tortoise and the Hare or the Lion and the Mouse. Children will relate to these and many other fables, but all are told in a poetic format that makes them fresh and vibrant.

THE COMPLETE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE provide pen and ink illustrations by Edward Sorel, but the majority of the book is simply words on paper making them best for bedtime reading. Parents will want to read the book for themselves and enjoy the pokes at society of that time period, and children will simply love having mom or dad share a story or two before lights go out for the night.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where Did I Come From (Picture Book)

Released 2006 (Reissue)

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Approaching the dreaded "sex talk" with your teen is something many parents dread. Honestly, waiting until they are teenagers is pointless. By that time it is too late. Take it from me, you need to discuss sex with your children before puberty. If you don't, they'll learn incorrect information from friends and schools push abstinence, something that obviously works for few.

WHERE DID I COME FROM is a great way to broach the topic of sex and fetal development with your younger child. Sex is dealt with honestly, with realistic looking characters (a cartoonish, not-model-thin man and woman) and a listing of myths children might have heard with the reality of how the baby develops in the womb and how the baby is created.

This is how I learned about babies as an elementary school child. This is how my children learned. In fact, I'd bet there are thousands of us out here who learned from this book. It's humorous, honest and definitely one of the best books on the market. Children relate to it and parents find it paints an honest picture with humor and without any fluff.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Missing Chick (Picture Book)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This nicely illustrated picture book features a small chick who goes missing and gets the entire town in an uproar.

One of Mother hen's seven young chicks suddenly disappears when she is hanging out the wash one day. Looking high and low, the frantic mother can't find her baby. She then enlists the help of her neighbors, the local fire department and the police to locate the missing chick. Fortunately, the story ends on a happy note when someone finally notices there is a little, yellow fluffy chicken asleep in the laundry basket!

Embedded in this story there's a simple message for toddlers who might be prone to wandering away from mom or dad. You might want to remind your child after you read this, "When we are outside always keep close and make sure I CAN SEE WHERE YOU ARE at all times!"

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rain Forests (Non-Fiction)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Showcasing the jungle ecosystem from the canopy to the ground, this amazing book is filled with lots of information about the creatures, plants and microclimates that makes the rain forest such a special environment.

From the tallest trees and colorful flowering plants to the smallest insects and exotic birds that prey upon them, this beautifully illustrated volume gives an overview of the rain forest that will dazzle young readers.
After learning about the mammals, reptiles and humans who live in these endangered areas, hopefully the youngsters will want to do even more in- depth research to discover what can be done to preserve and save what still remains of the world's rain forests.

Part of the "Insiders" series of books, "Rain Forests" is ideal for home or school use. Why not check with your child's teacher or the school librarian to see if the book has been purchased yet? If not, this would be a nice "end-of-the-year" gift to give the school on your child's behalf.

Home schooling parents will also find this a worthwhile purchase that can be shared with other home schooling families.

Spuds (Picture Book)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Money was sometimes hard to come by in the household and often there was “nothin’ left over, not even for us kids.” Ma worked very hard to support Maybelle, Jack and little Eddie. Maybelle, the oldest, was always scheming and thought they would go over to Kenney’s field and harvest some spuds because if they didn’t, they’d rot anyway. After Ma went to work, they got the wagon out, three old sacks and made their way to Waddell Road.

They got down on their knees and started to dig in the dirt with only the moonlight to guide them. Jack worked hard, “thinkin’ on how they’d taste cooked up, fillin’ [him] with all kinds of goodness.” What he was thinking was one thing, what Ma would think was quite another. Oh, my, spuds weren’t the only thing that went into those bags!

Wendy Watson’s art work heavily contributes to the heartwarming tone of this book. Hesse, Newbery Medal Winner, has penned a lovely tale that addresses moral issues that every child encounters early in their lives in one form or another. This is an old-fashioned tale with a never-ending message of the importance of good old home-based integrity and love.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Summoning ('Tween & Teen)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

My daughter asked me to start this review with her statement: "This is the greatest book I've ever read. Mom, you have GOT to read it next."

It still amazes me that a 'tween I had to force to read for 20 minutes a night has suddenly become a bookworm. Seriously, she comes home from school and, if the weather isn't her definition of perfect, curls up in her room with the radio on and a book in hand. THE SUMMONING got a double-thumbs up from her.

THE SUMMONING introduces Chloe Saunders. She's 15, loathes the fact that her period has yet to arrive and has a father who is generally away on one business trip or another. The magical day arrives when her period hits. She's "grinning like an idiot" over its arrival, but things soon become strange.

Chloe sees the rotting corpse of a custodian and does what any normal person would do--screams and runs. The problem is he doesn't give up. Soon, Chloe is whisked away to the Lyle House and diagnosed with schizophrenia. The thing is Chloe is not schizophrenic, she's actually seeing ghosts.

As Chloe makes new friends at Lyle House, she learns there is more to this facility than she could ever imagine.

This is the first book in a trilogy. I happened to read Book Two before the first, but that didn't matter. Going back to see how things got started helped fill in the blanks, and I never felt like I knew to much to make the story worthwhile. In fact, I couldn't put it down.

If you love teen fiction and go nuts for paranormal, you cannot miss this series! Chloe is extremely likable.

My daughter's already asking me if Kelley Armstrong has finished the third book yet. She's not happy with the answer--May 2010--but good things come to those who wait!

Trudy (Picture Book)

Released January 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Esme and her grandfather were going to the farm auction to get an animal for her. They looked at a black-and-white cow, a rooster (“cccrock-a-doodle-doo”), some stinky pigs, ducks and some other birds not even worth mentioning. All of a sudden Esme spotted a very interesting sign. “‘TRUDY’ FREE TO GOOD HOME.” Perhaps that was just the kind of animal that she had been looking for. It was the right size, wasn’t stinky like a pig, and wasn’t a birdy. Yes, Trudy was going home with them.

Trudy would keep Esme busy and happy. There were chores to do, but she found time to read to her. Trudy’s job was to go into the barnyard and keep an eye on the family, but one day she went back into the barn because she knew it was going to snow. She did this thing for twenty-seven days and then grandmother said, “That goat is a natural-born weather forecaster.” Word started to get around of her amazing talents, but one day she was wrong. The snow didn’t come as she predicted. What had happened to Trudy?

I loved this little story and was quite taken by the love Esme obviously had for her pet. Henry Cole wrote and illustrated this charmer and I think because he wrote it knew exactly how to bring Trudy and her human family to life. This is an excellent book and has that extra little zip that will excite your little animal lover!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Outsiders (Teen)

Released March 2009 (Reissue)

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I cannot name the number of times I read and re-read S.E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS as a teenager. It wasn't until adulthood that I learned she'd written the book as a sixteen year old. Today, THE OUTSIDERS is taught in high school. It still grabs the heart of its readers and draws you into the lives of Ponyboy and Johnny.

Fourteen-year-old Ponyboy's being raised by his brothers after their parents die. It's the 1960s and there are two main social classes--Greasers and Socials or Socs for short. Ponyboy and his friends are greasers and often the target of the Socs' prejudices. One night, Ponyboy and his friend Johnny are on their way home when they clash with a group of Socs. Johnny winds up killing a Soc during this scuffle. Fearing the wrath and potential jail time that is to follow, the duo go on the run and readers go along for the emotional journey.

THE OUTSIDERS tackles many issues teens face including bullying and social status. I have to admit that I'm thankful my children's school is so proactive when it comes to preventing bullying. They don't experience half the things I did in elementary, middle and high school in the 1970s and 80s.

It's a powerful read that is hard to put down. If you have the chance, check out the movie adaptation starring some big names including Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze and Diane Lane among others.

Quiet in the Garden (Picture Book)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

The garden is a beautiful place where the wide-eyed boy love to play in. There were birds, flowers, little vegetable plots, a place to read, a little fish pond with a koi fish swimming around and even a bunny hiding behind a flower pot. It was a magical place to be. If he is quiet, he can hear and see many more things.

“I am so quiet, I even hear sound around me–
chirp, squeak, crunch.
I can almost hear a butterfly flutter by.
I sit and listen.”

A robin flew down to snatch berries from a bush. A snail chomp, chomped away at leaves. A butterfly flitted around the flowers. The little boy saw it all. Worms and bug squiggled along the ground and the wide-eyed squirrel crunched his nuts and saw them. The little boy was watching and listening and saw many interesting things when he was quiet in the garden. What kinds of things do you hear and see when you are quiet?

The watching, listening little boy and Aliki’s charming illustrations encourage the young child to revel in his or her own quiet time. An illustrated page in the back encourages children to make their own “quiet” gardens. This is a perfect quiet/circle time book to read and discuss. Oops . . . do I hear something?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mommy, Where are you? (Picture Book)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Ozzy wakes early one morning only to find his mother is not in the house. "Mommy, Mommy! Where are you?" the little gray mouse calls out. He hurries outside and looks over the fence and then behind a rock. But, mommy is not there!

Then he sees something moving in the tall grass but it is only a bunny. As the search continues, Ozzy becomes more frantic. Where is his mother? He looks up in a tree, in a nearby pond and even in the tulip bed. The results are sadly the same - no mommy!

Finally, the scared, little mouse goes home and miraculously, there's his mother waiting for him. She had just gone out to get something good for them to eat for breakfast.

This clever story addresses the fears some preschoolers have that a parent will suddenly disappear. After you read this picture book to your child make sure to assure him or her that there's no need to panic if you are not always where you are expected to be. It is important to make the child realize that sometimes mommy or daddy has to go out to do something but there's no need to worry.

Face to Face with Wolves (Juvenile Non-Fiction)

Released May 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Jim Brandenburg says that “if you want to follow wolves in the wild, you have to think like a wolf.” He wanted to see them when he was young, but they are an elusive animal and don’t often let themselves be seen. Years later, he finally was able to see and photograph them in the Canadian Arctic, where they aren’t quite as shy. After three summers he left to return home to northern Minnesota, anxious to use the skills he had learned . . . this time perhaps he would be able to find and photograph them!

Judy, his wife, who also holds a fascination with wolves, helped Jim write this book. The red wolf and the gray wolf live in North America. Many people used to hate and fear wolves. Do you remember Laura’s father, Charles Ingalls, from the Little House series? He was so petrified of the wolves his hair practically stood on end? Today people aren’t as frightened of them because people like the Brandenburgs are educating us about their ways. Scientists say wolf families are similar to human families in that they actually take care of one another and have a social structure!

Sadly wolves in the lower 48 states are on the endangered species list. This book is very comprehensive and sympathetic toward the wolf. The photography is stunning and the storyline is quite appealing. The book has a map, fascinating sidebar material, a “How You Can Help” section, ideas on how to enjoy wolves, “Facts at A Glance,” a glossary, and lists additional recommended books and web sites. Does anyone want to learn how to "speak wolf?"

Sunday, May 3, 2009

20 Boy Summer (Teen)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Every now and then a book comes along that truly touches the heart. 20 BOY SUMMER is that book! I picked it up. By the end of the third chapter, my face was covered in tears and my throat had a lump the size of a grapefruit stuck in it. Yet, I felt compelled to keep reading. I needed to know that Anna would be okay.

Neighbors and best friends, Anna, Francesca (aka Frankie) and Frankie's older brother Matt have been involved in each others lives from the day they were born. At her fifteenth birthday party, the one thing Anna wants most happens. Her family celebrates with their neighbors just like every year, but this is the year Matt kisses her.

Soon, Anna and Matt are becoming an item, but he wants to be the one to tell Frankie. Neither of them are sure how Frankie will react. Until she's told, Anna and Matt share stolen kisses, midnight rendezvous and fleeting touches. And then, everything is ripped apart.

On the way home from ice cream, Matt, Anna and Frankie are in a car accident. An undiagnosed hole in Matt's heart lets go. Matt is dead and Anna and Frankie are left to piece together their lives. One year passes and Frankie's family opts to take Anna on their yearly trip to California's coast. Though she's still mourning Matt, Anna agrees to join Frankie on a mission. During their vacation, they will hook up with 20 different guys and see where these romances take them.

So summing this up--20 BOY SUMMER is compelling, emotional and one of the best teen girl romances-of-sorts I think I've ever read. It is a romance, but so much more.

I Want To Be Free (Picture Book)

Released January 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

He is a young slave and wants his freedom, but when he tried to run he was captured and chains were slapped on his ankle. There is only one thing running through his head, he cannot escape that, but he can try to run any chance he gets.

Before I die, I want to be free.
But the Big man says, “You belong to me.”

He ran, but couldn’t remove the ring. No one could help him and no one could help a motherless child left behind for the dogs and the Big man to find. He wasn’t going to leave a defenseless child to perish or lose his soul to slavery. He took the child and ran to the Land of the Free. Would the young man and little boy find what they were looking for so far away from home?

This is a touching and heartwarming poetic tale of an unlikely partnership and their quest for freedom. The watercolors were sweeping and poignant, one especially reminiscent of Kunta Kinte’s dilemma with his chains. It’s a beautiful story that shouldn’t be passed up.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Your Own Big Bed (Infant/Toddler)

Released May 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Baby animals like the colorful pink flamingo, the scaly snapping alligator and the baby sea turtle all struggle to get out of their shells to enter the world. Human babies grow inside their mother’s tummies until they are ready to come out and enter the world too. Koala baby bears cling to their mother’s backs, kangaroos are tucked into their mother’s pouches while baby tigers are carried in their mother’s mouths.

All babies, animal and human grow up and begin to walk, fly, hop and join the world. Birds may sleep in nests, but little boys sleep in a crib. When little boys get older they don’t always fit in those baby cribs anymore and it is time to move along . . . to sleep in their own big beds!

I loved the gentle flow of this story and the cozy, colorful illustrations add just the right touch. As every parent knows and comes to experience, the little changes in a child’s life can emotionally run the gamut from crisis to excitement. This is one of many that are exciting and simply shouts, I’m a big boy now! For a debut children’s book it’s charming and will make a delightful bedtime book to be placed on the night stand next to the “new” big bed.

Paper Towns (Teen)

Released October 2008 (Paperback release 9/09)

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

During childhood, Quentin "Q" Jacobsen and his friend Margo Roth Spiegelman discovered the body of a man sitting against a tree. Q's parents, both therapists, raised a pretty level-headed kid. For Margo, this event shaped her life. At that young age, she took it upon her self to unravel why this man had to die. Even after police declare it a suicide, she still goes around investigating.

Years later, Margo and Q, seniors in high school, have gone their separate ways. Margo's the popular one and Q gets by. The last thing he expects is to have Margo climb in his bedroom window asking for help. Her boyfriend is cheating on her and Margo needs a driver while she exacts her revenge.

The next morning, Margo disappears. Q discovers a clue she left for him and decides it is his turn to unravel the clues and discover exactly where Margo has gone and why.

PAPER TOWNS is a powerful read. It's easy to get drawn into Q's life, especially as the events of Senior prom and graduation mixed with Margo's disappearance force Q to make choices he'd never dreamed of making. I'd never heard of "paper towns," so I learned a bit in the process, yet never felt the true details of these forgotten parcels overshadowed the story.

This is a book that both teen and parent will enjoy together. I spent a bit of time snickering at scenes. All in all, it's a fun read that does get you thinking.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Before John was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane (Picture Book)

Released April 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

When John Coltrane was a boy and way before he became famous he heard musical sounds coming from his own house. He listened to “hambones knocking in Grandma’s pots, Daddy strumming the ukelele, and Mama cranking the phonograph.” These weren’t jazz sounds, but may well have been the kinds of sounds that John later tuned into those tunes that made him a jazz giant. Sounds whirled around him and he listened.

Before John was a jazz giant,
he heard big bands on the radio
and a saxophone’s soulful solo,
blue notes crooning his name.

Sean Qualls's soulful and thoughtful artwork, especially the wide-eyed depiction of Coltrane as a boy, brings a lot to the poetic tale. In the back, under the Author’s Note, there is a clear, concise mini biography of John Coltrane, a revolutionary jazz composer and saxophonist. There are additional musical and book recommendations. A combination lesson of ‘listen and learn’ after reading this book would be a fun classroom activity!

Dark Fiddler: The Life and Legend of Nicolo Paganini (Juvenile)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Legend has it that when Teresa Paganini was pregnant with her son, Nicolo, she had a visitation from an angel. The angel told her that her son would be famous, but the cost of this fame would be heavy. They say that Nicolo actually died of the plague when he was just a wee boy, but someone fortunately saw him take a breath before they placed him in the ground, saving his life.

Nicolo became a musical prodigy, but was not pampered by his father, who was practically a slave driver when it came time for the boy to practice. He outpaced his instructors at a very early age and resorted to teaching himself. The sickly boy left home at an early age to lead a decadent life, but never let his music fall by the wayside. “Word spread that he could play twelve notes a second. Twelve notes!” He was a dark fiddler, but had he made a pact with the Devil in exchange for his talents?

This story, along with the haunting, swirling art work, was simply fascinating. The apparent narrator, a grave digger, made it darker still. This “legend has it” tale may spur the young reader into wanting to know more about the life and times of Nicolo Paganini. In the postlude there is a short, but very comprehensive and interesting biography of Nicolo. Bravo!