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.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Dragon Diary (Juvenile)

Released May 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Picking up where The Dragon Eye, the first volume of the Dragonology Chronicles left off, The Dragon Diary finds apprentice dragonologists Daniel and Beatrice Cook awaiting the hatching of the dragon's egg they are watching over.

Unfortunately, just when the shell begins to crack, Dr. Ernest Drake, the children's mentor, is called away to India. Dr. Drake has a dual mission: to tend to the gravely ill nana dragons left behind and he is also seeking more information about the brother and sister's missing parents.

While he is gone, the children receive a tip that if they can decipher the ancient Dragon Diary they will discover the secret of curing sick dragons. With a deadly plague afflicting dragons throughout the world, this could be the key to reversing the malady. Unfortunately, their arch nemesis, Alexandra Gorynytchka, also seeks to posses this information for her own evil purposes.

Determined to do what they can to crack the mystery of the Liber Draconis, Daniel and Beatrice take the dragon hatchling left in their charge and traverse the globe on the Dragon Express looking for a way of cracking the Dragonish code. The question is, can they outmaneuver Alexandra in the process?

Popular with the middle-grades set, this series started with plenty of action in The Dragon Eye. Young readers who devoured that first book will certainly want to follow the Cook children's second adventure. This wing-borne journey is filled with plenty of danger, intrigue and fire-breathing action, so grab your ticket for a wild ride on the Dragon Express!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Eagle Eyes (Picture Book)

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Young Ben cannot concentrate on his school assignments. Then he forgets the papers his teacher sent home for him to complete making it impossible to hand them in on time. A trip to the doctor reveals the reason behind Ben's troubles, he has Attention Deficit Disorder.

He learns a song to help him remember daily routines. His new medications make it easier to focus. While out hiking with his father and sister, Ben's new found abilities will save the day!

Originally published in 1990, EAGLE EYES provides children with an easily read view into the life of a young boy with ADD. The illustrations by Michael LaDuca complement the text well. They are bright and colorful without distracting from the story. The story itself will appeal to children who have ADD; they'll appreciate learning that there are others like them.

At the end of the book is a section of discussion questions parents can use to help reinforce the story with their child. The sixteen questions help drive home the point that having ADD is not something to be ashamed of. Plus, the song within EAGLE EYES may well help other children.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sparrow Girl (Juvenile)

Released February 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

The Chinese were declaring war against the sparrows, claiming they were their enemies. Ming-Li’s Older Brother had a basket of firecrackers to frighten them away with, but Ming-Ling was upset because she liked sparrows. Even her mother and father were excited at the prospect of having a village barn filled with grain. If the sparrows were around, they would eat it all before it could be put into storage. She was so upset and couldn’t sleep. When she went in to talk to Older Brother, he simply said to her, “Our Leader’s plans are always perfect. They told us at school. Now, go to sleep!” Chairman Mao was always right.

The next morning the whole village seemed to explode with noise. Everyone was trying to drive away the sparrows. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Birds began to fall from the sky. They were literally dying from fright. Ming-li ran home to check on her own pigeon. Older Brother must have let her out, but when she went up to the roof her pet flew to her. She died in her arms and “tears filled Ming’Li’s eyes.” Later, whenever she saw a bird fall to the ground, she rushed to pick it up. Perhaps she could save just one. The birds were coming down in torrents. Would there be any birds left in China?

This story is based on the true story of Chairman Mao’s Great Sparrow War in 1958. This program proved ecologically unsound because without the sparrows, the locust population grew and contributed to “a famine that killed between thirty and forty million Chinese” people. The story is very touching and heartbreaking. The art work superbly captures the mood of the story. This is a serious tale and would be an excellent choice for a historical or ecological class study.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How To Potty Train Your Monster (Picture Book)

Released May 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

If it is time to start potty training, this cute picture book addresses the situation with humor. Follow the ten steps the author offers and it shouldn't take too long before your little "monster" will be able to do it himself!

The various common sense steps include getting your child his own potty chair, make frequent bathroom stops during the day, use lots of praise when the desired results are achieved, and always remember accidents will happen so don't freak out!

As the author and wild illustrations by Mike Moon stress, it is essential that you do not lose your sense of humor when embarking on this milestone in your child's life. The book has plenty of funny commentary but also common sense comments about the task at hand, so pay close attention to the "warnings" and the "tips.”

First and foremost, this is a picture book to share with your little monster so you'll wish to read it with him a number of times aloud before you start the actual potty training. I'd suggest you ask your child to tell you when he or she feels ready to begin. After reading the book a few times, I think the child will get the idea and give you the green light!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Prism (Young Adult)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Bestselling writer Faye Kellerman teams up with her teen daughter Aliza to write PRISM, a teen novel that will keep readers on the edge of their seat. Imagine a world where there are no doctors. Medications are illegal. If you become sick, you may well be doomed to death.

On a class field trip, high schooler Kaida is stuck in a van with Zeke, a popular kid, and Joy, a brainiac with a penchance for smoking. When the van the trio are in crashes and bursts into flames, they manage to escape. A storm hits and they seek shelter in a nearby cave. It's in this cave that their lives change. After falling into a pit, blackness envelops them. Their only hope is to wait for morning and see if they can find where the bats fly back into the cave. When morning arrives, blinding light appears. All three wake up back in their beds, days before the accident even occurred.

Soon Kaida, Joy and Zeke discover this world is different. There is no 911, no medications and talking about sickness is not kosher.

PRISM is a gripping, action packed read. It's got a touch of romance and plenty of adventure. The writing kept the pace flowing at a steady pace from start to finish. I imagine this novel will appeal to a wide array of young adult readers--those who love action and those who want an emotionally charged story.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Growing Up (Juvenile)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

This is the final book in Wanda E. Brunstetter's Rachel Yoder series. In this offering, Rachel spends more time daydreaming than getting her work done. This leads to numerous problems from unfinished schoolwork to farm animals who escape when Rachel fails to latch the gate properly. Tired with Rachel's lack of responsibility, her mother doubles her chores hoping to break Rachel of her lackadaisical work ethics.

If you've not read other Rachel Yoder books, don't worry. They stand alone beautifully. The books paint an honest picture into the life of an Amish girl. I'll admit, I often feel sympathetic with Rachel because she is a kid with all these chores to handle, more so when her brother's dog gets into the house and is on her bed and she gets yelled at for the dog's actions, though there is no obvious proof it was her fault. I realize there is a big difference in cultures between Rachel's mom and myself, but there were times I definitely found the parents to be out of line. I wonder how many readers will also have that issue.

Readers will learn a lot about the Amish culture through Rachel Yoder's eyes. With the addition of a craft project at the end and a quick dictionary of Amish words, there is plenty to learn.

Jumping to Conclusions (Juvenile)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS is the seventh book in the Rachel Yoder series. Rachel is an 11-year-old Amish girl who finds herself in a few troublesome situations. The problem is Rachel can't stop herself from eavesdropping and each time she listens in, she not only upsets people, but she starts causing more and more chaos with her misinformation.

Also in this story, Rachel's cousin Mary returns for a visit. Mary seems more interested in Rachel's baby sister than in Rachel. There are a few hurt feelings because of this.

Though it is the seventh in the series, it stands alone well. Everything is explained so that new readers quickly catch up with the different characters.

I'll admit to learning a few things reading Wanda Brunstetter's story. Rachel is about my daughter's age. It was interesting for me to see just how different Rachel's life was in comparison. I realize the Amish have their strict customs, but they are so different I honestly wonder how kids stand it. Throughout the book, Rachel is forced to care for her infant sister, small cousin and still handle household chores and schooling.

If you are interested in the Amish culture, you'll get a realistic impression through this book.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Arabella Miller's Tiny Caterpillar (Picture Book)

Released March 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Arabella found a little caterpillar one day when she was outside. When you climb trees very often, you’ll find little critters sticking to you when you come down. This one was on her sleeve and she introduced herself to him. She took him inside the house and cuddled up in her chair with her dog at her feet and said to him, “Tiny caterpillar’s safe with Arabella Miller.” She let him wander around a bit and he ended up on her mother and her little brother. Her mother wasn’t all that happy when he crawled on the baby and she asked Arabella to put him away. And she did.

She made him a nice little home. Arabella spent a long time fixing it up. She filled a shoe box with all kinds of things like flowers, leaves and grass. “Tiny caterpillar, stay with Arabella Miller.” He was a spoiled little critter and she gave him all kinds of interesting things to eat like “curly cabbage” and “frizzy parsley.” He grew and shed his skin many times. Finally “he made a shell with him inside–the perfect, cozy place to hide.” She would wonder what he was dreaming in there. Would he ever come out of his little house?

This is the perfect story for the little one who loves nature and the little critters he or she finds out there. The art work is charming, as in most of the Candlewick books I run across. In the back of the book there is a two-page spread on the life cycle of the butterfly from the egg to the butterfly. It is a nice read aloud book for either home or circle time. If you have a little “bug lover” in your life, this book and a bug trap would probably be a much appreciated gift!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Little Quack Counts (Board Book)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Little Quack and his sister Widdle practice their numbers in this soft cover, padded board book. Off on a little adventure, the pair first see a single butterfly, then two fish, three ladybugs, four purple wildflowers and five bees.

OOPS! Five bees! It looks like it is time to make a mad dash for home, but on the way they pass four frogs, three dragonflies, and two turtles
before they get back to one Mama Duck!

I don't think anyone has created a cuter duckling than Derek Anderson and the success of the Little Quack series confirms that preschoolers (and their parents) love this adventurous duck as well. The priceless expressions on all the creatures in this counting book, including the tiniest of insects, make them fun to gaze at.

This splendid, inexpensive picture book will help your preschooler master some simple counting skills and have fun doing it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wounded by School (Non-Fiction)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

In 1997, my 4 1/2 year old son was ready for school. He was reading picture books by himself, wrote his entire alphabet, counted to 50 and could add single-digit numbers together. We went to sign him up for the upcoming year of kindergarten and learned the school board opted to move the required starting age to five by August 31st. If your child was even a few days short of that new deadline, they would have to wait an extra year before entering school. My son missed that age requirement by a few weeks.

Despite our very public televised and print battle, the school was not going to waive their new policy. My father-in-law was a teacher with more than 30 years experience and he even went to bat for us saying our son was more than ready. In the end, our son waited a year. A year later, the school was telling us that our son was too advanced for kindergarten and that we should consider having him skip a grade. Not only was it frustrating for us as parents, our son suffered too. WOUNDED BY SCHOOL takes a look at how today's modern school system is forgetting about the joy of learning and focusing on required testing (NECAP here) and other programs failing our children.

As a child "wounded by school," I found Kirsten Olson's offering to be a refreshing read. One that I'd like to think teachers, school boards and government officials take to heart. I still remember being a kindergartener and being told by the teacher that she had to make phone calls so she wanted me to sit in her chair and read out loud to my peers. Three books later, she returned. However, my peers singled me out, even at that age, and picked on me for being so smart and being a teacher's pet. Any time I was put in her chair while she made phone calls, I'd get laughed at and pointed at by my classmates. In the end, it made me nervous when put in front of a group of people. That plagued me my entire school career. I hated speeches and often took the F rather than deal with the anxiety. While I maintained As and Bs in classes, speeches and presentations never went well.

Kirsten Olson shares the stories of a number of students who explain how schooling affected their self-esteem. Learn about a substitute teacher who battled for a student only to be shot down by the principal or a student placed in a remedial reading class and how it affects his self-esteem.

WOUNDED BY SCHOOL is geared for teens and adults. The book offers plenty of insight into the problems students face, both from school teachers and their parents, and suggests ways to make school fun again.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lovey and Dovey (Picture Book)

Released January 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Although they certainly don't rank with Bonnie and Clyde when it comes to breaking the law, Lovey and Dovey have swiped a pair of blue socks so now the two lovebirds are jailbirds.

Sharing the same dismal cell, Dovey says, "How lucky that we have each other."

"That's certainly a good thing," Lovey agrees, but she continues that she doesn't "think much of the view". Dovey knows he can fix that so he squeezes through the cell's bars and goes in search of something to beautify the ambiance of their "home".

Returning with the sun, the sea, the stars and moon (actually, pictures of them), Dovey's dungeon decoration project is off to a wonderful start. Soon an apple tree is added to the mix along with all sorts of other goodies.

Eventually Lovey puts her stamp of approval on Dovey's efforts when she says, "We're pretty snug here." Now that's really an understatement! But, before the couple can get too comfortable, disaster strikes. They are released from the jail.

Now what? Simple. The sweethearts head straight back to the corner shop where they steal another pair of socks!

Created by a Dutch husband and wife writing team, "Lovey and Dovey" is a humorous but slightly bizarre story about a pair of thieves who have a way to make the best of a bad situation. Frankly, I'm not sure I'm very comfortable with a picture book about some quirky robbers. They may steal a young reader's heart, but I'm a little worried about the latent message this book carries about theft in general.

This book may have lost something in translation but I rather doubt it! My recommendation would be to definitely preview "Lovey and Dovey" before you make a purchase.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spark the Firefighter (Picture Book)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Hardscrabble, like many towns around the nation, was in need of volunteer firefighters. They “posted a sign and handed out notices,” but not a single person responded. Finally someone did show up at the fire department to put in an application, but the fire chief was a bit surprised. Spark was a dragon . . . , has anyone ever heard of a dragon that fought fires? Gee, mostly they started them, but Spark figured there was always a first time for everything. Oddly enough, fire made him nervous.

Spark wasn’t good at guarding treasure, he couldn’t frighten off mean old knights and most embarrassing of all, “other dragons had made fun of him.” Finally after discussing the situation with the rest of the firefighters they agree to give him a chance. He had to get into shape, learn how to handle the equipment and rescue people. He even had to help with school demonstrations. He made it through a few small fires and seemed to be doing well. Then one day when the alarm went off the firefighters found a barn on fire with many animals trapped inside. “It’s too dangerous for us to go in.” Was Spark brave enough to go in and if he did, would he be able to get the animals out?

This is the perfect story for the young wanna be firefighter. The story is fun, exciting and the art work is animated and vibrant. Children will be amused by the irony of a dragon becoming a firefighter and will want you to read this book to them time and time again. If a dragon comes to your school for a demonstration, you’ll know it’s Sparky. Oh, and remember . . . never play with fire!

Friday, June 19, 2009

How Many Cats? (Picture Book)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

HOW MANY CATS? by Lauren Thompson is a counting book with a twist. Not only does it take the young reader up to 20 (rather than 10 like similar books) and not only do we add cats, but we also subtract them.

One cat slips in through the household pet door, but soon a few friends follow and before you can say "catnip" you have a house filled with mischievous kitties knocking over lamps, batting yarn balls down the stairs, and jumping allover the furniture.

Eventually the fun ends, and in groups of two or more, the frenetic felines finish the frolic and head for home. By the final page the house is again quiet and empty but not quite as neat as it was before!

Robin Eley's wonderful illustrations bring the cats to life and make it easy for children ages three to seven to practice their counting skills. Pay attention to some of the animals' facial features; some of them are absolutely priceless.

I Can Read God's Word (Children's Bible)

Released August 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

It’s lots of fun to hear Bible stories at home or in church, but perhaps the younger members of your family are much too young to actually read the stories and verses all by themselves, even if they have a desire to do so. “I Can Read God’s Word” is the perfect solution to that dilemma. The passages are set up in paraphrased text using the NIV version of the Bible. This easy reader has sixteen stories based on familiar Bible passages, each seemingly more delightful than the last. Each page has a sentence or two and is beautifully illustrated. An example, based on Matthew 18: 12-13:

Jesus said, “A man has a hundred sheep. One of them runs away. What will he do? Will he leave the other sheep? Will he go to find the one that is lost? He will! But when he fins the lost sheep, what will eh do? Will he be angry? No. He will shout for joy! His little sheep was lost. Now she is safe in his arms again.”

Many Christian homeschoolers often look for easy readers that match their values, but seldom has one come along as impeccable as this one. This value-based phonetic easy reader, Reading Level 1, has lively appealing illustrations that give visual clues to the word or words on the pages that potentially add to reading fluency. At the beginning of each section is a brief synopsis of each story, an introduction of the “Big Word” and which “sounds and blends” will be used in the text. This is an excellent example of systematic phonics instruction and if you’d like to start your child out with a biblically based easy reader you’ve come to the right place!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Origami: The Complete Practical Guide to the Ancient Art of Paperfolding (Non-Fiction)

Released April 2001

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Once you've introduced your child to Origami with The Origami Master, it quickly becomes a favorite pasttime. For that reason, I felt it beneficial to offer a review of what my children feel is the greatest book on Origami out there.

Rick Beech's guide contains step-by-step instructions for hundreds of objects and creatures. The step-by-step uses actual photos to help guide a child every step of the way. The different Origami projects range in difficulty starting with Origami for beginners to very advanced projects. Projects include:

  • Paper crane
  • Teacup
  • Food container
  • Swan napkins
  • 3-D tetrahedron
  • Fireworks
  • Moving lizard
There are hundreds of possibilities presented by Origami masters from around the world.

If you want a definitive guide on Origami for your children, this is the only book to purchase!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Cats Are Made Of (Picture Book)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

For example, you'll learn that the Maine Coon is playful and very dexterous and that Ragdoll tends to go completely limp when it is picked up, hence its name. Trust me, this isn't very earthshaking information!

On the other hand, scattered throughout the book are side bars aptly named "Feline Fact" that present some really good stuff about cats. Some of these intriguing tidbits include - The oldest known cat lived for 36 years. Since a cat has no collarbone, it can fit through any opening the size of its head. A cat can usually jump five times the length of its tail.

I find it hard reconciling these "cool" facts with the more mundane, "ho-hum" content in each of the species' core paragraphs.

I am also ambivalent about the author's illustrations, which are way too surrealistic for my liking. Using what appears to be a cut and paste approach technique, Piven combines odd materials to create pictures that are a bit bizarre to say the least.

The "pictured" Maine Coon resembles a squat pumpkin, has two leafs for ears and a small crab is suppose to represent the nose and perhaps the mouth (it's hard to tell!). The cat's eyes are two more small leaves with what appear to be black rocks or jelly beans for pupils. I own a Maine Coon and, trust me, Sammy looks NOTHING like this. No doubt some folks would call this creativity "clever,” but I'm not one of those individuals.

So, what do we do with this book? Although the good barely outweighs the bad, I don't think I would recommend you purchase this picture book. On the other hand, a less critical person (and perhaps a non-cat owner) might be enthralled by the author's unusual illustrations and his approach to the wonderful world of felines. You'll have to decide for yourself, or, better still, take your child to the library or bookstore to look at the book. After paging through the book, your child will let you know if this is worth purchasing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Wisdom of Solomon: A Solomon Lapp and Friends Amish Storybook (Religious Children's Fiction)

Released March 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Every young child has lessons to learn and Solomon was no exception. His sister Sara often had a few lessons to learn as well. When you are young, it does take a bit of time and the wisdom of others to help you along your way. Solomon was a young Amish boy from a large family. Solomon, Mervin, Clarence, Paul, Aaron, Owen, Barbara, Katie, Carolyn and Sara and their parents were all there together to guide and nourish each other along their life’s paths. Oh, and of course they had ten cousins and their Uncle Noah (who just happened to be a minister).

Solomon thought he was schmaert (smart) and was often prone to give advice and didn’t hesitate to pat himself on the back, not realizing that some of his advice came from vanity and not logic. Abe wanted to know how he could get his teeth cleaner and Solomon raced into the house for a bar of soap. “Danki!” (thanks) Everyone he had given advice to ran into trouble of sorts. Uncle Noah reminded him that “before giving advice, it’s best to pray and ask for wisdom.” Sara on the other hand, didn’t want her brother Solomon’s advice when he said to her “you’re stretching the truth.” She said a spider was as “big as a horse,” she broke one of her Mom’s favorite dishes and broke the string on Solomon’s yo-yo. Was Sara going to learn to be honest or would she get her good friend Betty in trouble? “Thump! Thump! Thump!” Sara’s heart was pounding. It was now or never!

This value-based book was utterly charming and I was so entranced I almost finished it in one sitting. Each chapter is introduced with quotation from Proverbs to introduce the ethic or common sense teaching that Solomon or Sara (or your own child) will need to learn. The way of the Amish and their dialogue is gently introduced throughout the book. Regardless of creed, this book is one that will gently point out lessons that need to be learned. The playful artwork that graces almost every page meshes perfectly with the text. In the back of the book is a glossary of “Amish Words and Phrases.” This is a delightful book is one you won’t want to pass up!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Origami Master (Picture Book)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Shima lived all alone up in the mountains. The only thing that kept him company there was a warbler high in the tree outside his home and his origami. Hoohokekyo . . . hoohokekyo! He was a master of origami and if you are a master of something few, if any can do as well or better than you can. One night when he went to bed the warbler suddenly came in his home and worked on an origami elephant. He had seen Shima working and thought he would try it himself. When Shima found the elephant he was surprised because it was beautiful and better than his. Hmmmm, “someone is playing a trick on me, he thought.”

Day after day he plied his trade folding masterful origami. He made a dragon and then spiders. He hid in his hall to wait and see who was playing this trick on him. It was the warbler! He then decided to go into town and get a birdcage. If he captured the warbler, he could make many wonderful things from origami paper. He caught the struggling bird and put him in the cage with origami paper and food. Somehow the bird became inactive and had no interest in origami, even when Shima made all sorts of lovely things to show him. One night the bird escaped and left behind an origami key. Was the warbler trying to tell him something?

This is a beautifully woven tale about friendship, making one and suddenly losing it through thoughtlessness. The art work is very appealing and gives it the perfect oriental flavor. This would be a perfect read aloud and discuss book on the importance of friendship in the homeschool or classrooms setting. In the back of the book are instructions for making an origami bird. There are two additional recommended origami books listed.

Gifted: Better Late Than Never (Young Adult)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The second in the Gifted series, BETTER LATE THAN NEVER focuses on Jenna Kelley. When Jenna's mother checks into rehab, Jenna moves in temporarily with classmate Tracey Devon--catch up here!

Jenna's routine takes a drastic turn when the father she's never met suddenly reappears hoping to become a part of her life. While Tracey is convinced the man has ulterior motives, Jenna's thrilled to finally have a parent who is truly there for her.

If you are new to Marilyn Kaye's Gifted series, the books share the stories of a group of teens with special powers. Tracey has the power of invisibility. Jenna is able to read people's minds. Other powers include being able to take over someone's body, hearing dead people and predicting the future.

The books are truly engaging and hook the reader from the start. My 'tween loves this series and is now anxiously awaiting the next book in this series. I'd love to read about Ken next and hopefully more learn about the very mysterious Carter!

If you enjoy paranormal books like the Twilight series or Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers series, don't miss the Gifted series. The author takes everyday teens-jocks, Goths, wallflowers and the popular girls-and places them in situations any teen can relate to.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Inside All (Picture Book)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

In and around our universe there is energy flowing, swirling around in our solar system. “Inside the universe is a galaxy/Milky and glowing. Inside the galaxy /Is a planet/Blue and hopeful.” Under the stars in the skies there is a planet awash with green growing plants. Splashes of other colors highlight the landscape. Winds blow through the trees making them move and sing. “Inside the valley/Is a village/Twinkling light showing.”

Inside a home nestled in the valley is a happy home that is growing quiet as nighttime approaches. There is a nice cuddly, cozy bed ready for someone like you to get into. “Under the covers/Is you/Sleepy eyes closing.” There is a heart inside this little one and it is glowing. What do you suppose is inside this heart?

This is a quiet, sensitive, visual book that soothes the emotions and senses. The art work is beautiful and compliments the text perfectly. It as if the author and the illustrator have magically blended into one soul for this project. This is not an active, bounce around book, but rather one in which a parent or caretaker could read slowly and quietly, putting a child to bed. Any lessons to be learned from this book, provided you wanted to find any, could be interpreted by each individual reader as I could see many that could possibly emanate from the words and the visuals.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tony and the Pizza Champions (Picture Book)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Packed with colorful illustrations and a few handy recipes, TONY AND THE PIZZA CHAMPIONS is sure to get younger readers involved in both this entertaining hardcover and the recipes that follow the story.

Parents may recognize the characters in the story, especially if they watch Food Network. Tony Gemignani and his team have won numerous World Pizza Championships in Italy.

The story is autobiographical and details Tony's quest to build the perfect team and win the championship. A few pizza related facts are sprinkled in, some I knew and others were informative. Turns out, I guess I'm Texan at heart because I always dip my pizza crusts in ranch dressing!

The story ends with a recipe for pizza dough and actual photos of the pizza tossing team. I haven't tried the dough recipe because I don't think anyone has a better dough recipe than Alton Brown's, but that's my preference talking. The recipe does look solid though. The pizza sauce recipe, I plan to look up. The author also includes recipes for a cheese pizza and then a few ideas that kids will want to try. Finally, there is a detailed instruction guide on learning to toss your own dough, something I've yet to master.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Always (Picture Book)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

The diminutive dog featured in this adorable picture book has signed on for a very big job. As the self-proclaimed "keeper of the castle,” he’ll have to protect his best friend, a little dark haired girl, from all sorts of danger.

He will keep the "castle" safe from squirrels, guard against monsters (a tiny spider), halt avalanches (toys falling out of the closet) and patrol for intruders such as a band of savage mice.

The dog will also keep watch over the little girl's blanket at night (by lying on top of her) and, if necessary, divert meteors with a baseball bat. Why is the little fellow willing to brave such dangers and repel all invaders?

He says, "Do you mean to say that you don't know? Because you live here."

Even though the dog is the narrator of this picture book, it isn't too much of a stretch to pretend that you would perform all these brave feats to protect your little princess too!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Middle School (Non-Fiction)

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Jessica

My mom figured I'd have better insight into this middle school survival guide because I am currently in middle school. The illustrations are good, fitting for our age group, cartoon like without seeming overly childish. The advice-some is perfect but other tips are not realistic in school settings, or at least my school. My school is in a small town with a student body of 800 (elementary and middle schools are in one building), so maybe city schools are different, though I really don't think so.

Topics include:

  • Using a planner
  • Getting along with teachers
  • Improving grades
  • Changing your clothes for gym
  • Doing homework
  • Test preparation
  • Group assignments
  • Stopping rumors
  • Crushes
  • Bullying
  • Pimples
  • Breaking up with your BFF

In terms of planners, our school provides them and they are part of your homework. Some teachers make your parents sign them at the end of the week to prove you use them. So usually, planners are not voluntary ensuring students use them.

Bullying was one of my biggest issues. My brother went to the principal about a bully once when the bully punched a kid having an asthma attack. The principal took him aside and said that since the bully comes from a broken home, special consideration has to be given to him. This isn't the only time I've seen that happen. Talking to your teachers, in my experience, rarely works and only targets you. The best advice also comes in that book about sticking in a group.

Another one I had issues with was getting teachers to like you. I get along with most of my teachers, but my mom has a good example for this one. In middle school, her Home Ec teacher gave her horrible grades simply because she didn't like my mom's best friend. My mom did once ask her what she could do to get along better and the teacher said, "Find new friends." Not really fair. I've learned from my own experiences that some people just don't get along. If I have a teacher who is cold or rude to me, I try to transfer to a different class.

There is good advice in this book as well. The list of rewards to give yourself for getting homework done is great. Handling the change into gym clothes is good. So is the part on E-mail safety and rules to follow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Escape Under the Forever Sky (Juvenile)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Everything about this book screams "Disney turn me into a children's movie!" ESCAPE UNDER THE FOREVER SKY is loosely based on the true story of a twelve-year-old Ethiopian girl who was abducted and tortured by a man and his accomplices who wanted to force her into marriage. It's an interesting story.

In Eve Yohalem's thrilling novel, thirteen-year-old Lucy Hoffman is bored. Her mother, the American Ambassador to Ethiopia, is always working. Her father took a job in Indonesia and rarely comes home. She's warned to stay in her compound by her overprotective mother. Like most teens, Lucy decides to sneak out with a friend.

Lucy's problems occur when she's kidnapped and locked away in a shack. She has no idea what her kidnappers want, but one of them has violent tendencies, so she realizes she must try to escape. Once she does, she's in the wilds of Africa where she is prey to both animals and her kidnappers. Using the information an African park ranger taught her about the area animals, Lucy does what she can to survive.

The opening few chapters of the novel introduce Lucy to the reader. She's a typical teen stuck in extraordinary circumstances. As a parent, I also sympathized with her mother who was simply doing as mothers tend to do.

Once Lucy is kidnapped, the book keeps you on the edge of your seat. From that point forward, I hated putting the book down for routine thinks like dinner preparations, laundry, etc. I loved it. The pace is perfect and the writing style and vocabulary is perfect for pre-teens.

I can see this book making an excellent movie. Can you say blockbuster? Hopefully, Hollywood takes note. I haven't enjoyed a Disney movie in a while. I get tired of the multiple spin-offs of Air Bud and the likes. ESCAPE UNDER THE FOREVER SUN could get them back on track!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa (Picture Book/Non-Fiction)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Wangari Maathai grew up in Kenya. Under Mount Kenya there were many beautiful trees. She and her mother used to go into the forest to gather wood. She also helped her mother in the garden. Because Wangari was an excellent student, she won a scholarship to a college in America. She lived in the states for six years and when she returned she was shocked at what she saw. Kenya was not the same as it was before. There were no trees to be seen and women were struggling to get firewood for their homes and had to walk many miles to get it.

The birds were gone. Everything was stark and barren. It was enough to make her cry, but she had a plan. She began simply by “planting nine seedlings.” From this tiny idea and a few seeds grew an even greater idea. Wangari started a nursery and convinced other women that they needed trees again. “Our lives will be better when we have trees again. You’ll see. We are planting the seeds of hope.” Kenyan men thought she was a fool and jailed her when she tried to block some cutting. She was alone in jail, yet she wasn’t. Would the forests of Kenya return from a small idea and nine seedlings?

This was a wonderful, true life tale of a woman who wanted to save the environment in a small way, but ended up changing the face of a nation. The story and writing are very appealing and the art work is very complimentary. This is understandably a Vermont Red Clover Nominee for the 2009-10 year award. In the back of the book is a brief biography of Wangari, a woman whose spirit you are sure to fall in love with!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tugga-Tugga Tugboard (Board Book

Released June 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Alive with big, bold, bright, colorful illustrations, this board book for children ages two to five takes the young reader on a harbor cruise with a little red tugboat.

Tugga-tugga! Toot! Toot! There's lots of work to be done from guiding a big tanker through the waterway to towing a barge filled with containers. The action heats up when a fire breaks out on the barge, but the tug's crew manages to douse the flames with their water hoses. It’s a busy day for the tugboat as it scoots from one task to another.

A big surprise awaits the young reader at the end of the book when the final pages reveal that the "harbor" is actually a bathtub and the tug's captain really is a little boy bathing.

The lyrical, repetitive refrain used throughout the book will enable beginning readers to help read the story aloud. There's lots of alliteration ("Tugga-tugga tugboat / Bounce and bob and float, boat) and I liked the inclusion of the multi-cultural tug crew.

Also, after reading the book a few times, ask your child if he/she sees any clues that suggest this is actually a bathtub venue. (Hint: the yellow rubber ducky and large bar of soap mixed in with the containers!)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Piano Starts Here (Picture Book)

Released January 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Art Tatum was a little boy born in Toledo. His father was a mechanic and his mother, who loved to sing in church, did a lot of cleaning. His mother played the piano, but mostly it sat “quietly in the corner,” until one day he became tall enough to hit the keys on the keyboard. He banged at it, played with one finger, two fingers and before you could wink an eye it started to sound very good. Even his mother said it did. He loved to play on the piano and didn’t care much about night or day and because his eyes were so bad he really couldn’t tell the difference.

“Don’t wear out that piano today,” his father said to him before he left for work. Art just loved his piano. By the time he was ten he was asked to play in church. A little case of jitters immediately went away when he touched the keyboard. Later he was asked to play at the YMCA, then at a bake sale and even someone’s birthday party. “My, my, isn’t he something,” his mother gushed. More and more he was asked to play until he became famous, but he still remembered and loved “all the people who helped” him.

This was a wonderful story. It was written in a gentle, sing song tone and was quite inspiring. The watercolors meshed quite well with the text. In the back of the book Robert Andrew Parker writes about actually meeting and listening to Art play. There is a brief, but very interesting biography of art and a bibliography. This book would be very appealing to any jazz fan and will be appreciated and loved even by those unacquainted with his work.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fancy Nancy Sees Stars (Picture Book)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Nancy is all excited because they are going to take a nighttime class trip to the planetarium. She just loves stars. Mrs. Glass, her teacher asked all kinds of questions about stars. There were pictures of the constellations on the wall and she was very anxious to see them. Robert, her friend, was going with her on this trip. They got on their T-shirts with glow in the dark stickers, spun the planet mobile and even baked star cookies. YUM!

Things started to go wrong. The babysitter was late and when they got in the car it started to rain. It rained and rained and the traffic was so bad they missed the sky show. “Drip, drip, drip go my tears. Robert and I are so sad. We do not even want any cookies.” It was such a sad event to miss out on the class field trip, but as a consolation prize they watched the skies in their backyard. Wait, there goes a shooting star . . . now Nancy could make a wish. What would she wish for and would her wish come true?

True to form there are some “fancy” words in this Fancy Nancy book. This one is a bit different as it is not only an easy-to-read book, but also a primer on astronomy. Nancy and Robert learn about constellations, meteors, orbits, planetariums and star formations and the reader will learn right along with them. This Fancy Nancy was not quite as fun nor as silly as some of the others, but will most likely be enjoyed by its fans and perhaps picked up by those wishing to introduce a bit of astronomy in the homeschool or classroom setting.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

For You and No One Else (Picture Book)

Released April 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Bucksey and Sparklehart, two deer, are cavorting in the forest when Buck stumbles upon a seven-leaf clover. Wanting to share his discovery with his friend, Buck takes Sparklehart to the spot and says, "For you and no one else."

But when Sparklehart realizes there’s not just one seven-leaf clover but an entire field of them nearby, the deer responds, "Bucksey, you're my best friend. How lucky I am!" No sooner are those words out of his mouth than Sparklehart runs off with a mouthful of special clover.

Now the story gets a little weird. The deer begins giving away the clover to various does. He tells each one, "I have something curious for you. I found it in the forest. There was only one, and I thought: that's for Doe and no one else."

Watching this "game" his friend is playing with the females, Bucksey gets so upset he turns and runs away. There's more to this tale of betrayed friendship and hypocrisy, but I've given you enough of the storyline already. You'll have to read the rest for yourself to see how it turns out.

With its black and white artwork and quirky story, this is the oddest picture book I have come across this year. Frankly, I don't know what to make of it, and I'm not sure youngsters between the ages of four and seven will either. Since the author is from the Netherlands, perhaps something was lost in the translation.

After reading this little book, I was curious how a child would react to it. Needless to say, the "field test" drew some puzzled responses. On the other hand, asking the youngsters how they would feel if their friends treated them the way Sparklehart treated Bucksey did elicit some interesting dialogue.
This is a book you definitely want to look at before making a purchase. It may work for some children, but I would think they would have to be at the upper end of the intended age range.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Too Many Toys (Picture Book)

Released October 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Spencer had a lot of toys. So many in fact, they covered his room from wall to wall and even “spilled down the stairs and into the living room.” In his sandbox he had trucks, a car, a pail, a rake and even a couple of blocks. In the tub it was hard to see Spencer because there were so many floating critters and tub toys he looked just like one of them. Quack, quack. He even had four rubber ducks. He played with quiet toys, loud ‘n crazy electronic toys, stuffies and plastic army toys. If it was manufactured, it looked like Spencer had one!

You name it, he had it because “everyone gave toys to Spencer.” It’s good to have lots of relatives, isn’t it? He even got some neat stuff at Kidburger, toys at school using his Peace Person Points and even the dentist and the doctor parted with a few if he behaved himself. There was a problem though. Tripping over them became a problem for his mom and dad. One day she got really mad. “SPENCER, YOU HAVE TOO MANY TOYS!” She was insisting that he get rid of them, but he liked them all. What was he going to do?

This is a fun story that many parents (and children) can relate to. The generosity of friends, relatives and can really make your house look like a toy store, to say nothing of one big hazard. Spencer is adorable and the art work is detailed, colorful, busy and bright. This is one book that few parents will be able to pass up!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hello Baby! (Baby-Toddler)

Released May 2009

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

There are all kinds of babies in the world. There are funny looking monkeys, porcupines that twitch their noses, sleepy leopards, elephants sticking their noses in the air, hairy warthogs, quiet, scary crocodiles, thirsty zebras and winking owls. Can you think of some other baby animals you have seen?

“Are you an eagle exploring the skies?
Perhaps you’re a gecko with rolling eyes.
Are you a lion with dust on its paws?
Perhaps you’re a hippo with yawning jaws.”

The collage animals in this book are amazingly well done. Although this type of illustration is not for all adults, it will have great appeal to the little ones. The rhyming text is soothing and this story would make an excellent cuddle up bedtime story. Can you guess who the most treasured baby of all would be?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Cardboard Piano (Picture Book)

Released September 2008

Reviewed by Deb Fowler

Tina and Debbie were best friends and did all kinds of fun, exciting things together. They both had older sisters (who were friends), each had a dog and parents, but they were not in this story. This story is all about the special friendship they had. They liked to pretend to camp out by pulling a bedspread down from the clothesline into the shape of a tent. They loved to have overnights, eat snacks and watch television. They also loved to bicycle and swim together. They had a lot of things in common, but in some ways they were different.

Debbie was learning to play the piano. Tina thought she would like to do that too, so Debbie worked hard and gave her a cardboard replica of a piano keyboard so she could practice too. Her piano teacher had told her of a man who made one once and she thought her best friend would enjoy it. After a lesson on the “real piano,” Tina took home the replica. Debbie “imagined the two of them playing together.” It would be soooo much fun, but soon she got a big surprise. Tina returned the cardboard keyboard and said she didn’t think she wanted to play. Best friends always enjoyed the same things didn’t they, or did they?

This is a lovely story of friendship and how children can enjoy each other’s company and not always want to do the same things. The art work is charming and the addition of the action DVD that replicates the text word for word, including the drawings, brings this book to life. The younger child may want to follow along in the book or will be content simply to watch the DVD. This charming story can also be used as a read aloud discussion book in a classroom or homeschool setting.