Note to Readers

I have not received any compensation for writing this post other than a free digital or print copy of the book. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I'm Number One (Picture Book)

Released December 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Hole in the Sky (Juvenile Fiction)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tinycandy's Gift (Picture Book)

Released October 2008

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weezer Changes the World (Picture Book)

Released December 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Indian Summer (Middle Reader)

Released January 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Elephant (Picture Book)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas

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

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

Christmas Ideas

Monday, December 14, 2009

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

Released 2004

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

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

Released December 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Product Recall from Simon & Schuster


Children's Plush Toy with Attached Board Book


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

Immediately remove the product from a child's reach.

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


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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The King of Quizzical Island (Picture Book)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Science Kids: Weather (Non-Fiction)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

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

Released September 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Secrets Girls Keep (Non-Fiction)

Released November 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

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

Released January 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

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

Released August 2009

Reviewed by Bob Walch

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

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

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

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