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.”

Friday, December 31, 2010

Tiny Little Fly - Michael Rosen

Released November 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Big bold illustrations are featured in this picture book about a pesky little fly who manages to irritate and then elude some rather large creatures. Whether it is an elephant, hippo or tiger, the little fly buzzes right up and lands on a paw, trunk or ear.  Although each animal is determined to “do something” about the little insect, none of them succeeds in dealing with the irritating visitor.

A playful rhymed text follows the fly’s actions while the illustrations provide a fly’s eye view of the large critters visited by the little fellow as he flies from one animal to another.

Read this book aloud a few times with your preschoolers and then let the child share in the narration chores.  The text is simple enough, with repetition and action words (“tramp, crush, tramp” and “roll, squash, roll”), that your little one will want to blurt out some of the key words as you move through the book.

Michael Rosen is a recent British Children’s Laureate and you’ll see why he received this honor when you page through Tiny Little Fly

Monday, December 27, 2010

Post-Holiday Catch Up

For Christmas, there was only one thing on my list. I was dying to own a Kindle. Despite my attempts, the Kindle became a challenge to order. Because I had Best Buy Rewards and Gift Cards to use up, we went there to order the Kindle in mid-December. Sure, I could have ordered from Amazon, but I had $40 in certificates so it made sense to shop local.

Our Best Buy was sold out, but promised they could get one in by Wednesday, so we went ahead and paid for it. Turns out that was a HORRIBLE mistake. Amazon told area stores (I checked Best Buy here and in neighboring states and Staples in Vermont and neighboring states) that the Kindles were in high demand again this year and they had orders to fill before they could accept additional orders. Shipping delays until after New Year's were guaranteed. I honestly didn't want to wait and opted for the Nook.

Now, I do understand the Nook doesn't have the same storage capacity, though I can add an SD card, so that's not a problem. The Nook also has a much shorter battery-life, but I work on the computer daily, so I don't mind charging it as needed. I've used about a third of the battery right now between my kids playing games on it (comes with Sudoku and Chess), my daughter reading her book one night and downloading books to it and checking everything out. It's better than my laptop, so I won't complain.

What does amaze me is the screen. My teen son compared it to an Etch-a-Sketch. He's right, it does have that quality. Words are crisp on the page. Controls are easy, including the touchscreen that I'd heard others complain about. It doubles as an MP3 player, so that's never a bad thing. Best of all, I took it out into sunlight and didn't have any problem reading outside (though it's downright cold and blizzard-like right now, so I won't do that until summer.) Day three with my Nook and I'm overjoyed.

One thing I really like is how easy it is to use a site most publishers are now using for review copies (NetGalley). It takes seconds to move a book from NetGalley to my Nook. It was easy to figure it out and in a matter of seconds a book is ready for reading. I'm hooked.

I've played with my friend's Kindle and my Nook and honestly they're both great, but the Nook being readily available locally gives it the edge in my opinion.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Royal Christmas: Four Enchanting Holiday Stories - Lisa Ann Marsoli

Released September 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Celebrate the holidays with these stories featuring four of Disney’s most beloved princesses. Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella and Tina each have a unique way of ushering in Christmas.

Cinderella throws a party but there’s a merry mix-up when her Fairy Godmother tries to help out. Aurora and the three good fairies attempt to whip up a homemade holiday. Tina hosts a yuletide celebration and meets a jolly, unexpected guest. And, finally, Ariel surprises everyone with a Christmas morning treasure hunt.

Filled with magic and good cheer, these delightful stories are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and a foil-stamped jacket.  Bound to become a family favorite for many years to come, your little princess will love reading this collection of tales over and over again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Guinea Pigs Add Up - Margery Cuyler

Released June 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This rhymed picture books proves you can have too much of a good thing. At least, that’s what Mr. Gilbert discovers when he lets his students talk him into getting a “companion” for the class guinea pig.

Soon two guinea pigs become five and then, eight weeks later, fifteen more are added so they have twenty little hairy critters running around. The only way to subtract from this total is to start sending the individual guinea pigs home with students until the brood is manageable.

Fortunately, Mr. Gilbert gets the situation under control. He then decides to switch the class pet to a rabbit! Now that’s a good idea isn’t it? Not really!
Guess who is pregnant!

Here’s an amusing story that has the added benefit of allowing your child to practice addition and subtraction. You might also wish to address animal reproduction too!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Life of Rice: From Seedling to Supper - Richard Sobol

Released September 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Using the color photos he took when he researched the subject in Thailand, Richard Sobol takes the reader through the cycle of growing rice. He begins with the planting and corresponding Royal Plowing Ceremony, follows the crop as it matures in wet paddies, and then shows how the rice is harvested.

A labor intensive crop in Asia, a combination of men and machines makes sure the rice survives from field to table. Once harvested, the nourishing kernels make it to family dinner tables while the remaining stalks are recycled for animal fodder.

As you read this book you’ll learn interesting facts, such as there are 40,000 different varieties of rice grown around the world. More than 600 million tons of rice are grown internationally each year and rice is the basic daily food for over half the people on earth.

Nicely designed with a good balance of pictures and text, The Life of Rice would make an excellent introduction to this basic food source. Every school library should have a copy of this book and many families would probably like to own one for home use too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Montooth and the Canfield Witch - Robert Jay

Released August 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Montooth and the Canfield Witch offers a glimpse into life during the 1950s. The heroine of the story, Carty Andersson, discovers a mystery in the Florida swamps near her home and decides to do a little investigating.

While walking home from her aunt's house, she passes the home of Sally Canfield, last of the Canfield family accused of witchcraft is Salem, Massachussetts. There she spies two shady men discussing if the witch lived alone. Carty's not sure what they're up to, but she's determined to find out.

A school project gives her the perfect opportunity. In her botany class, the students are asked to team up, take a list of Latin plant names and spend the weekend finding samples of as many of the plants as possible. The more you find, the higher your grade. With her friends, known as The Crew, in her group, the teens set out to find the plants and see what the shady guys are up to.

This is the main plot of the book. Yet, this is really only the beginning. There are other intervening plots, including that of a dangerous man known as Cruz Cruz or the "Cuban," who joins the shady guys in their attempt to steal a possession from the witch.

There's also the story of Montooth, a huge alligator living in the lake near the Canfield home. Montooth's story is told as a book within a book. A different font and print size makes it clear when Montooth's story is being told.

I enjoyed Carty's story. The characters were engaging, the pacing kept me intrigued with the story and I wanted to see how Carty would get out of certain predicaments. The other sub-plots played an integral role in Carty's story, yet I found they distracted me. When I reached those story lines, particularly the background of the Cuban, I found I really just wanted to get back to Carty.

Parents with younger children should note that the story does contain some violence and use of alcohol. While I think teens should be exposed to that side of life, I do realize some parents prefer to limit their child's exposure to it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fantasy: An Artist's Realm - Ben Boos

Released October 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Young readers are invited to immerse themselves in the world of New Perigord created by illustrator Ben Boos. This lavish volume is filled with detailed sketches of fantastical creatures from hobgoblins, minotaurs and dwarves to the inhabitants of the realm of the dead (vampires, zombies, etc.)

Maps, numerous weapons, armor, and structures are also pictured here to give the reader a full picture of New Perigord. Boos’ descriptive text adds to the book’s enchantment and describes the features of each venue – windy forests where elves and healers dwell, coastal fortresses inhabited by Paladinsl, the magnificent libraries of the Mages and the dark, boding territory of the dead.

From start to finish, this is a picture book that will fire the imagination of any person, young or old, who is interested by the world of fantasy. With Ben Boos as your guide, you’ll discover new, grand worlds to explore and, perhaps, be inspired to try creating your own make-believe lands.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lightning Was Here: A Road Trip Through the World of Cars - Calliope Glass

Released November 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Youngsters three and older are invited to join Lightning McQueen on a tour of Radiator Springs. The popular CARS character raced his way into the hearts of children who enjoyed the Pixar movies and this picture book gives them a chance to see more of the places and characters that made the film so popular.

After a stop at the speedway where it all began for Lightning, it’s off to the Cozy Cone Motel, Mater’s Tow Yard, Flo’s V8 CafĂ©, and other popular hangouts around town.

The illustrations with little sidebar boxes pointing out special features on the full page spreads and the narrative combine to offer a total picture of what makes this car Mecca tick.

If your child has enjoyed this series of books and the movies, this book is a must purchase. They’ll be thrilled with the 56-page tour of this very cool town!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Hole in the Wall - Lisa Rowe Fraustino

Released November 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

For Sebastian "Sebby" Daniels, life's tough and getting tougher by the minute. His family is poor and rely heavily on the income from their chickens. The problem is their chickens have been disappearing or laying eggs that are as hard as stone.

Sebby believes everything ties into a company that's strip mining their area. When he finds a stone that magically changes color and whirls around whenever it likes. Sebby and his twin sister, Barbie, wonder just what is going on. They decide to investigate and see if they can understand what is causing all these unusual events.

The Hole in the Wall kept me glued to the pages. It's pretty easy to sympathize with Sebby. Though he's a pre-teen, Sebby is forced to act older than he is at times. The author poignantly captures his love for most of his family and his disgust with their living situation incredibly well.

Lisa Rowe Fraustino's books is a mix of adventure, mystery and fantasy. It's fast-paced and characters are strong and likable. I think a number of children will find themselves able to relate to many of the situations Sebby and his sister experience both in and out of school.

Parents should probably be aware that Sebby's father is a drunk. There are brief episodes of verbal abuse and mention of some physical abuse. Other than being prepared to discuss that tragic aspect of some children's lives, I highly recommend this book to any adventurous child.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Brownie & Pearl See the Sights - Cynthia Rylant

Released October 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Young beginning readers are invited to accompany Brownie and her cat, Pearl, as they are off to do some Christmas shopping. They’ll visit a hat shop, a shoe store and then a cute little place that sells cupcakes. After they devour some delicious cupcakes, the little girl and her pet are tired so they head home for some hot chocolate and a little nap.

This is a very simple story with vibrant, adorable illustrations. The picture book’s appeal is that the large type and manageable vocabulary make it an ideal book for youngsters who are just beginning to read by themselves. With a little assistance from mom or dad, the child should quickly be able to handle this story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

O Christmas Tree - Jacqueline Farmer

Released July 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Filled with the history and lore of the Christmas tree, this picture book begins with a look at ancient times and how the Egyptians and Greeks used evergreens to celebrate the winter solstice. Then, as the author moves through the centuries, one sees how the fir tree tradition emerged until the Christmas tree became one of the icons of the holiday season.

Along with a cursory glimpse at various types of natural and artificial trees (remember the horrid aluminum and the plastic trees of the 1960s?) and the decorative options that have developed over the years, the author also offers a close look at the firs themselves.

Besides a guide that pictures the six most popular types of firs used during the holidays, you’ll also discover how tree farms function and what types of natural problems (insects, etc.) the tree growers must cope with.

From start to finish, this beautifully illustrated picture book offers an excellent look at the history and tradition that has grown up around the Christmas tree. I think every member of the family will enjoy this book and you’ll probably want to make reading it a holiday reading tradition for years to come.