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.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Big Turtle - David McLimans

Released October 2011

David McLimans
Bloomsbury Kids

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Caldecott Honor winner David McLimans puts a unique spin on this Huron creation story .When the book opens there are just two parts to the world – the animals in the lower Water World and the humans above in the Sky World.

Then one day Sky Girl takes a tumble into the Water World. Although she is saved by two swans, Sky Girl is unable to get back to her home. At this point Big Turtle comes up with an idea. Why not create a new home for Sky Girl on his great shell using earth from the bottom of the sea?

Thus, a new world comes into being between the sky and the sea and Sky Girl becomes “Earth’s” first inhabitant.

McLimans’ illustrations that capture the vibrancy of native art make this wonderful story come alive.  Big Turtle is a good way of introducing children four years of age and older to folklore and the colorful art that often accompanies it. 


Friday, December 23, 2011

Franklin's Christmas Gift - Paulette Bourgeois

Released November 2011 (Kindle Edition)

Paulette Bourgeois
Open Road Media

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I have a soft spot in my heart for Franklin the turtle. Of all the children's shows my kids insisted on watching, Franklin was one show I didn't mind joining them. It's been years since I last read Franklin's Christmas Gift, but I love it now just as much as I did then.

Franklin's school is holding an annual toy drive, and every student must choose a toy to give to a child in need. He's excited, but after going through his toy box, he can't part with anything. Time's running out for Franklin to learn the true meaning of giving. Will he find a toy in time?

While many children look at Christmas as a time that Santa magically appears and brings presents, Franklin's Christmas Gift helps to show them that not every child is that lucky. It delves into the true meaning of giving. What Franklin learns is done so in a non-preachy manner so most children should happily accept the message and put that lesson to good use.

If you're looking for a special Christmas story this year, Franklin's Christmas Gift is available in hardcover, paperback and now for the Kindle.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Poindexter Makes a Friend - Mike Twohy

Released May 2011

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This tale of a very shy little pig who stays away from people and loves reading aloud to his stuffed animals will appeal to youngsters four years of age and older who don’t easily  make friends.

Poindexter loves to go to the library where he reads and sometimes helps the librarian return books to the shelves. One day another shy youngster, a turtle named Shelby, comes in asking for a book on how to make friends. Mrs. Polen asks Poindexter if he would like to help Shelby find the book he is looking for.

This simple request turns out to be the perfect way of bringing both shy youngsters out of their shells. By the end of the story both Poindexter and Shelby leave the library holding a book between them that they will share together with Poindexter’s favorite stuffed animals.

This is a nicely thought out picture book that will resonate with young readers who perhaps find making friends a little difficult.  As you’ll see as you follow Poindexter’s adventures, being able to share something or assist someone in doing something is a good way to break down barriers and make the person feel more at ease.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beyond the Grave - Mara Purnhagen

Released August 23, 2011

Mara Purnhagen
Harlequin Teen

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The final story in the "Past Midnight" series, Beyond the Grave finds Charlotte Silver battling "The Watcher" once again. This time, Charlotte's not alone. While evil lurks in the world, there are also protectors who have the same powers as a Watcher and Charlotte's about to meet her protector.

On another front, Charlotte's romance with Noah is going well. That is until he starts sleepwalking and waking up in unusual places not remembering a thing that's happening. Could the Watcher be using Noah as his next human host?

If you've been following the series, you know the story and are familiar with the main characters. For those new to the series, I recommend reading the other books first. Beyond the Grave does go into some detail regarding past books, but I personally feel it's worth reading them all. They're all great books so it's not a hardship to read them in order. Fans of paranormal teen romances will love this series. It's a bit of a blend of Ghost Whisperer, Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Activity with a dash of romance that really gets the reader involved with the characters' lives.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mooshka, A Quilt Story - Julie Paschkis

Released March 2012

Julie Paschkis
Peachtree Publishers

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I highly recommend pre-ordering Jule Paschkis's Mooska, A Quilt Story because it's really unlike most children's books you find today. There's no rhyming scheme and no silly pictures, what it does capture is family history and really the importance of family. That's what made the book really stand out and drew me into the story.

Young Karla loves her quilt. Mooshka's been telling stories about the history of each piece of fabric that was lovingly sewn to create Karla's quilt. Yet, when her baby sister is born, Mooshka becomes silent. Karla's devastated and can't imagine why Mooska stopped talking. Not only does Karla have to share her bedroom with her new sister, but her favorite quilt seems to have given up on her. What will it take to get Mooshka to talk again?

The illustrations capture the look and feel of the quilt and all of its different colors and textures. I'm sure children will love the colorful pictures and the stories that Mooshka tells. The story is endearing and if my children were still young enough for picture books, I know this would have been a favorite for all of us. Mooska comes out in March 2012 and is a fun story filled with beautiful illustrations.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy Hauliday's Winner Announced

Congratulations to Jennifer Miler, blogger for Where the Best Books Are. She and one of her readers won Chronicle Book's Happy Hauliday's Contest.

For those who didn't win, enter "haulidays" when checking out and earn free shipping and up to  a 35% discount.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Final Day to Enter the $500 Happy Haul-idays Contest from Chronicle Books

The final day to enter to win Chronicle Books' Happy Haul-idays contest is today. You have until 11:59 pm EST to enter. Do so by posting a message here:

Good luck to all who have entered!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Brownie and Pearl Hit the Hay - Cynthia Rylant

Released September 2011

Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Another in the series of Brownie & Pearl books, this latest read-aloud story hopefully will get toddlers in the mood for bed. As the story begins, Brownie has her evening bath while Pearl licks her paws. Then it’s time to slip into jammies, grab a snack, and find a book to read. Pearl likes the book about kitties.

Once story time is over, the pair climb the stairs and snuggle up in Brownie’s big, comfortable bed. Then it is lights out and “nighty-night!”

Thanks to the simple text with short sentences, this book is ideal for beginning readers. The large, colorful illustrations also make “Hit the Hay” a good book for classroom reading sessions since the over-sized pictures will be easy for all the students in the group to see.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saving June - Hannah Harrington

Released November 22, 2011

Hannah Harrington

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

For Harper Scott, her sister's suicide makes absolutely no sense. There was no letter, no goodbye, and worst of all, Harper's the one who found her sister's body. Her mother's drinking away her grief, her father's happy in his new relationship, but no one seems to care about Harper. After learning her sister dreamed of going to California, Harper takes her sister's ashes and sets off on a journey to California with her best friend and a mysterious 18 year old named Jake who forged an unusual friendship with June shortly before her death.

Saving June is really a touching story. The characters are amazing, and all I can say is I'm glad I've never been there. Despite the sad subject matter, the story is really quite uplifting. A lot of it involves Harper's coming to terms with why her sister took her own life and Harper's guilt at things left unsaid. I do think many readers could relate to that.

If anything, that's an important message to take away from this book. You just never know, so every second you spend alone or with others should really count. Hannah Harrington is just starting out. She's 22 and given the poignancy of Saving June, I think she's an author teens will want to watch!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Skateboard Sam - Samuel Chowdhry

Released 2011

Skateboard Sam 

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Skateboard Sam is a brightly colored e-book regarding a young boy and his skateboard. The majority of the narrative is written in a rhyme making it very easy for beginning readers to manage, though a few sections didn't rhyme as well, such as rhyming "morning" with "yawning." Otherwise, I do think younger children will have a great time rhyming the words and reading about Sam's day out with his new skateboard. Plus, at the limited-time offer of $3.99, the book is extremely affordable.

In order to read Skateboard Sam, you must have an Amazon Kindle or be willing to download the software to your iPad, computer or smartphone. I happen to own a Nook, long-time readers may remember my adventures trying to buy a Kindle last December and being told that they were sold out everywhere, including online, so I went with the Nook instead and LOVE it. Given that, I admit it was a hassle having to download Kindle software simply to read one book. Unless, you own a Kindle or have the software already installed, I can't see going to the extra effort. While I do recommend the story to parents with children who are learning to read, make sure you either have the correct software or own a Kindle that you don't mind sharing with your child.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Olivia Plans a Tea Party - Natalie Shaw

Released May 2011

Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

In this latest addition to the series, Olivia’s mother is ailing so she decides
to help out with Mom’s Party Planning business. A frantic call from Mrs.
Berkshire requesting help with her garden club tea, Olivia, Ian and Francine
set to work making sandwiches and collecting tea things.

Everything seems to be well in hand until Ian takes another phone
call from a woman requesting a pirate theme party for her sons. Ian gets
confused and thinks its Mrs. Berkshire who wants a pirate tea party!

When the three little pigs, wearing pirate costumes, arrive at the garden
party with all their tea party gear and food, they get some strange looks from
the ladies. Things get really interesting, though, when Olivia tells her crew
to inflate the pirate ship bounce house. If that doesn’t get the party
jumping, nothing will!

A favorite with young readers, Olivia always manages to salvage even the
most embarrassing or difficult situation with aplomb and finesse. But in this
story the irascible little piglet really outdoes herself !

Zeke Meeks vs. the Putrid Puppet Pals - D. L. Green

Released February 2012

Capstone Publishing

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Everyone in his class is going crazy for Puppet Pals, but Zeke Meeks doesn't know why. All the are are pieces of felt that cost a lot and get dirty in no time. Zeke has better plans for his money, but these finger puppets are causing him issues. His best friend ignores him and there's suddenly no one to play with during recess. What is Zeke to do?

Zeke Meeks vs. the Putrid Puppet Pals will appeal to the elementary school crowd. It includes pictures for the reader who still likes some visual content, but it definitely contains more story than pictures. At just over 120 pages, it's a great choice for the 8 to 10 year old.

I think a lot of children, and parents, will relate to the story. I remember my neighbor's daughter going absolutely crazy for Pogs when she was eight. She would spend all of her money on those disks made from cardboard and basically a sticker coating. I've also seen trends like Tamagotchi and Pokemon cards take over my household. For anyone remembering those days, Zeke Meeks' story will ring true.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Terrible, Awful, Horrible Manners! - Beth Bracken

Released August 2011 (Library Binding) or February 2012 (Hardcover)


Peter has horrible manners. He farts, burps and picks his nose when he wants. When his family start acting like him, Peter starts to see why manners really matter. Discover Peter's experiences within Beth Bracken's Terrible, Awful, Horrible Manners!

Beth Bracken's latest release is a lot of fun. The illustrations capture the story perfectly, and the narrative is easy enough for a beginning reader to handle while also getting across a clear message about why manners are so important. I know there are lots of children who will giggle along with Peter and then start to catch the importance of good manners as the book progresses.

If you want to get across a lesson about manners to your youngster, the story within Terrible, Awful, Horrible Manners is a great way to do it. This is a picture book I think many parents will enjoy reading with their child.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Double - Jenny Valentine

Released February 21, 2012

Jenny Valentine

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Chap's been on the run for a while, so when someone identifies the runaway as a Cassiel, a boy who's been missing for two years and believed dead, Chap decides to play along. Being part of a loving family might be just what he needs. He can only imagine what it's like to have a mother and sister who've searched non-stop for him for two years. What Chap doesn't know is that his decision to lie may be the biggest mistake of his life.

There lies the premise for Jenny Valentine's Double. The mystery part, well I had the bulk of that that figured out early on, but I still wanted to see how things played out.  Jenny Valentine's writing captures the moods and setting perfectly drawing the reader into the dark atmosphere at hand. Chap/Cassiel's sister adds a lightheartedness to the story, and it really made me root for the pair of them to figure things out. I found it hard to put the book down because I found them to be an usual, yet extremely likeable pair.

Teens looking for a mystery with characters who draw you into the story will enjoy Double. It's an interesting look at filling someone else's shoes and how sometimes things just are not at all like you'd imagine.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Did It! I Promise! - Lauren Fox

Released October 25, 2011

Lauren Fox

Tate Publishing

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The day in the life of a high school student has changed since my high school days back in the late 1980's. Given that, I'm amazed that Lauren Fox, a high school junior, found time to not only write a children's book but also to find a publisher. It's an impressive feat for someone likely to be overwhelmed with homework, studying, and various other pressures today's teens face. Despite that, the 16 year old managed to write a very cute story involving a boy's quest to find his missing homework.

I Did It! I Promise! is the story of a young boy whose homework disappears. After looking high and low for it, he knows there's no hope. Heading off to tell his teacher, he's uncertain what will happen, but he's understandably nervous.

I love the message in I Did It! I Promise! We've all been there and know the anxiety that goes hand in hand with having to admit to your teacher that you just can't find it, especially when you honestly did complete it and simply can't find it.

The rhyming text is perfect for a beginning reader. There's no vocabulary to trip up youngsters and the short sentences are perfect for them. In my school district, this is the perfect book for preschoolers to first grade or ages four to seven. After that, I know our school urges children to read shorter chapter books, though I admit I don't know about other districts. If you have a child learning to read, this is a short, sweet story that I think many children will enjoy and easily work through with a little help from mom or dad.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Juliet Spell - Douglas Rees

Released October 2011

Douglas Rees

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Shakespeare takes center stage in Douglas Rees' The Juliet Spell. Desperate to win the role of Juliet, Miranda Hoberman casts a spell that ends up with unexpected results. She somehow brings William Shakespeare's brother, Edmund, into modern time. Edmund's shocked by Miranda's world, but soon realizes he doesn't want to leave. Miranda's falling for Edmund and wants him to stay, but will his presence change history?

As much as I enjoyed reading The Juliet Spell, there were aspects I struggled to find believable. First, Miranda's mother seemed far too relaxed because if my daughter came to me with news that she'd somehow drawn forth a man from several centuries ago, I'd be questioning her sanity first and then keeping her far, far away from him. As the story progresses, there are things that Miranda and her mom have to teach Edmund that did cause me to laugh, so it's not enough to keep me from reading, but just enough to make me wonder why everyone was so accepting.

Another issue I had appears towards the end of the book. I can't give away any spoilers, but when it happened, it seemed far too simple for me. It's definitely not the way people in that situation would react and that really distracted me from the end.

Finally, and this is perhaps my biggest annoyance, Miranda came off as completely clueless at times. For someone who seems to be pretty insightful, she came across as incredible dense when it came to her friend Drew. I often found myself wanting to smack her upside the head.

Despite those three issues, I couldn't stop reading The Juliet Spell. It's one of those stories where despite my aggravation with the characters' actions, I really wanted to finish the story to see how things played out. For that reason alone, I'd recommend this book to fans of teen romances.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy Haul-idays from Chronicle Books

With the holidays approaching faster than many of us would like, it's time for Chronicle Books "Happy Haul-idays" contest. For those who didn't hear of this amazing festivity last year, Chronicle awards one lucky reader and one lucky book review blogger with the chance to win $500 in books. This year, they're adding a third winner - the blogger chooses a favorite charity to receive $500 in free books.

Most children and adults love books, so if you're anything like me, the thought of $500 in free books is enough to make me giddy! However, I learned about 10 years ago that not every child receives encouragement to read. My neighbor's son was 10 years old and had bounced from school to school without learning how to read more than toddler books. His reading and spelling skills were atrocious. By spending a lot of time in our house surrounded by books, he discovered Gary Paulsen's books and developed a passion for reading. The Children's Literacy Foundation strives to help children in Vermont and New Hampshire learn to read and develop a passion for reading. The organization does not receive state or federal funding, so all books come from generous donations from area residents and businesses. I feel they deserve a batch of books in time for Christmas.

It's up the blogger to create a list of books they'd love to be able to buy, something I have no problem doing! Given that, here is this year's list:

Children/Young Adult:

Ready to enter. All you have to do is comment on this post. Feel free to list any books I may have overlooked! There are lots of exciting options at Chronicle Books.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Antiquitas Lost - Robert Louis Smith

Released October 2011

Medlock Publishing

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Fifteen-year-old Elliott is having a rough time. He's been bullied for years due to unusual markings on his hands. The bullying doesn't stop when he and his mother move to New Orleans to live with his grandfather. Elliott's mother is dying and his grandfather knows that Elliott is her last chance. Unusual circumstances link Elliott and his family to another world, Pangrelor where an ongoing war plays an important part in whether Elliott's mother lives or dies. When Elliott finds the hidden entrance to Pangrelor, he becomes involved in the lives of many weird, often mythical, creatures, and must find the courage to help them win the upcoming war.

I've always been a huge fan of the Chronicles of Narnia books. Antiquitas Lost captures a bit of that, but it goes much farther. This story taps into parallel universes and how events in one world affect things happening in another. From the first sentence I was drawn into the story and couldn't wait to see how things played out.

Illustrations in Antiquitas Lost are the brilliant work of Geof Isherwood from Marvel Comics. The pen and ink drawings appear regularly through the book, and definitely added to the story. I found myself itching to go borrow my daughter's colored pencils and color (I find coloring to be extremely relaxing), but I withheld the urge only because I wanted to see what happened back in New Orleans with Elliott's mother.

Fantasy readers of all ages should grab a copy of Antiquitas Lost. It's a fascinating story full of a mix of characters, some creepier than others, and a storyline that really involves the reader. I can easily see my nephew, a huge fan of the Harry Potter books, finding hours of enjoyment with Robert Louis Smith's novel.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Am Different! Can You Find Me? - Manjula Padmanabhan

Released July 2011


Reviewed by Bob Walch

The question is “Mahahanap mo ba ako?”  That’s Filipino for “Can you find me?”  On the opposite page you see a number of seagulls, but one of them is slightly different. Can you find the one that is not like the others? 

 Before you move on to the next section, check the paragraph at the bottom of the question page that tells you something about Filipino. You’ll learn that it is spoken in the Philippines, what other languages influenced it (Chinese, English and Arabic to name a few) and that the English words “cooties”, “yo yo” and “boondocks”  are words we borrowed from Filipino.

Not only will your observational skills be tested as you read this book, but you will also learn a little bit about sixteen different languages, such as Navajo, Italian, Cree and Hindi.

Part of the proceeds from this book will be donated to The Global Fund for Children to support innovative community-based organizations that serve the world’s most vulnerable children and youth.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Blowin' in the Wind - Written by Bob Dylan and Illustrations by Jon J. Muth

Released November 2011

Bob Dylan
Jon J. Muth
Sterling Children's Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" becomes a vivid picture story blended seamlessly with Jon J. Muth's artistic illustrations. While I believe Dylan is a brilliant songwriter, his voice, to me, leaves lots to be desired. Therefore, the CD was certainly not my favorite part of this book and CD set. What I did love were the illustrations. The really capture the essence of the story as the reader follows a paper airplane on a journey across the world.

I loved most everything about this story and feel most children will too. The only thing I wonder is if I'm just missing the airplane on the page with "Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist before they're allowed to be free?" Every picture to that point had an airplane to find, but for the life of me I cannot spot the airplane on those pages. I don't know if it's just harder to find or if the airplane just isn't there.

Either way, your children will love searching for the airplane. Other symbols like the guitar and red balloon also appear frequently throughout the book. While listening to a classic song, enjoy the illustrations and see how many of the airplanes your child spots.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lisa Loeb's Silly Sing-Along: The Disappointing Pancake & Other Zany Songs - Lisa Loeb

Released October 2011

Lisa Loeb
Ryan O'Rourke
Sterling Children's Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Some parents may remember Lisa Loeb from her hit song "Stay." Others may remember a reality show she did with Dweezil Zappa. Either way, it's great to see one of my favorite singers back with a delightful book and CD set that gets the toes tapping and is certain to please children and their parents.

Lisa Loeb's Silly Sing-Along: The Disappointing Pancake & Other Zany Songs is addicting. There are 10 songs in all and the book offers full lyrics so that children follow along with ease. Some songs even include dance/movement instructions that gets families up and moving around. Songs include:

Opposite Day
I'm a Little Coconut
The Disappointing Pancake
Fried Ham
Everybody Dreams
Chewing Gum
A Codi By Doze
The Banjo Song
Sipping Cider
Found a Peanut

Each song is catchy and really enjoyable, though my teenagers gave me a weird look as I listened and sang along with Lisa. Pay attention to some of the banjo playing because actor Steve Martin performs on one track.

Many pages include little stories from Lisa about the song and illustrations by Ryan O'Rourke present a fun, colorful look into the central theme of each song. All in all, there is a lot to love about Lisa Loeb's Silly Sing-Along. I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mr. Doodle: C is for City - Orli Zuravicky

Released June 2011

Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

For example, the “D” entry features a big yellow dump truck, but you’ll also see a pile of dirt on the page. On the adjacent page, “E is for Envelope” is illustrated with a nice brown envelope.  But look again, on the envelope you’ll discover two stamps that feature a mother and baby elephant.

Don’t worry, if you missed some of the added objects on any of the pages. The author provides a guide at the back of the book that highlights each one.

Quite honestly, I have to admit I had to cheat and flip to the back page to figure out the additional “u” object on the “U is for Umbrella” and “K is for Kite”  pages. The author was tad too clever on these two.  Not only will a child be baffled by these two, but I’m afraid most parents will be also!

Even though this book is a little more challenging than most board books and demands more from the reader, it is still well worth purchasing because it does force parent and child to be more observant. It forces everyone to open his or her eyes and eyes and keep an open mind too!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Dragonfly Prophecy - Jacquelyn Castle

Released 2011

Jacquelyn Castle
Class Act Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Anyone who's read my reviews knows I tend to have an issue with paperback books that cost the same as a hardcover. (There is a less expensive Kindle version available for those who own a Kindle.) Given that, many will find it surprising that I'm going to recommend getting a copy of The Dragonfly Prophecy. I wasn't expecting to love this book, but that's exactly what happened. The beginning of the story sucked me in and I simply could not put it down. I'm glad last night was a repeat episode of Criminal Minds because otherwise I would have been torn between my favorite show and reading a book that I found impossible to put down.

The story revolves around Lexi Blane. Apart from fainting spells and horrible nightmares about dragonflies, she's having the time of her life. She's fallen in love with a young, very rich British guy during a trip to England and William's on his way to meet her and her parents. From there, they're all going to fly to the Caribbean for a much-needed vacation. It's during this vacation that things go awry. Lexi suffers another fainting spell and this time she struggles to come back out of it. She hears snippets of her parents and William discussing things that make no sense, but for the most part, everything is a blur.

Lexi wakes up months later and discovers something equally shocking. Worse, no one has ever heard of William, yet Lexi is convinced he was real and not just a trick of her mind. As she tries to sort out reality from fantasy, she trusts in the friendship of a classmate who swears he understands and is like Lexi. With Chace by her side, Lexi hopes to make sense of what her true destiny involves.

I don't want to go any deeper into the plot because there are things the reader simply needs to learn first-hand. I definitely found myself hooked by the writing style from the start, and that's saying a lot considering fantasy really isn't my favorite genre. At times, I'm not really even certain that fantasy is the best way to classify this book. It's a mix of romance, paranormal, fantasy and suspense rolled into one. It's a marvelous read. Jacquelyn Castle is definitely an author to watch.

The Dragonfly Prophecy is for teens. Lexi is just finishing high school, but there's no subject matter that readers in the latter years of middle school and early years of high school should avoid. If parents worry about sexual content, drinking or violence, you won't find it here. Many parents, like myself, will find the story enjoyable and hard to put down.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Boy Wonders - Calef Brown

Released June 2011

Calef Brown
Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

If your child loves to ask you lots of questions, this might be a fun read aloud book.  The boy featured here continually asks “Why? Why? Why?” . Admittedly most of these questions are rather silly (“Are clambakes good for bake sales? Do jealous clouds steal each other’s thunder?”). Yet, they can also be somewhat provocative and spark an interesting conversation.

Although the author has no intention of providing any answers to the many questions his character poses, there are some opportunities for the child and parent to delve into some of them on their own. “Do taffy pullers ever push and make a glob of sticky mush?” Good question and a candy maker might actually be able to provide an answer.

After enjoying a good giggle or two having finished this picture book, I think a better post read exercise might be making up a few silly questions of your own.  “Does a grasshopper like to skip rope?”  “Do little foxes out fox one another when they play hide-and-seek?”  Once a child gets the hang of this, you’d be surprised what he or she will come up with!

So, if you have a question about what to read with your four year old or are wondering if this is a book the youngster would enjoy, just ask one or two of these silly questions and you’ll have your answer!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stars - Mary Lyn Ray

Released October 2011

Mary Lyn Ray
Marla Frazee
Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Here’s a beautifully illustrated book about stars or, rather, all the places you can find stars besides in a night sky. You can make a star and either carry it in your pocket as a good luck charm or pretend you are a sheriff and attach it on your shirt.

You could place the star on the tip of a stick and then you have a magic wand. If you have a good friend, perhaps you may want to give it to him or her. Also, people may call you a “star” if you do well in sports or at school.

Looking in the yard, you’ll discover that star shaped flowers can change into pumpkins or strawberries and that when it snows, the flakes can resemble stars.

As you read this book you’ll discover that stars are everywhere. They may even be on your pajamas or on the last paper your teacher returned to you.
So don’t just look for stars at night. If you are observant, you’ll find them in some pretty cool places!

After you have had fun reading this book with your child, launch your own “star search” to see how many stars you can find around the house, in the yard or in the neighborhood.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Raj the Bookstore Tiger - Kathleen Pelley

Released February 2011

Kathleen Pelley
Paige Keiser

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Here’s a fun picture book for children five and older about a kitty who thinks he is a tiger. Raj is a bookstore cat and performs his tasks, like sitting in laps and sleeping in the window, with great panache because his owner has convinced him he is a tiger.

All is well until a new cat, Snowball, arrives on the scene. Snowball, who has tons of attitude, informs Raj that he’s a marmalade kitty, not a fierce tiger. With his confidence shaken, Raj retreats into himself and ceases to interact with the store’s customers or his owner. Now it is up to Felicity to get her cat back to his old self and restore his confidence.

Obviously she does so but I’m not going to share how she accomplishes this feat.  You’ll have to read the book and share it with your child to find out how the bookstore tiger regains his “stripes” and confidence.  If someone has made some unkind remarks to your child that have had a negative impact, this story may do wonders and even reverse the unfortunate situation.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Sweetest Thing - Christina Mandelski

Released May 2011

Christina Mandelski

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Her mom left her when she was very young, but Sheridan Wells knows she will return. It may have been two years since she received a card from her mom, but deep down Sheridan is certain her mom is making her way back to their family. When Sheridan's father receives a dream offer for his own cooking show on a popular culinary channel, Sheridan decides to search for her mom. She's not as impressed with her father's plans to leave friends and their restaurant behind to move to New York City to become cooking show celebrities.

When she's not working in her grandmother's bakery preparing lavish designer cakes, Sheridan keeps busy with her friend Jack. Soon, Sheridan's world takes a surprising turn when a popular high school hottie asks her out. This is the start of what could be an amazing relationship, so stopping her father from moving is a top priority. The search for her mother heats up, but suddenly her friend Jack is growing distant and no longer showing any interest in helping her realize her dream of finding her mother and convincing her to return home.

Sheridan is a very likable character. She is naive, but then I've seen first-hand how some children will do anything to please a parent, even when it's not in their best interest. It's a sad but true fact that love is unconditional, even if a parent doesn't deserve it.

The Sweetest Thing is a gentle romance. I'd highly recommend it to anyone 13 or older. For parents who worry about sex in teen romances, you won't find it here. Sheridan is a very smart girl and when faced with tough decisions, she thinks things through. I think teens will find her completely enjoyable and maybe learn a thing or two in the process.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

There You'll Find Me - Jenny B. Jones

Released October 2011

Jenny B. Jones
Thomas Nelson

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

There You'll Find Me is a stunning novel certain to thrill teen girls. This is a christian teen romance, but secular readers will find the story just as enjoyable. The religious matter fits the story extremely well and any reader will understand Finely's battle as she decides if God has turned His back on her.

After Finely's brother dies during a tragic bombing in Iraq, she's questioning God's intent. With a wounded heart, she sets off to same city in Ireland where her brother spent time soaking in the magic of the country. Attending an Irish school as an exchange student, Finely hopes to reconnect with her brother through his journal entries and photographs.

Finely's host family runs a bed and breakfast. One of their guests happens to be a popular teen actor who appears in the latest vampire movie series and has set many teen girls' hearts fluttering. Beckett's in town shooting the next in the series and facing a difficult choice. Finely is the daughter of a hotel mogul and she could care less, but her attitude appeals to Beckett so he asks her to become his personal assistant.

In exchange for her help, Beckett will take Finely to all the places in her brother's photographs. Beckett enjoys being treated like a normal guy and Finely finds herself falling for the actor who isn't the wild child the tabloids make him out to be. However, Finely's hiding her own secrets and with Beckett's help, she may finally find the courage to face her fears.

I had one of those mornings where I was wide awake at 4:00 a.m. and I find that's the best time to curl up with a book. I started reading and couldn't stop. Finely's character has weaknesses and you can't help but feel for the girl. Beckett is a nice match to her fragile emotions. He's strong where she's weak and in turn, she develops a strength that matches his weaknesses. They became one of my favorite couples ever and I'd love to have the author revisit them in other stories set in Ireland.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Princess Mix & Match - Disney Staff

Released July 2011

Disney Books

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Create over 200 different outfits for the princesses featured in this picture book. Simply flip the panels on each page to create a fantastic outfit for Tiana, Ariel, Rapunzel or Snow White.
Not only can you alter what the girls are wearing, but when you flip a panel you also change the text.  For example, the text might read “Cinderella imagines the ball and twirls dreamily while the mice admire her new dress”.

Flip the bottom panel and Cinderella’s dress changes from blue to green and the text reads “…and twirls dreamily as her friends join in the fun.”

Each page has three interchangeable panels which allow for a lot of variations and some fun as well. “Tiana laughs merrily and claps to a jazzy beat while searching for the Dwarfs” will elicit a few laughs, as will “Tiana laughs merrily and twirls dreamily while exploring the town”.

Young readers can dress the princesses as they wish and alter the text to create a silly story as they use this novelty book to make their own fairy tales. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Spellbound - Cara Lynn Shultz

Released June 21, 2011

Cara Lynn Shultz

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

After her drunk step-father crashes his car with her in the passenger seat, Emma Conner agrees to live with her aunt Christine. She has her cousin by her side so starting in prestigious prep school won't be too bad. AFter one day, it's clear that the popular girl has it out for her, but otherwise Emma's day isn't too bad.

Soon, Emma finds herself falling head over heels for Brendan Salinger, the school's mysterious hottie. As much as she'd like to become Brendan's girlfriend, dreams of her dead brother warn her to stay away from him, and other dreams show Emma in past eras facing horrible fates.  Soon, street lamps explode when she walks past. Are these dreams all a coincident or is there a valid reason that she should avoid Brendan? With the help of the school's "witch," Emma begins to investigate the meanings of her dreams and the other warnings she's receiving.

Spellbound is a fun read. Once you understand what's going on, the story's action really becomes intense. For sensitive readers, themes of abuse and alcoholism (the step-dad) may be a difficult to read, but they are handled amazingly well and in a realistic manner.

The romance between Brendan and Emma is certain to please teen girls, especially those who loved the Twilight novels. The chemistry between the pair is amazing. The bullying that teen girls face is also very clear and extremely realistic.

This is apparently the first novel in the series. The next book, Spellcaster, focuses on Emma's friend, Angelique, from the looks of things. I can't wait to see what's in store for her.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Extreme Weather - Michael Mogill and Barbara Levine

Released July 2011

Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

From tornadoes and hurricanes to blizzards and drought, this fascinating book delves into the various aspects of extreme weather conditions. The authors begin by explaining what “weather” is and the role of the sun, wind and clouds.

Once the basics are out of the way then the focus changes to “Weather Goes Wild”.  Here you’ll find some basic information about a number of extreme conditions and what causes them.

In the “focus” part of the book there are specific discussions of actual events that fall under the headings of either “Wild Winds," “Falling Water” or “Feeling the Heat." The youngster will find two page spreads about a dust storm in the Gobi Desert, a mudslide in Peru, a Canadian ice storm and a killer drought in Ethiopia.

Filled with lots of pictures and diagrams, this book offers an excellent overview but doesn’t go into great detail about extreme weather conditions. It does introduce the concepts the authors wish to highlight in an understandable manner and thus is an excellent starting point for further study.  After this introduction to extreme weather, the youngster can find more detailed books and information about each of the conditions mentioned online or at the library. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Me! Me! Mine! - Alan Katz

Released July 2011

Alan Katz
Pascal Lemaitre
Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Anyone with a young child has probably heard the scream “MINE!” when it comes to one toddler sharing with another. Alan Katz takes this all too familiar situation and turns it into a cute board book for preschoolers.

Rocky Dachshund refuses to share with either his brother or his classmates. He hogs all the space in the bedroom he shares with A.J. and won’t let his teammates on the school’s basketball team touch the ball. Since the ball hog takes all the shots, it is no wonder the team doesn’t win any games.

Totally out of control, Rocky is on his way to not having any friends and even his family is getting fed up with his selfishness. Then his mom comes up with a clever idea to make her son realize that “sharing” is much better than hogging everything in sight.

I’m not going to ruin the ending by telling you what she does, but if you have a child like Rocky, you might want to try Mama Dachshund’s approach. It certainly turned Rocky around and now he believes that “it is good to share!"

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Crypto-Capers Series - Renee Hand

A quick note from author Renee Hand. In addition to her Cryto-Capers book series, she runs a radio show for children's authors.

If you'd like to learn more about the show or Renee's Crytpo-Capers book series, visit:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Little Chicken's Big Day - Jerry Davis

Released April 2011

Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

The minimalist approach to the text and illustrations of this picture book for children one and older is actually quite effective. Little Chicken’s day is pretty much dictated by his mother’s commands. From the time he gets up and has breakfast to when mother and son leave the chicken coop, Little Chicken hears a series of commands.

“Wash your face! Get dressed! Finish your food! “Time to go!” The litany goes on and on. And Little Chicken’s response is always the same, “I hear you cluckin’, Big Chicken!”

But then Little Chicken becomes distracted by a butterfly and becomes separated from his mother.  The pair are soon reunited so the story ends happily, but there seems to be a message here. Unfortunately, I have to admit I’m not sure what it might be, though. 

Since I was a little put off  by Big Chicken’s series of abrupt commands to her little one, I felt Little Chicken had a good reason to stray from his mama. That, though, is not the idea I think the author hoped to convey.

Because the illustrations are cute and certainly some youngsters can relate to an overprotective parent or an overbearing mother, this is a book that will engage a child on one level or another. So enjoy the pictures and don’t worry about any issues the text may present.

I think there are times we all hear the Big Chicken cluckin’ and, for our own peace of mind, tend to ignore her (or him)!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bugs That Go - David Carter

Released May 2011

David A. Carter
Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Here’s another in the delightful “Bugs” pop-up series by David Carter. This time we see the ingenious way Carter devises various types of transportation pop-ups into this cleverly engineered novelty book.

You’ll find a jet airplane bug and bicycle bug with turning wheels, along with a hot air balloon bug lifting off and a fire engine bug spraying water on an out-of- control fire.  Other bugs are on skateboards, race cars, and sailboats.

For the grand finale, the last two pages open out into a construction site with all sorts of bug equipment from a crane and dump truck to a back-hoe, pile driver and forklift. 

Certain to please the toddler set, this new pop-up book is also guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of collectors who have amassed a pop-up book library. Get moving and buy a copy of this book before they are all gone because Bugs That Go! will soon be gone!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Get Out of My Head, I Should Go to Bed - Susan Pace-Koch

Released 2011

Get Out Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Get Out of My Head, I Should Go to Bed is a short children's story revolving around something many people experience at bedtime. As the children in the story attempts to go to sleep, thoughts keep popping up in his or her head. It's hard to sleep when you can't stop thinking about things.

The narrative often rhymes, something that I know helped my children when they were first starting to read. Sentences are short and flow nicely. It's not a long story, most parents will be done reading within a few minutes making it a great choice for a quick bedtime story. Plus, the narrative isn't long and will not overwhelm beginning readers making this the perfect story for children who are learning to read.

Illustrations in the book are done by Jeremy Kwan. The illustrations are bright and colorful and will appeal to younger readers.

I know many readers prefer to shop through the major online booksellers, however the book is not currently available on or Barnes and Noble. To purchase the book online, you must go to

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Big Brother's Don't Take Naps - Louise Borden

Released June 2011

Louise Borden
Emma Dodd
Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Nicholas looks up to his big brother, James because he can do all sorts of things a little brother can’t do just yet. James can write his name, read books, cross the street by himself and he even goes to school on the big, yellow bus.

The one thing Nicholas does do that James doesn’t is he takes a nap each afternoon. “James tells me,” says Nick. “Even on Saturdays, big brothers don’t take naps.”

After we see all the things the two brothers do together and the things that only big brothers can do, the story comes to a cute and rather unexpected conclusion.  Suddenly there’s a new member of the family.

“Shh..she’s sleeping…’” Nick tells the family dog.  Then you flip the page and see the little boy holding his new baby sister. “Big brothers don’t take naps,” he whispers!

This is an excellent story, especially for a child who might soon be trading in his “little brother” status for that of a “big brother!"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Want To Go Private? - Sarah Darer Littman

Released August 2011

Sarah Darer Littman
Scholastic Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth for Amazon Vine

I'd love to think in this day and age that young girls are smart enough to avoid online conversations with strangers, however I also know that isn't the case simply by reading the news every day. Want To Go Private? touches on this concerning issue.

Fourteen-year-old Abby comes from a loving home, but her first year of high school scares her. Her best friend, mother and bratty sister push her into dressing nicer, doing more with her hair and using make-up. When Abby passes out during an audition and her friend tells her parents after promising Abby she won't, Abby starts to feel like she and her best friend are heading in opposite directions. Abby feels alone until a boy enters a chat room for teens and makes her feel special.

Abby knows the dangers of the Internet but "Luke" spends time building a relationship and making Abby feel like she's a princess. When things progress from simple text chats to video chats and then beyond, Abby grows to trust him. When he asks to meet up after a particularly bad day, Abby goes against everything she knows and agrees. Much to her friends and family's horror, Abby vanishes.

Want To Go Private? is scary, compelling and very realistic. The first half of the book is told from Abby's point of view. Once she disappears, the story is then told by Abby's best friend Faith, Abby's science partner and potential boyfriend Billy and Abby's sister Lily. All three add depth to the story and brought a tear to my eye as the investigation intensified.

Like me, I've betting most teen readers will wonder why on earth Abby became so gullible. I don't suppose anyone truly understands what makes a teen fall for the lines issued by an Internet predator. What this book will hopefully do is teach teens that no matter how good things sound and no matter what the predator says, he/she ALWAYS has a dark side.

While this is teen fiction, parents should take time to read it too. If you don't have your child's passwords, get them. Both of my kids understand that failing to give me their passwords means computers get taken away. It's that important.

Friday, August 19, 2011

You Are My Only - Beth Kephart

Released October 25, 2011

Beth Kephart
Egmont USA

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Let me start by saying I loved You Are My Only, but I'm not sure I'd qualify it as being young adult. I obviously read it as an adult, a parent, and my understanding of maternal bonds really helped with the impact this story has on the reader. I'm not sure a teenager will understand those parental bonds.

Emmy Rane became a mother just barely out of her teenage years. Her baby daughter is the only thing keeping her sane, as she deals with her marriage to an abusive man. One afternoon, she brings Baby outside to the swing and then realizes she left the blanket inside and runs quickly inside to retrieve it. When she returns, Baby is no where to be found.

Fourteen-year-old Sophie has spent her life moving from town to town with an overprotective mother who insists on homeschooling her. In their latest home, Sophie secretly befriends a boy and his whimsical aunts. Being part of the outside world, even if she must keep her activities hidden from her mother, Sophie starts to develop an independent streak. When her mother goes to work, Sophie's curiosity gets the best of her and she begins to unpack the boxes her mother says are forbidden to her. What Sophie finds changes her life.

You Are My Only is told through the two difference perspectives. Emmy side of the story tells of her desperation as she searches to find her baby. Sophie's side tells of a confined lifestyle where she's not allowed to be in the public eye. Her first 14 years have been spent hiding in houses and being told to hide whenever someone comes to the door. Readers know from the start that Sophie is Emmy's missing daughter, but it's still gripping watching Sophie learn about her past and following Emmy's tragic story because nothing comes easy for this young woman.

The writing style may take a little getting used to. Sophie's first-person account can be choppy at times with very short sentences, but realistically that is how many teens think. My own 14 year old is the queen of short sentence and frequent subject changes. To me, Emmy's side is unique. She tends to focus on specific details, such as her baby girl's yellow sock. Once her daughter disappears, she clings to that yellow sock. It's an honest reaction that any mother would feel in her shoes. I simply can't imagine how any woman copes after a child goes missing and I hope I never experience the pain because I believe it would be brutal.

You Are My Only is a gripping, powerful story. My only concern is that many teens may not truly understand or be able to sympathize with Emmy after her daughter disappears. As a result, I tend to think the book would have a much better market in women's fiction.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Annie and Snowball and the Book Bugs Club - Cynthia Rylant

Released February 2011

Cynthia Rylant
Sucie Stevenson
Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Part of the Ready-to-Read series of books. this Level 2 book features a more detailed storyline, varied sentence structure, paragraphs and short chapters.

The story itself finds Annie and her cousin Henry enjoying summer vacation. When they see that the library is sponsoring a reading club, called the Book Bugs Club, the youngsters decide to give it a try.

They keep track of what they read in a special notebook and receive stickers and other goodies for the number of books they finish. The pair is also invited to a special club picnic where they meet other Book Bug members.

The story is simple, but it does encourage the reader to keep reading. Mom and dad might wish to take note of the idea of the book club and have their son or daughter write down titles of completed book for special treats or outings. The more fun you can make reading, the better off your child will be in the long run

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ambitious - Monica McKayhan

Released September 2011

Monica McKayhan
Harlequin/Kimani Tru

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

As a teenager, my best friend and I spent hours reading Bantam's Sweet Dreams romances. Carrie's mom was a huge Loveswept fan and passed on her love for romances by making sure Carrie had the latest Sweet Dreams novel on her night stand. After the 1980s, it seems that teen romances faded away. It's nice to see the publishing world turning their focus to teenage girls.

Ambitious finds Marisol Garcia, Mari for short, auditioning for a prestigious performing arts school. When she makes it in, Mari has no idea what's in store, but she's thrilled to be in a school devoted to her dream of becoming a famous dancer.

Drew Bishop's father used to play professional sports and wants his son's basketball career to take off. Drew has other plans because he loves the stage. When he's accepted into Premiere High, he hopes he can get his father to understand his passion for acting.

Soon the two form a solid friendship. As Drew works on his acting career, Mari enters a dance competition that has the potential to make her a star. Mari's mother isn't certain that her daughter is ready for Hollywood, but with Drew supporting her, Mari hopes she can prove to her mother that her passion for dance means everything.

Ambitious is kind of a Glee meets So You Think You Can Dance. The story isn't focused mainly on a teen's romance, instead it looks at the dreams of two teenagers lacking support from their parents. There are other subplots within that create tension in the right places. Overall, I found the story to be quite charming and a great set up for what could become a popular series romance.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Should I Share My Ice Cream - Mo Willems

Released June 2011

Mo Willems
Hyperion Books

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This newest Elephant and Piggie picture book finds Gerald debating whether he wants to share his ice cream cone with his best friend, Piggie. As you can imagine, the elephant weighs all the pros and cons, debates the question internally and then, when he finally makes up his mind – the cone has melted and there’s nothing left to share!

Now this could mark the end of the story, but author Mo Willems has a surprise in store for his reader. There’s more! I loved this ending and won’t ruin it for you by explaining what happens next. Rest assured, though, you’ll love what happens next and, as you would expect, it is totally in keeping with the relationship that Willems has developed between this delightful animal odd couple in the series.

Although the minimalist approach the author employs in the text and the illustrations of these books would not seemingly appeal to a wide audience of children and adults, Mo Willems’ wry sense of humor and his wonderful ability to capture facial expressions on his two characters have made this a hugely successful series of books.

 If you haven’t yet discovered Piggie and Elephant, it is about time you did! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ultraviolet - R. J. Anderson

Released September 2011

R. J. Anderson
Lerner Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

After coming home with blood on her hands and babbling that she made a girl from her school, Tori, disintegrate, Alison is sent to a mental institution for teenagers. No one has seen Tori since that day, but police cannot arrest Alison without proof.

Alison knows she's different. Every letter of the alphabet and every person in the world has a different color or taste. Does she really have the powers to make someone disappear forever or is there something else going on?

I really liked Ultraviolet. First, it brings awareness to a condition known as synesthesia, possibly it's better to call this an ability, where people do view people and the words they say in terms of color and taste. It's amazing to think that type of person exists and they apparently do. According to the brief research I did, Billy Joel, Franz Liszt, Nikola Tesla and Duke Ellington are a small sampling of people with this condition.

The mystery involving Tori's disappearance does keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Nothing is revealed until Alison begins to remember the events from that day. Due to her upbringing, Alison hides her condition, and that is understandable, but it's also leads to her being able to discover what really happened that day. This isn't a mystery that is easily solved. There are twists that the reader won't see coming. In the end, I'm not sure I like where the story led, but I think many readers will love that twist.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Inkblot: Drip, Splat, and Squish Your Way to Creativity - Margaret Peot

Released March 2011

Boyds Mills Press
Margaret Peot

Reviewed by Bob Walch

In this remarkable book, artist Margaret Peot not only illustrates how inkblots can be a source of artistic inspiration but also how they can take an individual’s creativity to new heights.

This hands-on guide explains the techniques that will help the young artist, or anyone for that matter, transform inkblots into works of art. After listing what materials will be necessary and how various types of inkblots can be created using folded paper, the author gets to the “cool” stuff. This involves the adding of lines and color to create a variety of creatures, objects, designs and even  people.

One of the important concepts you’ll learn is how to look at an inkblot. This entails identifying positive shapes (made by the ink and water) and negative shapes (the white spaces around and between the ink shapes).  You’ll also be shown ways to assess an inkblot to determine its potential for creating an interesting picture. With this knowledge, all sorts of interesting images will emerge from an inkblot or series of them.

If you’d like to learn how to splat, drip, puddle, drizzle, and fold your way to creating a variety of artistic creations, let your journey begin with this book. Margaret Peot will be your guide from start to finish and she’ll make the experience both informative and fun.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Prison-Ship Adventure of James Forten, Revolutionary War Captive - Marty Rhodes Figley

Released January 2011

Marty Rhodes Figley

Lerner Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The Prison-Ship Adventure of James Forten, Revolutionary War Captive is a short graphic novel based on the life of James Forten. As a teen, Forten never saw life as a slave. Things threatened to change when the men on his ship were caught by the British during the Revolutionary War.

The reader learns more about James Forten and the events surrounding his capture during the war. As a graphic novel, the book is perfectly suited for advancing readers who still enjoy pictures. I do caution that at just 30 pages, if your child's school has a required number of books per school year, this book will unlikely count towards those reading goals. I know in my children's school, books must be at least 80 pages by 3rd grade in order for them to count.

I did find the story fascinating and think it will help spark a child's interest in history. This is one of a collection of History's Kid Heroes graphic novels so children who do show interest will have quite a selection from which they can choose. At the end of the book is a page of suggested resources for children who want to learn more.

Amazon suggests the target ages for this book as 9 to 12, I'm actually thinking based on kids I know who are that age, that this is better for the 8 to 10 group. By the time my kids and their friends were 12 (that's 6th/7th grade in most areas), they would have found this book to be far too short, especially if they wanted the book to count towards their required yearly reading for school.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Oh, How Sylvester Can Pester - Robert Kinerk

Released March 2011

Robert Kinerk
Drazen Kozjan
Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This collection of twenty humorous poems deal with bad manners and what the consequences can be if one doesn’t try to improve one’s behavior.

For example in one rhymed poem entitled What Will Happen To You If you Talk While You Chew, the reader learns that if he or she chews and talks at the same time "They’ll call you a pig and they’ll call you a slob. Your mother will faint and your sister will sob. Your brother will yell that you’re making him sick. From your cat and your dog what you hear will be, "Ick!'"

So, to avoid the pain and the shock and the grief that accompanies this unbecoming behavior it would be wise to not talk with your mouth full!

Other poems that admonish the reader to "shape up" include Stop Crowding, The Giggles, Excuse Me, and Magic Words.

Perfect for reading aloud, these playful poems will work nicely with children three or four years of age and older. And, who knows, they may even result in a positive adjustment in the youngsters’ behavior! Now wouldn’t that be nice?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tony Hawk's 900 Revolution: Impluse - M. Zachary Sherman & Caio Majado

Impulse; Volume Two (Tony Hawk's 900 Revolution)

Released August 2011

Tony Hawk's Revolution
Stone Arch Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

After hitting his Spanish teacher with a spitball, Dylan Crow opts to ditch a trip to the office and heads to the local mall to spend the rest of the day at the arcade. Dylan bumps into his brother there and is surprised by the mysterious events that occur. His brother hands him a small key and tells him to trust no one. When his brother vanishes and Dylan learns his foster parents were beaten during a robbery, he realizes there is more to this key than he could imagine.

Impulse is actually the second book in the new Tony Hawk's 900 Revolution series by M. Zachary Sherman and Caio Majado. I had no idea I was jumping in with the second book, so if you've also missed the first, don't worry about struggling to figure out the characters and storyline. The series is perfect for kids with an interest in skateboarding or Tony Hawk and will suit readers in the 9 to 12 age range. The vocabulary isn't difficult, though to some who aren't familiar with skateboarding terms, that content may seem challenging.

The one thing I did miss in the first book is the basic premise behind this series. After pulling off the world's first 900, Tony Hawk's skateboard shattered into pieces. Each piece carries a portion of the power that helped Hawk perform this trick. There's a mysterious group searching for each piece in order to restore the board and its powers. It's a storyline that's going to appeal to juvenile readers. I read the book in about 15 minutes, so it's not challenging but certainly holds your attention from start to finish. A graphic comic segment within the book helps younger readers visualize the action. I think this a great choice for children who are too big for picture books but not quite ready to give up some illustrations within their reading material.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jack: Secret Vengeance - F. Paul Wilson

Released February 2011

F. Paul Wilson

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Young Jack is back in a third adventure. Adults know Repairman Jack as a grown up, but F. Paul Wilson's teen book series goes back to the 1980s when Jack was a teenager. It's a mysterious series that I really think both teens and their parents will enjoy.

In Secret Vengeance, the high school jock, Carson Tolliver, assaults Jack's friend Weezy. Jack's first instinct is to take his baseball bat and obliterate Carson's knees, but he realizes that makes him no better than Carson. Instead, he comes up with a dastardly plan to make Carson look like a fool in front of their high school peers. Jack's plan goes over incredibly well, leading to additional attempts at revenge, but it soon becomes clear that Carson cannot handle the pressure.

This is the final book in the Young Jack trilogy, though I'm hoping the author will reconsider and keep going. The books are a blend of mystery with a touch of paranormal thrown in. The writing flows smoothly and definitely builds suspense until the final page. I've loved this series and think many boys and girls will read the books again and again.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mr. Popper's Penguins -

Released June 2011 (E-book version)

Richard and Florence Atwater
Open Road Media

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

With the current movie starring Jim Carrey, it's not surprising that there's renewed interest in Mr. Popper's Penguins. Somehow, I got through my childhood without reading this book, which is surprising given the amount of time I spent at the library both as an avid reader and later as a volunteer.

Mr. Popper paints and wallpapers rooms from spring to fall making money before winter sets in. Once the season ends, he stays home where his passion for Antarctica is clear. One night, he's listening to Admiral Drake's broadcast and hears that Drake received his letter and is sending him a special gift. The next day, a penguin arrives.

Fascinated with his new pet, Popper does everything he can to help this bird thrive. Soon, he's the proud owner of two penguins because his first became lonely. As his bank accounts dwindle and the penguin family grows, Popper realizes he must come up with a way to make a lot of money to keep his penguin family happy.

This really is a cute story and as I read it, I can see where Jim Carrey fits the role, I do have fears he'll go way overboard though. The writing is perfect for a child transitioning to chapter books and there are still pictures to help them visualize the action.

Before taking your children to see the movie, I do suggest purchasing a copy of Mr. Popper's Penguins and enjoying the story as it was written.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Just Fine the Way They Are - Connie Nordhielm Woolridge

Released March 2011

Boyds Mill Press

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This picture book celebrates the changes in American transportation and how people came up with new innovations to make travel easier. While some folks were always happy with the status quo, there were others who saw a better way of getting people from Point A to Point B.

You’ll learn how the National Road system created a system of dirt roads  in the 1800s. Then along came the railroads that eventually stretched from coast to coast.  Next, the invention of the automobile necessitated a new system of better, smoother, all-weather roads and the freeway system.

Every step of the way there were those who were not supportive of the changes that moved the country forward. Fortunately many other individuals didn’t listen to the naysayers . As young readers follow the development of these basic ground transportation systems, they’ll discover the importance of  those people who not only invent new ways of doing things but also refuse to give in when obstacles are placed in their way.