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, June 25, 2011

The Boxcar Children Mysteries: The Clue in the Recycling Bin #126 - Gertrude Chandler Warner

Released March 2011

Gertrude Chandler Warner
Open Road Media

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Though Gertrude Chandler Warner passed away in 1979, her Boxcar Children mystery series keeps going strong thanks to the hard work of other authors. I never read her original books until recently, and the introduction to the Boxcar Children intrigued me. The children's traits shone through and made each of them likable.

With The Clue in the Recycling Bin, I think they lose a little of that determination and grit that made them so fascinating in the original book. Not only that, but the original book dates back to the 1940s, so to throw the kids into a recycling plant didn't make a lot of sense to me because recycling didn't really kick into gear until I was in middle school which is the 1980s. Having so much time pass without the children aging seemed off to me. However, that's an adult interpretation, children are likely to miss this aspect. For kids ages 8 to 10, I think the mystery is going to thrill them.

In The Clue in the Recycling Bin, the Alden kids volunteer in a local recycling plant where recyclables and items that others might reuse are separated into their correct space. Someone keeps vandalizing the recycling center and the owner is frustrated. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny decide to do some investigating and uncover the culprit.

There's enough information provided that children should have an easy time unraveling the clues and uncovering the culprit before the Boxcar Children do. It's a fun read that will delight advancing readers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I Love Birthdays - Anna Walker

Released December 2010

Anna Walker
Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Who doesn’t love a birthday?  Perhaps no one, though, loves a birthday party more than Ollie, the cloth zebra featured in this “I Love” series of picture books for children two years of age and older.

You’ll follow the progress of Ollie’s birthday party as his friends help him celebrate. There are a cake with pink frosting, balloons, gaily wrapped presents from his friends, and a treasure hunt.

Yummy treats, party hats and games are also part of the afternoon. But best of all, there is singing. If you have read some of the other books featuring Ollie, you know he just loves to sing. And, when everyone has gone home, Ollie and his dog Fred snuggle down in bed, read a book and look at the green balloon floating overhead.

The simple illustrations and easy text make this a picture book that you can enjoy reading aloud to your child, but it also can be useful for practicing “do it yourself” reading .

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Barn - Avi

Released August 1996

Avon Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

In terms of Avi's The Barn, I don't think it's my favorite of his novels, but it does offer a great look into life youth faced in the 1800s. Nine-year-old Benjamin's mother's dying wish was to have Benjamin get an education. Since then, Ben's remained at a school where he is mastering his skills.

One day, his sister arrives at the school saying their father has taken ill and they need Ben's help on the family farm. Ben must leave his schooling behind and return to help care for his father who suffered a "fit of palsy," which to today's reader sounds more like a stroke. While Ben's father's life hangs in the balance, he realizes the one thing his father most wanted was to build a new barn. Ben hopes that if they do this for their father it will inspire him to recover.

Life in the 1800s was harsh on children and adults alike, few children did complete their schooling after a certain age. The Barn captures these circumstances beautifully, sticking solely to the harsh realities without glorifying anything.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Free Kindle Download

Everyone loves freebies! Click on the picture and fill out the information and the Kindle download is yours for free. It's a great story suitable for teens. What a great way to start the weekend!

How Did That Get In My Lunchbox? (The Story of Food) - Chris Butterworth

Released January 2011

Candlewick Press

Reviewed by Bob Walch

This clever book puts an interesting spin on what goes into a child’s lunchbox. How did all that food get there? Yes, mom went to the grocery store and bought it, but that’s not the answer in this instance. The author shows where the food came from before  it was in the store.

You’ll see how wheat is grown and then processed into bread and how cheese starts as milk produced by cows, gets processed by cheese makers and is stored for months before it is ready for a sandwich.

The story continues with tomatoes, apple juice, carrots, chocolate chip cookies, and clementines.   And when you get to the final pages of this interesting picture book you’ll also learn a little about the importance of a balanced diet that contains carbohydrates, protein, dairy products, fruits and veggies.

Using retro illustrations to help the child picture each step of the process, the author shows how food travels a long way to make it ultimately into a youngster’s lunchbox.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

While You Are Sleeping - Durga Bernhard

Released February 2011

Charles Bridge

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Durga Bernhard addresses a problem that parents and teachers sometimes have  explaining to children. When it comes to time – one size doesn’t fit all.  Rather than try to explain why there are different time zones or why the seasons are not the same every place in the world at the same time, the author focuses on making the reader realize that when it is nine in the morning in California it is not nine in the morning in London or Japan.

Following children in different cultures, the young reader is made to realize that when he or she is getting ready for bed, a child in another part of the world is just getting up to start a new day.

As you bounce around the globe from one time zone to another you’ll see various children engaged in everyday activities and then you’ll be asked to flip a flap to see another child in another place.  The flap also includes a clock face so you can see how different the time is.

Maps identify where you are as you turn to a new page and where the next time zone is. As a child in Thailand is climbing a tree and picking fruit at three in the afternoon, it is three in the morning on the island of Haiti halfway around the world and two other youngsters are fast asleep. 

There is also a world map on the back inside cover that shows all the world’s times zones and a small box briefly explaining why there are different time zones.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

M.C. Higgins, the Great - Virginia Hamilton

Released February 2011

Open Road Media
Virginia Hamilton

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

More than 35 years after M.C. Higgins, the Great debuted, Open Road Media reissued the classic story in a modern e-book format. Many adults read the story in school, but now the story is available to today's children and is possibly even more dramatic because it captures the history of circumstances some families did face.

M.C.'s family home is in jeopardy no thanks to strip mining occurring in Eastern Kentucky. A slag heap sits above his house and could destroy all they have in seconds. M.C.'s mother has an angelic voice and the appearance of a man carrying a recorder who wants to hear her sing and possibly give her the chance to become famous. Meanwhile, M.C.'s father doesn't want to leave because his mother owned Sarah's Mountain and her spirit is still a strong force in their lives. Meanwhile, M.C. struggles with saving his family home and simply being a teenager who is infatuated with a girl and isn't sure exactly how to go about catching her eye.

For all intents and purposes, M.C. Higgins, the Great is a coming of age story. The author captures the vernacular of the area, which some readers may not enjoy, and paints an exquisite setting that is so easy to visualize. However, the action in the story takes quite some time to reach. By that point, I was ready to give up because I expected to reach the actual problem much earlier in the story. The build up of characters took forever and I found myself struggling to remain focused.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sleeping Kings - John Prentice

Released April 2011

Smash Words

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

 I'll say this, for 99 cents Sleeping Kings offers a story filled with action, adventure, and the slightest hint of romance for an unbeatable price. If you have an e-reader or don't mind reading books on your computer, I highly recommend the first book from John Prentice's Dark Force series.

Nicola "Nik" Roscoe didn't expect to find herself in France, but she refused to move to the U.S. with her mother, and her father's work required a move to France. Nik, a tomboy and bit of a rebel, likes being with her dad, but her new life in France leaves much to be desired. That is until Nik and her class go up into the mountains and Nik falls into a cavern where she meets King Pedro, a man who's been dead for a number of centuries. With King Pedro's guidance, Nik learns she has special powers that can help save her father and her new friend Daan.

The mix of action/adventure and hints of romance worked really well for me. It's not so romantic that boys will hate the book, but there's just enough romance that teen girls will want to keep reading. They'll be dying to know if Daan and Nik hook up. The writing is gripping and keeps you drawn to the story from beginning to end. As this is the first book in a series, there's definitely more to come and I eagerly await future books!

I really enjoyed this story. One thing that I should mention is that the author is clearly British and therefore uses terms that some teens in the U.S. may not understand. My mom's English, so I knew everything, but terms like "boot" (trunk of a vehicle) are things my kids have had to ask me to clarify in the past. There are a number of sites that can help teens who need words clarified, or drop me an email and I'm happy to help.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

123 Moose: A Counting Book - Andrea Helman

Released January 2002

Sasquatch Books

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Although 123 Moose has been out for a number of years this nature based counting book is still in print. Featuring animals and objects found in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, this beautiful collection of color photos introduces youngsters to a wide array of animals and some plants while allowing them to practice their counting skills.

You’ll find a gray wolf pup, moose, cougars, muskoxen, pronghorns, and bears along with a selection of birds that include owls, bald eagles and Bohemian waxwings. The author includes sea otters and sea lions plus scallop shells, duck eggs and some river rocks.

Each entry is accompanied by a short narrative that tells the youngster something about it pictured creature or object. For example, you’ll discover that baby trumpet swans are called “cygnets” and sea lions have very poor eyesight.

You may have to go online or special order it at the local book store but it is worth the extra effort to get a copy of the book.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sometimes I Think I Hear My Name - Avi

Released September 1995

Avon Flare

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Thirteen-year-old Conrad Murray isn't happy that his aunt and uncle bought him a ticket to England. He wants to see his parents in New York City. Since their divorce, Conrad lives with his aunt and uncle in St. Louis. They treat him well, but it's not the same as having your parents with you.

It's been a long time since he's seen his parents, so his plan involves sneaking off to New  York City instead. There he catches up with a girl he met briefly at the travel agency in St. Louis. The teens set off to find his parents in a city Conrad barely knows.

Sometimes I Think I Hear My Name is short but carries a strong impact. Obviously, I'm older than the targeted age of the reader. I found myself worrying about Conrad's safety far more than either teen. Their determination and grit shined through, however. Conrad's friend Nancy is pretty resourceful and hides her own secrets. Readers learn more about her as the story goes.

I won't say this is one of my favorite Avi books. It's good and the story moves swiftly, but to me it lacked the depth of some of his other books. I far prefer his historical books like The Crispin: Cross of Lead or The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Job Site - Nathan Clement

Released March 2011

Boyds Mills Press

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Most children, especially little boys, find construction equipment fascinating. In this picture book Nathan Clement takes you to a construction site where various types of heavy equipment are hard at work. You’ll find big, bold illustrations of a bulldozer, excavator, front loader, gravel truck, rolling earth compressor, cement mixer and crane on the pages of this colorful book.

The brief text, one sentence per page, explains what each machine’s job is as the construction crew labors to create a lovely park with a pond in the middle.

Although Job Site is a simple picture book it will introduce  a youngster to some of the basic types of equipment that can be found on a construction site. After reading the book at home it might be fun to visit an actual site and see how many machines your child can identify.