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, 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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up - Steve Berman, et. al.

Released September 2011

Steve Berman
Bold Stroke Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

One of the most heartbreaking things I've experienced after 17 years of being a mom is to hear that children are killing themselves because of bullies. That truly breaks my heart. I'm not gay, but I'm repulsed at the alienation many gay teens and adults face on a daily basis. I've seen far too many religious people take pot shots at gays making me wonder where does "Love thy neighbor" come into play. I'm disgusted by the attitudes of many and was delighted to hear about Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up. The writers in this book share stories about teens who come out and the bullying they face as well as the triumphs.

Every story in Speaking Out comes from the heart. I'll admit that some of them didn't really grab me, but there were a few that truly tugged at the heartstrings and brought tears to my eyes. Gutter Ball is about a girl who is being bullied and finally gets her comeuppance when she beats her bully in a bowling tournament. As sad as the ending was, realistically the author did an incredibly job with the ending. The strength of the lesbian teen in this story shined through.

The second story actually reminded me a lot of an experience I had during senior year. A new kid transferred to our school and I befriended him. He didn't talk much about his past or why he suddenly transferred into a new school in the middle of senior year. I learned later from one of his relatives that he was gay and his father had beaten the hell out of him and thrown him out onto the streets. The fact that a parent could be so biased against their own flesh and blood horrified me. Subtle Poison touches on that discrimination dished out by a parent. In this story, a teen girl feels she was meant to be a boy. Her gender change shocks many in her school and her parents making Alex's life hell. This is the most powerful story in this collection and one that had me grabbing tissues.

The third story to really grab me was The Spark of Change. In this story, a teen girl is horrified when her father, a volunteer firefighter, and his department refuse to go to battle a house fire because the house belongs to a lesbian couple.

There are many more stories in this collection, but those three, for me, demonstrated the very worst of discrimination and the promise that it does get better. For any teen who is gay and is giving up hope, please visit the It Gets Better Project.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Maisy Goes to the City - Lucy Cousins

Released May 2011

Candlewick Press
Maisy Fun Club

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Maisy and Charley are off to the big city to visit their friend Dotty. This new adventure is full of firsts for the little white mouse. There will be noisy traffic, crowded sidewalks, and towering buildings.  There are also lots and lots of stores.

“Come and see the toy store,” Dotty says. “It’s huge!”  Once inside the store the three friends take the escalator to the second floor where they see  all sorts of cool toys.

Maisy buys a special gift for Dotty to thank her for being their hostess on this very special day. Then it is time for a bite to eat.  The friends share a pizza as they listen to a monkey play a guitar outside the cafĂ©.

When they are ready to go to Dotty’s apartment there is another surprise awaiting  Maisy and Charley. They are going to ride a subway! 

Finally, after a busy day, they sit in the apartment looking out the window at the city’s lights as it gets dark.  Maisy says to Dotty, “Thank you. It’s been a lovely day.”  Indeed it has!

Here’s a good book to introduce a youngster to life in the big city before the family sets forth on an excursion. In a non-threatening way the child will get an idea of some of the things the family will encounter so he or she won’t be too surprised or perhaps afraid of all the hustle and bustle.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Poisoned House - Michael Ford

Released September 2011

Albert Whitman & Company

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Abi Tamper is a scullery maid at Greave Hall, but she's had enough of the cruel treatment by Mrs. Cotton, the sister-in-law of Lord Greave. After attempting to flee, she's returned to Greave Hall where her treatment does not improve. Though Abi's mother died a year earlier orphaning Abi, the family refuses to let her leave.

While assisting Mrs. Cotton to prepare for the return of Lord Greave's war-injured son, Abi is stunned to come into contact with her mother's ghost. Her mother's ghost is clear, cholera was not the cause of death, it wsa murder. Abi is determined to reveal her mother's killer for once and for all, but doing so when you're barely a teenager proves to be a bigger challenge than she expects. Secrets lurk in Greave Hall and someone will do anything to keep those secrets from being revealed.

The Poisoned House was so gripping that I simply had to read it in one sitting. Some teens may figure out the ending, I did but then I read mysteries all the time, so I'm accustomed to paying close attention to the clues. I'm betting most teens will find themselves shocked with the outcome.

Though this is a fictional story, it comes across feeling like a true story. It's simply an amazing read and one I am very glad I found.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nikolas and Company: A Creature Most Foul - Kevin McGill

Here's a sneak peek at a new fantasy series titled Nikolas and Company: A Creature Most Foul coming out this fall.


 If you would like to learn more about the book, please visit  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fraggle Rock Volume 1 - Heather White et. al.

Released September 2010

Fraggle Rock
Archaia Entertainment

"Dance your cares away. Worries for another day. Let the music play. Down at Fraggle Rock."

Anyone who knew kids shows in the 1980s - 1990s can sing along to the Fraggle Rock song. I was excited when I learned there's a comprehensive graphic novel sharing a bunch of stories involving Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock muppets.

That's exactly what Fraggle Rock Volume 1 offers. A number of writers and illustrators worked together to create this book that kids and their parents will love. As my review copy lacked the text that goes with each comic, I really can't review more than the introduction and illustrations. The illustrations are spot on and capture the nuances of each character, including the trash heap, perfectly. The introduction is going to appeal more to the adults who grew up watching the Jim Henson's show, but it does take you back in time making it the perfect choice to read by yourself before reading the remainder of the graphic novel with children.

There is a comprehensive list of all the Fraggles, their friends, and their enemies. If you didn't watch the Fraggles as a kid, you'll find it easy to learn more about each character and their backstory.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Get Happy - Malachy Doyle

Released June 2011

Bloomsbury Kids
Malachy Doyle
Caroline Uff

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Young readers three years of age and up are encouraged to make each of their days better by changing negative behavior to positive. With bright, colorful illustrations you’ll find examples of the not so good and desired behavior.

Open the book and there are two children squabbling over a teddy bear and having a tug-of-war, each one pulling on an arm of the hapless stuffed animal. Then, on the opposite page there are the same two youngsters sharing a bag of candy. How nice!

The minimalist text cuts right to the chase. “Squabble less.” Reads one side and “Share more!” reads the other.  And so it goes…sniffle less, snuggle more, grumble less, giggle more, etc.

After page after page of “less” and “more," finally you reach the last page which exclaims, “Be happy!”  Of course!

Although this is an admirable book with pleasant illustrations which mirrors various types of behavior, I’m not sure what type of staying power this book has.  After one or two readings will it slip to the bottom of the pile and not be “requested” anymore at bedtime or for an afternoon reading session. Perhaps!

Although Mom and Dad may like its message, whatever appeal the book has for children will be in how enticing the illustrations are. Some youngsters will want to view them over and over again while others will tire of them quickly.