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.”

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.