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.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monsters Do Ugly Things - Mark Adam Kaplan

Released on October 25, 2011

Mark Adam Kaplan
Monsters Unbound

Monsters Do Ugly Things is a whimsical children's picture book available for the Kindle, and also at B&N, and iTunes. The story is basic and will appeal to the young reader. It shows a variety of monsters causing havoc in a number of places. However, it also shows children that for every bad monster, there are good ones who do good things.

Mark Adam Kaplan's narrative is perfect for the beginning reader. Sentences are short and do not use words that are too challenging. Plus, there is some repetition, such as "monsters," that children will quickly start to identify the word as they read along. For that reason, I'd peg this as a useful tool for helping a child who is learning to read.

The illustrations by Glenn Scano are bright and colorful. His monsters are often silly, rarely creepy or scary, so don't be worried about them frightening your young reader. If you have a Kindle, this book is certainly worth the very affordable asking price.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Step Inside! A Look Inside Animal Homes - Catherine Ham

Released February 2012

EarlyLight Books

Book Review by Bob Walch

Step Inside! offers a nice collection of photos showing how a variety of creatures live. Each color photo is accompanied by a short poem that describes the home. Of the warthog’s den the author writes – “They reverse into their dens / Always staying on their guard / If something comes to attack / They’ll fight back very hard.”

Granted that’s not the greatest poetry in the world, but the strength of this book is in showing the young reader the many different ways various creatures create or find a home.  Some, like termites, beavers and birds,  construct elaborate or eye-catching homes, while others, such as the prairie dog, mole, and meerkat, go underground.

Even fish and various reptiles are pictured so that the reader realizes that any environment can provide a home for any creature.

The resourceful teacher or a parent homeschooling his or her child should certainly be able to find a way of turning this book into an interesting unit on animals, habitats or different ways animals (including man) create shelters.

An ideal book to use along with Step Inside!  would be Homes (My First Discoveries) (Moonlight Publishing) by Donald Grant that investigates the different ways humans have housed themselves over the centuries and in different cultures.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Down - Mark Adam Kaplan

Released May 2012

Mark Adam Kaplan
BeWrite Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

If I can be honest for a moment, I wasn't sure about Down. I read the premise and it didn't sound like something I'd love. I owe Mark Adam Kaplan an apology. From the first page, I was hooked.

Leon Mendoza is in trouble. Involved with a gang, he ends up arrested for drugs and facing time in jail. He has one last chance if he can keep his nose clean, attend school regularly, and keep his job at a local Chinese restaurant.

There are a few problems with this. His ankle monitor makes him a target at school. Being that he's Hispanic, the Asian gangs near the restaurant where he works won't give him a moment's peace, and his mom's really of little use when it comes to helping him stay out of trouble. With his dad in jail, she expects Leon to bring home the money.

Determined to improve his life, Leon attempts what seems impossible. He gets his grades up, does as his probation officer says, but his accomplishments seem overshadowed by the world around him. The question becomes how does such a young boy survive poverty and the world around him?

I have to approach this story as an adult. While it is a young adult fiction offering, it's the mom in me that was most impacted by Leon's story. I know there are children like that all over the country, and frankly, it pisses me off. Why have children if you have no intention on being a parent?

Down is very powerful. I was rooting for Leon from the start. The more I read, the angrier I became. I was fuming with all this kid had to face, and his mother's idiotic behavior, the laws that keep parole officers from really doing what they know needs to be done, and the general consensus that once a kid is trouble, they'll always be trouble.

Given that, my kudos go out to the author for telling Leon's story honestly. It's not always pretty, and it certainly doesn't always seem fair, but sadly that's just how the system is set up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Strange Place to Call Home - Marilyn Singer

Released August 22, 2012

Marilyn Singer
Ed Young
Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

A Strange Place to Call Home is the latest collection of children's poetry from Marilyn Singer. I have to admit, I'm impressed because there is one animal within this book that I didn't know existed. Even as an adult, the author taught me something new.

Fourteen animals take the stage as they're discussed in prose. Learn about the animal and most importantly its unusual habitat. You have Humboldt Penguins who live where it's so hot they must bury their eggs deep into the sand to keep the eggs from baking. There are the Blind Cave Fish who live where they never see the light of day. Then, there are the petroleum flies, insects I didn't know existed, who need oil to survive.

The illustrations are a lot of fun too. This isn't your standard hand-drawn images, instead Ed Young uses scraps of paper to create collages that capture the animal and its habitat.

The end of the book contains factual information about each animal, as well as a look at the different forms of poetry. This adds educational value that parents can use for discussions after reading the book to their child.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blackwood - Gwenda Bond

Released September 2012

Gwenda Bond
Angry Robot

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Seventeen-year-old Miranda Blackwood hasn't had the easiest of lives. Her mother died, she's been bullied for years, and her father's spends too much time drinking. Miranda never expects to wake up and find that another mysterious disappearance has struck her island - Roanoke Island. When 114 residents vanish into thin air, including Miranda's dad, she can't help but become involved in discovering what is happening. With the help of Phillips Rawling, a teen who hears the voices of the dead, Miranda sets out to unravel the truth.

Blackwood is gripping and takes a unique look at a true mystery, the Lost Colony, that's been on historians' minds for centuries. There have been many possible explanations for the colony's disappearance, but solid evidence has never been found. Most recently, an old map revealed a fort under a paper patch, it's suspected the colonists may have headed to that fort seeking shelter and food.

The storytelling is fast-paced and keeps you wanting to learn more. As far as debut novels go, I'm pretty impressed with Gwenda Bond. Blackwood does tap into the paranormal and even adds a touch of romance. For that reason, I see it becoming a favorite of teen girls. There's nothing horribly unsettling, so if you have a younger reader, say 12 and up, I feel it is equally suitable to that age group. In the end, it's a great way to introduce the historical mystery to readers and get them thinking about what really could have happened to the Lost Colony.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Titanic: The Search for Lost Fugitives - Anita Croy

Released March 2012

Kingfisher Books

Book Review by Bob Walch

Part of the Code Quest Adventure series, this book invites the reader to decipher secret messages and solve a mystery related to the famous ship and its ill-fated voyage.

Following the instructions on the first page, the reader will help a reporter piece together scrapes of evidence that will explain the vintage photo of two young children. Who were these children? Where they passengers or stowaways on the ship?  Did they survive? How were they related to the reporter?

As you read the book and try to solve the mystery using the material the author provides, you’ll also be learning a lot about the Titanic, the ship’s crew and passengers. This is a clever way to teach a history lesson while at the same time fully engage the reader.

It is necessary to read carefully and focus on the text, break the codes and figure out the puzzles if the mystery is to be solved. Also, pay close attention to the material you’ll find hidden behind some of the flaps spaced throughout the book.

This interactive book will appeal to any youngster who likes a challenge and enjoys solving riddles and unearthing clues in mystery stories.