Monday, December 31, 2012

Favorite MG Books for 2012

My Year in Review:   I found many well written and wonderful books this past year in the middle grade area. I am always happy when I find ones that have strong characters, good development and of course, positive messages for our young readers. Looking back at my list, I was disappointed that I did not have more time for reading middle grade this year. I plan on making a conscience effort next year for a better list. One thing I do know is that the books I did read were very memorable. Too many books today are promoted for middle grade readers that are advanced in content and are just not a right fit for their reading level or maturity. Here are a few that stood out as some great reads this past year for me.

I am looking forward to what the new year has to offer from a few of my favorite authors and finding many new ones as on the link for my reviews!

Listening for Lions     Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelen

Marty McGuire Digs Worms!     Marty McGuire Digs Worms by Kate Messner

An Elephant in the Garden     Elephant in the Garden by Michael Murpurgo

Pie     Pie by Sarah Weeks

The Adventures of Tintin: A...     The Adventures of Tintin by Alex Irvine

Mo Wren, Lost and Found     Mo Wren, Lost and Found by Tricia Stringstubb

Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars...     Super-Sized Slugger by Cal Ripken, Jr.

Spy School     Spy School by Stuart Gibbs

Favorite Picture Books of 2012

My Year in Review:  This was another outstanding year for wonderful picture books. I definitely had a few favorites from old authors as well as some new ones who I hope will continue to inspire our children to read with their writing talents. I also don't know where this year has gone but boy, has it flown by! Looking back at my list today though, I wished that I had been able to find more time for searching and reading. I am sure there are plenty more I have not yet discovered and will make a conscience effort to do better next year. There were a variety of stories with good humor, sweet and heartwarming animals and characters or just wonderful messages for our little ones to learn from. Here are a few that stood out as being some of my favorites from 2012.

I am looking forward to what next year has to offer as on the link for my reviews!

Sky Color    Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds

Rocket Writes a Story     Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills

The Christmas Quiet Book      The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood

Bear Has a Story to Tell     Bear has a story to Tell by Phillip C. Stead

Me...Jane     Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

No Two Alike     No Two Alike by Keith Baker

Over and Under the Snow     Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner

Red Sled     Red Sled by Lita Judge

Crafty Chloe     Crafty Chloe by Kelly DiPucchio

Favorite YA Books for 2012

My Year in review:  As for the Young Adult category, I did not do so well....  Over the course of the year, I remember abandoning a few choices because either the characters were weak or the book was so similar to another that I read that I lost interest and it sat around for too long. I do hope to improve on this part and have two books lined up for the start of the new year already. Maybe they will spark me to find more good reads from last years favorite authors or some new debut ones. The one book that I did read was very memorable and I found that it stayed with me for quite a while. I guess that is what I am looking for when I venture into a young adult read.

I am looking forward to what the new year has to bring my on the link for my review!

The Brides of Rollrock Island

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cold Snap review

Cold Snap
It's snowy cold in the town of Toby Mills. The thermometer is sinking toward zero, and the icicle hanging from the nose of General Toby's statue is growing closer to the ground. The newspaper headline reads "COLD SNAP!" The people of the town are losing hope—and the feeling in their toes—until the mayor's wife saves the day with a toasty treat.(goodreads summary)

As each day passes, it becomes colder and colder in Toby Mills. People are stuck on the city train, the furnace goes out at the local church and street workers make fires in metal drums. The townsfolk are trying everything to keep warm but their spirits are dwindling as the temperatures plunge lower every day. That is until the Mayor's wife has a winter surprise in store that will bring back warmth to the city.  Here is a book that is perfect for the cold winter season. After reading this, it reminded me of when I was a kid and we used to have this kind of weather in Wisconsin.  Not so much anymore, but it was nice to have the memory again. The illustrations are bold with primary colors and whimsical. The descriptive storyline really offers that small town feel facing a cold snap and in the end the community coming together for a heartwarming surprise. I think this is a "just right book" for ages  4-8.~

Title: Cold Snap
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Pub. Date: October 2012, Knopf Books
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 40 pgs.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Penguin and Pinecone review

Penguin and Pinecone
When Penguin finds a lost pinecone one day, an unlikely friendship blooms. But Grandpa reminds Penguin that pinecones can't live in the snow-they belong in the warm forest far away. Though he will miss his friend, Penguin returns Pinecone to his home, dreaming of the day they can reunite. And when he finally returns to the forest to check on his friend, Penguin discovers that love only grows over time-and so do little pinecones!(goodreads summary)

One day, little Penguin finds an unusual object in the snow.  Whatever it was seemed cold. Penguin made it a nice warm scarf and spent many days with it. Unfortunately, the snowy ice is no place for a pinecone so Penguin packs it up for a journey back to the forest where it belongs.  This was a wonderful story about caring and friendship that will warm you from head to toe.  After the two are separated, they both are reunited and Penguin finds a big surprise. They spend a fun day together and soon it is time for Penguin to travel back home. Even though they are sad to be apart, they knew what was best for one another.  The text is simple but the illustrations are cute and heart-warming adding even more to this loving tale making it a great read on a cold winter's day. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-7.~

Title: Penguin and Pinecone
Author: Salina Yoon
Pub. Date: October 2012, Walker & Co.
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 40 pgs.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just Right for Christmas review

Just Right for Christmas

In this celebration of the joy of giving, one snowy Christmas eve, a king buys some soft, red cloth to make the perfect Christmas gift for his daughter. Little does he know that the left-over cloth will be used to make presents for many more of the kingdom’s inhabitants, right down to the last teeny bit of cloth which is made into a scarf just right for a mouse. (goodreads summary)

One day, a King sees the most beautiful red bolt of fabric. He decides it would make a perfect cloak for the Princess and the remaining leftover pieces are placed outside the castle door. When the kitchen maid finds them, she knows she could make the perfect gift for someone special.  As each piece dwindles down in size, it is gently passed on and picked up by another. This is a very sweet book about sharing and giving that is perfect for the holiday season.  The illustrations are joyful and large while the text flows nicely for reading aloud. The warm and generous thoughts of each individual is evident in the storyline as they hand make the perfect gift for that someone special.  In the spirit of giving, this book will show its readers that a just right Christmas is one that comes from the heart. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-7.

Title:  Just Right for Christmas
Author: Birdie Black,  illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Pub. Date: September 2012, Nosy Crow
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Christmas Quiet Book review

The Christmas Quiet Book
The holidays are filled with joyful noise. But Christmas is sometimes wrapped in quiet: “Searching for presents quiet,” “Getting caught quiet,” and “Hoping for a snow day quiet.” Irresistibly cute, soft colored pencil illustrations of bunnies, bears, and more paint a magical holiday picture indeed.(goodreads summary)

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, sometimes we need to stop and reflect on a quiet moment or two. This sweet and charming book will help you wind down with a cup of hot cocoa and bring you back to a more peaceful and serene feeling.  With its' cute characters and illustrations, each quiet moment is portrayed with such wonderful imagery that when I read it I experienced a sense of calmness. I enjoyed the variety of quiet moments but my favorite was the Luminaria quiet.  After reading that page, I felt the outdoor sensation of slowly walking in the forest surrounded by the snow and just being one with my thoughts.  Just like in The Quiet Book and The Loud Book, the illustrations are touching and full of expression giving me a smile afterwards.  Christmas is fast approaching and old man winter will soon be knocking on our door. This book is a nice reminder that we should take a break to stop and think about cherishing those special, quiet moments in our everyday life. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-6.~

Title: The Christmas Quiet Book
Author: Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska
Pub. Date: October 2012, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

You may also enjoy: (click for my reviews)

The Quiet Book            The Loud Book!     

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Marty McGuire Digs Worms review

Marty McGuire Digs Worms!
Marty McGuire's third-grade class has a special assignment: Save the Earth! Even more exciting, the best project wins a special award. Marty's pretty sure her classmates' ideas won't stand a chance against her plan to turn the garbage from the school cafeteria into fertilizer. All she needs is a little help from her teammate and best friend, Annie--and the worms in her grandma's garden.

But it turns out that worms are awfully SLOW eaters. And when the critters escape, the whole class starts grumbling. Can Marty save the Earth without losing her friends.(goodreads summary)

When Marty arrives at school, there are three terrific things on the "Third-Grade Stars Today" list. First, it's Monday!  Next, Marty is the classroom helper for the week and lastly, a special assembly is scheduled before lunch. The students learn that the interesting person presenting is Amelia Ranidae, a woman who devotes her life to keeping the planet green. She has a special challenge for the school she calls the "Save the Earth Project". She encourages the students to each come up with a way to help the environment and will return in a few weeks to present an award for the best plan. Marty knows that she will have the best idea when she and Annie come up with a way to help reduce the amount of garbage thrown away in the cafeteria.  They set up a composting bin, with worms included, for the students food scraps. By observing daily, they will journal the progress they find. Unfortunately, it is turning out to be a longer process than Marty thought. She is trying hard to be patient but when a few things don't go as planned, Marty finds herself discouraged and wonders if this was the best idea for a project after all.

Marty Mcguire is a great character who doesn't mind rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty in this book! This was a wonderful story that has a lot of learning potential for its' readers. I liked that it teaches young kids about the importance of taking care of our environment and inspiring awareness to keep our planet green. It offered a wide variety of vocabulary words pertaining to nature such as; habitat, indigenous,inhospitable, observation and environment, just to name a few. It also instructs the reader about building a composting bin and how worms play an important role in the fertilization process. All the kids in Marty's classroom came up with some very creative and funny ways to help the planet that stays true to a third grade classroom experience.  I also like that Marty makes mistakes and she learns and grows from them. There are also some wonderful adult characters where each one adds wisdom, guidance and encouragement, something kids really need in their everyday life. This is a nice chapter book series where the author really captures the spirit of the character giving her a believable voice that kids will not only find likable but learn something new as well. There is an introductory book called Marty Mcguire that kids may want to read first. I am looking forward to a third book someday hoping Marty's adventures keep going strong.  I think this is a "just right book" for ages 8-9 .~

Title: Marty Mcguire digs worms!
Author: Kate Messner
Pub. Date: April 2012,  Scholastic
Genre: realistic fiction, chapter book
Paperback, 161 pgs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Peepsqueak! review

As soon as little Peepsqueak bursts out of his shell, he is on the move. He is determined to fly--high, High, High But is he too little to reach the sky? (goodreads summary)

From the moment Peepsqueak hatches, he is on the move and determined to fly. Despite what all the other barnyard animals tell him, he keeps trying to find a way to fly high up into the sky. This was a cute book that encourages a "keep on trying" theme and not letting what others say hold you back.  There are many repetitive words in the story that are larger and highlighted. Kids would have a fun time saying the words (or shouting) along while reading aloud. Although, I did find myself wanting to say pipsqueak instead of peepsqueak and had to correct myself more than once. The primary colors of the illustrations were bold, vibrant and entertaining. I liked the message of not giving up and once Peepsqueak mastered flying, he was no doubt on to the next thing. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-5.~

Title: Peepsqueak!
Author: Leslie Ann Clark
Pub. Date: January 2012, Harper Collins
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

One Windy Day review

One Windy Day
Fox the Mailman loves windy days. But uh-oh! Today the wind is blowing his letters near and far, up and down and left and right. Luckily, his friends are there to help!(book jacket summary)

Fox the Mailman loves the wind! But on this day, the wind is extra strong and his mail is blowing every which way.......but lucky for Fox, there are many friends willing to help. Here is a cute and colorful story all about learning the opposites.  A great book for the little ones with its bold colors and visually appealing characters that will help teach opposites such as; high and low, over and under, open and closed, etc.  The front and back covers are padded and each sturdy page has shiny metallic leaves giving the impression they are blowing in the wind that will hold up to the touching from the tiniest hands. A simple fun read for staying in on a cold and windy day. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 1-3.~

Title: One Windy Day
Author: Tammi Salzano
Pub. Date: September 2012, Tiger Tales
Genre: picture board book
Hardcover, board book

Monday, November 26, 2012

About a Bear review

About a Bear
A bear's life is never dull when there is a butterfly to chase, trees to climb, and streams to splash in. It's even better when friends join in...and after all that excitement, every bear needs a hug before bedtime.(goodreads summary)

A very simple but wonderful book about a day in the life of a Bear living in the forest. Whether he is happy or sad or just puzzled by a turtle he finds, Bear encounters many feelings and emotions making this a cute short story for a beginning reader.  The rhyming text is large and flows nicely from page-to-page, which is a great addition to its already simple sentence structure.  The colorful and eye pleasing watercolor illustrations of gentle blues, purples, pinks and oranges helps make this a delightful read aloud for toddlers or preschoolers as well.  I could also picture it as a fun circle time story with a feelings or emotions theme and a learning project to follow.  I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-5.~

Title: About a Bear
Author: Holly Surplice
Pub. Date: September 2012, Tiger Tales
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 24 pgs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Junie B., First Grader Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten review

Junie B., First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff) (Junie B. Jones, #28)
It's Thanksgiving time and Room One is getting ready for their very own Thanksgiving feast! There's even a contest to see which room can write the best thankful list. The winners will get a pumpkin pie! Only it turns out being thankful is harder than it looks. Because Junie B. is not actually thankful for Tattletale May. Or squash. Or scratchy pilgrim costumes. And pumpkin pie makes her vomit, anyway. (But Junie B. is thankful for yummy cranberry sauce that's shaped like a can. And biscuits that explode from their can. And nipsy doodles!) Will Room 1 win the disgusting pie? Can May and Junie B. find common ground? Or will this Thanksgiving feast turn into a Turkey Day Disaster?(goodreads summary)

Junie B. Jones is back once again and this time preparing for a holiday feast during the week of Thanksgiving. Her classmates are also putting together a "thankful list" and the classroom with the best one will win a pumpkin pie! Making a list of thankful things is harder than they thought and with each one having to find two things to be grateful for stumps the whole class.  As told from the voice of a six year old, it definitely makes for a funny and unpredictable story.  Junie B.'s high energy level, poor grammar skills and social awkwardness are all part of her unique character that makes this series so special.  I liked that her teacher did not change what the kids in the classroom thought they were thankful for (like nipsy doodles or biscuits exploding from a can) but instead, eventually accepting their ideas as actual viewpoints from children. This quick story is filled with the usual Junie B. Jones and her Classroom One antics. For fans who enjoy her many other books, they may once again laugh at the silliness. It will also open up an opportunity for kids to think about what they are thankful for this holiday season. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 6-7.~

Title: Junie B., First Grader Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten
Author: Barbara Park
Pub. Date: August 2012, Random House
Genre: chapter book
Hardcover, 144 pgs.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Super-Sized Slugger a novel by Cal Ripken Jr. review

Cal Ripken, Jr.'s All-Stars: Super-Sized Slugger
Cody Parker may be overweight (he prefers the word burly), but he plays third base like a dream. Too bad no one knows it yet, because he’s new to Baltimore, where he’s a target—okay, a big target—for brutal teasing. Even worse, he’s competing for the starting job on the Orioles of the Dulaney Babe Ruth League against budding hoodlum Dante Rizzo, who vows to squeeze Cody’s head like a grape if Cody beats him out. Life gets even more complicated when York Middle School is beset by a rash of mysterious thefts, a crime wave that threatens to sideline Cody—and ruin a golden season for the Orioles. Will Cody ever succeed in getting people to see him for who he really is?(goodreads summary)

Thirteen year old Cody has a difficult adjustment when he moves from Wisconsin to his new home in Baltimore.  Being a "big guy" is tough for Cody and he worries if he will fit in at his new school.  Cody does have an incredible talent for baseball and he can't wait to try out for the local team, the Orioles. This adds more trouble when he vies for the same position as Dante, the school bully. The coach recognizes Cody's natural ability and places him at third base making Dante not only an unhappy teammate but classmate as well.  After showing the team what he can do on the field, Cody is finding it easier to make friends. Unfortunately, it is not as easy to get along with Dante.  Jessica, a neighbor girl who has spunk and an incredible sports talent herself, stands up to Dante when he threatens Cody one day at school. Cody and Jessica soon build a strong friendship that will include helping to solve a mystery. There is a rash of thefts occurring at the middle school by some inside or outside thieves and Cody has a strange suspicion of who it might be.  With everything happening all at once, Cody must prove to his classmates that the new kid in town can be more than meets the eye.

I think this is another great book from the Cal Ripken, Jr. series that could appeal to either boys or girls.  Just like in Hothead, this second book is full of sports lingo and subtle messages that kids can identify with but also adds the twist of a mystery. The main characters of Cody and Jessica are positive role models when it comes to standing up for yourself and for others.  Jessica jumps in and takes on Dante when the situation gets out of hand, showing courage to be a strong voice instead of being a quiet witness.  Cody also proves to the others they shouldn't judge a book by its' cover with his athletic ability and positive attitude. When trying to solve the theft ring, this part of the story had some good suspense and action to keep the reader engaged until the end. The story wraps itself up with a championship game that is full of excitement and expresses the importance of teamwork.  I also connected to many things mentioned in the storyline because I live in Wisconsin. There were many references to the City of Milwaukee and the Brewers, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun ( yeah, MVP!), Miller Park Stadium and our local newspaper The Journal/Sentinel. I think that sparks excitement and great interest for kids when an author uses realistic references they know about and can relate to.  This book was quick and fast-paced and a good fit for a reluctant reader as well. I hope to see more books in the future about the team and its' characters because they could make for many positive learning experiences for its readers. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 10-13.~

Title: Super-Sized Slugger a novel by Cal Ripken, Jr.
Author: Cal Ripken, Jr. with Kevin Cowherd
Pub. Date: March 2012, Hyperion
Genre: middle grade, realistic fiction
Hardcover, 183 pgs.

You may also like:

Hothead  Hothead

Friday, November 16, 2012

One Two That's my Shoe review

One Two That's My Shoe!
When a mischievous puppy runs off with his owner's shoe, it's a race from one to ten to get it back again! Over the teddy bears and out the door, readers can rollick along with the canine trickster and count the scenery along the way. (goodreads summary)

Here is a fun counting book with a twist to the One Two, Buckle my Shoe verse to share with your little one. As the story begins, the playful dog steals his girls shoe and off he goes as she chases him trying to get it back. The illustrations are in simple primary color but visually large enough and with an added touch of nostalgic feel to them.  Big numbers are in the corners of each page with the same number of items matching for a great learning to count experience. Although text is quite simple, it offers a great combination of rhyming words and counting making this a new fun and silly read for toddlers and preschoolers. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-4.~

Title: One Two That's My Shoe!
Author: Alison Murray
Pub. Date: June 2012, Hyperion
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bear Says Thanks review

Bear Says Thanks
Bear has come up with the perfect way to say thanks—a nice big dinner! When Bear decides to throw a feast, his friends show up one by one with different platters of delicious food to share. There’s just one problem: Bear’s cupboards are bare! What is he to do?(goodreads summary)

Poor Bear...he is so bored when all of a sudden he comes up with the best idea! A feast he will share with his friends. But how can he make a feast when his cupboards are empty. As his friends show up with the most delectable treats, Bear may soon realize that he just might have something to share after all.

Another sweet and simple book from the popular Bear series that gives its reader a true feeling of generosity and friendship. As the friends bring a dish to pass around, Bear offers a heartfelt "thanks" for all their kindness. The story has wonderful rhyming text and the pictures are in warm autumn colors. As you look at each page, there are cute and gentle expressions from its many characters adding that touch of softness the story gives. I love the message it sends about sharing and gratitude, especially at this time of year.  Bear learns that even though he has no food to offer the others, he has his own special qualities that the friends are thankful for as well.  This is a great book to cozy in with and count your own blessings.  I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-7.~

Title: Bear Says Thanks
Author: Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
Pub. Date: September 2012, Margaret  K. McElderry Books
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 40 pgs.

Other Great Books in the Bear Series to enjoy:

Bear Snores On    Bear Wants More  Bear Stays Up for Christmas  Bear Feels Sick

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm review

Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm (Book #11)The lucky penny in Judy Moody’s pocket sure does seem to be working. She can’t stop winning — at bowling, spelling, the unbeatable Prize Claw, everything! For sure and absolute positive, she’ll ride that wave of good fortune all the way to Washington, D.C. Watch out, District of Cool, here comes Judy Moody, the luckiest kid ever, until . . . oh, no! Her lucky penny just did a belly flop into a porcelain bowl of yucky, blucky UNluck. Has the coin’s magic gone kerflooey?Are some people, like Jessica Finch or Stink, destined to have all the luck, while she, Judy Moody, gets stuck with a yard full of three-not-four leaf clovers, a squealing potbellied pig in an elevator, and a squashed penny with cooties? ROAR!(goodreads summary)

Judy does seem to have the best luck ever lately. Especially since the lucky penny in her pocket came from the penny making machine.  It helps her win at the prize claw (not once but three times) and also win the highest score at bowling. She just knows it will get her the big spelling bee win for a trip to Washington D.C. to represent her classroom. But just as luck would have it, she mistakenly drops her penny in the worst imaginable place and all the magic seems to disappear.

Judy Moody is one of my favorite series for grades 2-4.  As always, one thing leads to another making this an entertaining and funny read.  Sometimes it is just nice to have a book to read that puts a humorous spin on things.  This story moves quickly along from having good luck to not having good luck, a trip to Washington D.C.  to babysit a pig, the realization of  a friendship and answers the question; does good luck really need to come from an object? It also offers a nice description of Washington D.C. for kids who have never been there and a wonderful connection for kids who may have. When Judy and her brother Stink babysit for Jessica's pig at the hotel, this makes for an entirely new adventure for the two to work out.  Just like in the other books, Judy's character is definitely spunky and has a bit of sass to her throughout the storyline. She does make for a lighthearted character full of spirit though.  The illustrations are just as fun and is an added touch to the story.  Kids will find a chuckle or two after reading another one of Judy's adventures. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 7-9.~

Title: Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm
Author: Megan McDonald , Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Genre: fiction, middle grade
Pub. Date: August 2012, Candlewick
Hardcover, 157 pgs.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sky Color review

Sky Color
Marisol loves to paint. So when her teacher asks her to help make a mural for the school library, she can’t wait to begin! But how can Marisol make a sky without blue paint? After gazing out the bus window and watching from her porch as day turns into night, she closes her eyes and starts to dream. . . . (goodreads summary)

From her love of painting and drawing to her creative clothes, Marisol considers herself a true artist. But she hits a stumbling block when she is unable to find the blue paint she wants for the sky color on her class mural.  Sometimes we just need to let children know that it is "okay" to think outside the box and this story is a wonderful example of finding inner creativity and problem solving.  It offers children the opportunity to explore the concept: what if you didn't have a certain item or thing, what could you use in place of it?  The illustrations are simple but beautiful, with a hint of color in just the right places adding to its' artistic expression.  I could see this book fit as an inspiring gift with a box of art supplies for a budding young artist or maybe even a teacher. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 3-8.~

Title: Sky Color
Author: Peter H. Reynolds
Pub. Date: August 2012, Candlewick
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Too Tall Houses review

Too Tall Houses

Owl and Rabbit are good friends and live in two small houses next to each other. They are perfectly happy . . . until Rabbit's garden gets in the way of Owl's view. So Owl builds his house a little taller. Only that blocks the sun from Rabbit's vegetables. So Rabbit builds his house taller. And soon it's a house-building frenzy and the two now not-so-good friends have the two tallest houses in the world!(goodreads summary)

Rabbit and Owl are happy living side-by-side and sharing the same hill with one another. Until Rabbit's garden grows so big that it blocks Owl's forest view. Of course, Owl complains and decides to build a bigger house. Rabbit then complains because Owl's new house blocks the sun for his garden.  And so, the story grows from there with each one trying to out do the other.  This was a cute story on getting along with others and what being competitive will do to a friendship. It had a warm, fall color tone to each page adding to the already gentle and eye pleasing illustrations.  There is a bit of whimsy to the topic of disagreements and finding an alternate solution that works for everyone involved. In the end, learning to work out a problem brings together the two friends and shows that friendship is really more important than having the tallest house. It opens up a great opportunity for discussion either in the classroom or home. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 3-7.~

Title: Two Tall Houses
Author: Gianna Marino
Pub. Date: September 2012, Viking Juvenille
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 40 pgs.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bear has a Story to Tell review

Bear Has a Story to Tell
It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy.  But first, Bear had a story to tell...

Bear found his friend Mouse, but Mouse was busy gathering seeds and didn't have time to listen to a story. Then Bear saw his friend Duck, but Duck was getting ready to fly south. What about his friend Toad? He was busy looking for a warm place to sleep. By the time Bear was through helping his friends get ready for winter, would anyone still be awake to hear his story?(goodreads summary)

Bear is so tired but before he can go to sleep for the winter, he has a story he wants to tell his friends. Unfortunately, all his animal friends are also getting ready for a long winter's nap and just can't find the time to listen.  When spring arrives, Bear's friends wake up eager for his story. But will Bear be ready to finally tell it? This was a cute and sweet story that really warms the heart on a cold fall day. It would make a wonderful bedtime story because of its' gentle text and subtle watercolor illustrations giving the feeling of sleepiness. I loved the kindness and friendship theme represented among all the animals as each one gets ready for hibernation. Even though this story was short and simple, it captures that cozy feeling of curling up with a warm blanket and settling in for a winter's night sleep. It has a turn around ending that adds a pleasant outcome for Bear. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-7.~

Title: Bear has a Story to Tell
Author: Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Pub. Date: September 2012,  Roaring Book Press
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ready for Pumpkins review

Ready for Pumpkins

Hercules, a classroom guinea pig, has a revelation when he watches the first graders grow plants from seeds. He wants to grow things, too! And during summer vacation (spent with the teacher's dad), he gets his chance. With the help of a friendly rabbit, Herky prepares the soil, carefully plants pumpkin seeds, and waits. And waits, and waits. One of the most important things he learns about gardening is patience. It's very hard to go back to school when fall comes--especially because his pumpkins aren't quite ready yet. (goodreads summary)

Hercules has a good life living with Miss MacGuffey's first grade class! One day, he notices the children are growing plants and Hercules decides he wants his own garden too. When he goes home for summer vacation, he puts his growing plan into action. With some pumpkin seeds and help of a new friend, Hercules learns just how tricky growing a garden can be. As told from Hercules' perspective, this cute and charming story is a wonderful tale not only about the planting process but also learning to have patience as well. With the wisdom and guidance from his new friend Daisy, he finds it takes awhile for good things to grow and learns ways to pass the time. The watercolor illustrations are gentle and eye pleasing. There is so much to see on each page as Hercules' seed grows into something special for the new school year. I hope there will be many more witty stories about Hercules in the future.  I think this is a "just right book" for ages 3-7.~

Title: Ready for Pumpkins
Author: Kate Duke
Genre: picture book
Pub. Date: August 2012, Knopf Books
Hardcover, 40 pgs.


Room on the Broom review

Room on the Broom
The witch and her cat are happily flying through the sky on a broomstick when the wind picks up and blows away the witch's hat, then her bow, and then her wand! Luckily, three helpful animals find the missing items, and all they want in return is a ride on the broom. But is there room on the broom for so many friends? And when disaster strikes, will they be able to save the witch from a hungry dragon?(goodreads summary)

Halloween is right around the corner and this amusing story caught my eye the other day. A friendly witch rides her broomstick cheerfully around the forest with her cat. Along the way, she looses several items and one-by-one are found and returned by several new animal friends. Each one asks if they can have a ride on her broom. Their adventure takes a turn as the broomstick snaps and the witch is confronted by a hungry dragon after tumbling to the ground. The rhyming text flows nicely making for an easy read-aloud.  The illustrations are colorful and with so many characters, each one could be read in different voices adding to the entertaining storyline.  It also depicts kindness and friendship with friends helping other friends in need. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 3 - 7.~

Title: Room on the Broom
Author: Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Genre: picture book
Pub. Date: 2001, Puffin Books
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Brides of Rollrock Island review

The Brides of Rollrock Island

On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings—and to catch their wives. The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment. (goodreads summary)

Misskaella, the sea-witch was not a beauty herself.  But she did have the power to bring beauty in the form of a sea-wife summoned from the seals of the ocean and beaches for the men of Rollrock Island.  They knew of her magic and for a price could have the most beautiful woman for their own.  The men rolled up the seal skins that were shed and stored them in a locked closet preventing the women from ever going back to their original form and returning to the sea.  As the temptation grew stronger from man-to-man, to be with these perfectly beautiful and obedient beings, the women of the island slowly left for the mainlands. Marriages were broken apart, families separated and women were rejected as outcasts as the sea-wives were brought one-by-one by Misskaella's magic. As generations passed, the only ones inhabiting the island were men, sea-wives and their sons.  Did this bring them the happiness they imagined it would?  Little do they know that Misskaella will profit in more ways than one as she stands by watching her revenge unfold so easily.

I wasn't sure how I felt after I read this story... The writing evoked so many feelings and emotions that it took a while for me to realize that "yes",  I think I did like it after all.  Based around Selkie folklore, it definitely was not a light hearted story and actually had me feeling gloomy and sad throughout.  It was almost like being on a small island that rains constantly for days and days, waiting for the sun to peek out any moment now. The setting and time were not clear but I was able to come up with my own image through good character description, descriptions of life on the island and vocabulary like "lad" and "mam" for mom. The story unfolds with Misskaella's childhood. She knew that she was different and that difference lead her to become the magical sea-witch. Each chapter is then based on a specific individuals point-of-view and how their story circles around Misskaella's magic and the consequences of choices. The sea-wives were truly unhappy and always felt the longing of the sea although they stayed committed to their new life. What I took away most from the story were questions like: what was true happiness, how far will one go for happiness and most of all what things would we do for love? One son in particular who has a strong bond for his sea-mam shows great courage to do the unthinkable that changes many lives on the island. There were several pages in the chapters that I found myself reading over again to try and connect with the story and understand it. The story and writing style is unique but once I finally got to the main climax, it captured my attention to get to the end of the book quicker.  This book is a dark, folklore tragedy and will not be for every reader.  Sometimes you walk away with uncertain feelings that will stay with you for a few days. This book will do that to its' reader. I felt haunted and not sure I will be able look at a seal without being reminded of this book. But then again, good writing is suppose to stick with its' reader and will give me something to talk about over coffee.   I think this is a "just right book" for a mature reader over 16 as it does have some sensuality.~

Title: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Pub. Date: September 2012, Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Hardcover, 305 pgs.
Originally published as Sea Hearts

Friday, August 31, 2012

Rocket Writes a Story review

Rocket Writes a Story
Rocket loves books and he wants to make his own, but he can't think of a story. Encouraged by the little yellow bird to look closely at the world around him for inspiration, Rocket sets out on a journey. Along the way he discovers small details that he has never noticed before, a timid baby owl who becomes his friend and an idea for a story. (goodreads summary)

I loved the first book How Rocket Learned to Read and this is such a wonderful addition for teaching the reading and writing process. The cute little yellow bird is back as Rocket's teacher and encourages him to sniff out some new words. It combines the love of reading and learning to write a story when Rocket shows interest in writing his own after finding many new words for the word tree.  He's on the right track on how he wants to write his story but finds it is more challenging than he thought once he sits down to write.  He eventually learns how to find his inspiration and when he does writes the best story of a newly found friend . The illustrations are once again colorful, bold and full of cute expression.  Yellow bird is so gentle and encouraging with her tender words, she makes writing a story sound like fun instead of a chore.  A wonderful book to help kids become inspired about reading and writing! I think this is a "just right book" for ages 4-7.~

Title: Rocket Writes a Story
Author: Tad Hills
Genre: picture book
Pub. Date: July 2012, Schwartz & wade
Hardcover, 40 pgs.

You may also like:

How Rocket Learned to Read  How Rocket Learned to Read

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mom, it's my First Day of Kindergarten review

Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten!

It's a child's first day of kindergarten, but who is worried about all the new people and the different things he'll meet--the child? No! The mother. In a refreshing reversal of roles, the child takes it upon himself to comfort and reassure his mother that everything will be fine, she'll get used to him going to big-kid school, and yes, he is ready for the first day of kindergarten. (goodreads summary)

As the last days of summer come to an end, we focus on getting our kids ready for the many new transitions of a new school year.  We understand how nervous and anxious they can be about these changes and parents can feel the exact same way inside. This book is a cute and charming take on the first day of kindergarten jitters that will help both parent and child prepare for their special day.

Mom is worried that her son will be okay at the "big kid's school" but the little boy is totally confident about his first day responding with; "Mom, don't worry. I'll be fine, I am already five!"  How many times have I heard that over the years.........We usually find books where the child is the one with nervousness or fears and the parent is the reassuring calming voice.  But in this story, the shoe is on the other foot and roles are reversed. The watercolor illustrations nicely depict the emotions and feelings of the boy and mother with size and color.  In the beginning, mom is small and the color of blue in comparison to the boy who is larger and full of excitement.  I connected with the mom's wondering: do we have all the needed supplies, will they eat all their lunch or go hungry and getting in the extra goodbye hugs and kisses at the door.  My kids are middle and high school age and I still carry those worries every year.  I feel it is good to let your child know that you too feel nervous about school starting.  This book makes a nice read-aloud together and offers a great opportunity to share your feelings with one another making the transition easier on both parent and child. Since some school districts seem to be adding 3K and 4K, this would also be a good fit for those younger ages as well.  I think this is a "just right book" for ages 4-7.~

Title: Mom, it's my First Day of Kindergarten!
Author: Hyewon Yum
Genre: picture book
Pub. Date: July 2012, Frances Foster Books
Hardcover, 40 pgs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Listening for Lions review

Listening for Lions

Thirteen-year-old Rachel Sheridan is left an orphan after influenza takes the lives of her missionary parents in British East Africa in 1919. National Book Award-winning author Whelan crafts a wickedly delicious story of treachery and triumph, in which one young woman must claim her true identity in order to forge her own future and transform herself from victim to heroine. (goodreads summary)

Rachel lives in British East Africa among the Kikuyu and Masai. She lives a happy and simple life with her father who is the doctor at the Mission Hospital and her mother a teacher. Rachel explores the wild nature around her and takes in its' beauty at every wakeful moment. At night, she listens for the lions roar and can feel their strength and freedom. Her nearest neighbors, the wealthy Pritchards from England live on the next plantation a few miles away. They live a very charmed and different life from Rachel's family. The 1919 influenza outbreak has rapidly taken millions of lives all over the world and is now spreading to the local African cities and farms. The epidemic quickly reaches Tumaini, the Mission Hospital where Rachel calls home. Sadly, both her parents become victims of the influenza within weeks of the outbreak. The Pritchards offer to take her in as the hospital closes leaving her with many questions about her future. It soon becomes obvious that the Pritchard's generosity is not all that seems to be. They plan a devious and sinister plot for money forcing Rachel with the choice of either joining them in their deceit or be sent to the nearest orphanage with an uncertain future. She finds herself travelling miles away from Africa to a new and unfamiliar place to help carry out with the lies and greed, only to keep the hope in her heart of someday returning back to her homeland.

This book hooked me from the very first page! I quickly found myself drawn into the setting and the characters with the beautifully written details.  The story was rich with diversity and culture giving me clear images of a place and time I have never been to.  Rachel knew she was a willing participant in the scheme along with the Pritchard's. Instead of feeling she was a victim, she takes personal responsibility for her choices.  It sends the message of right vs. wrong and letting your conscious guide you. The storyline kept building with every chapter and each one I kept waiting for the truth to come out.   She finds courage one day to make the right choice and a very happy outcome in doing so follows.  As the years go by, Rachel grows to be a young woman and again must make choices that are different than what her heart tells her. Her dreams and determination to return to Africa to finish her parent's work was inspiring. She faced many obstacles for a young girl in that era but throughout the entire story she always stays true to herself.  I especially liked how the author included many words throughout the book from Rachel's native language, Swahili.  A glossary was thankfully added at the end to decode any confusing and new vocabulary words in this unfamiliar language. I found myself constantly reading until the end, placing myself in Rachel's shoes and wondering if I would be able to handle the many situations she faced with the strength and maturity as she had. All in all, I entirely believe that Listening for Lions is worthy of it's National Book Award and I think this is a "just right book" for ages 10 and up.~

Title: Listening for Lions
Author: Gloria Whelan
Genre: historical fiction, middle grade
Pub. Date: October 2006, Harper Collins
Hardcover, 195 pgs.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Crafty Chloe review

Crafty Chloe
Fancy Nancy meets Martha Stewart in Crafty Chloe, the adorable DIY star of a new picture book series!When another girl has already purchased the most perfect birthday gift for Chloe’s friend Emma, Chloe decides she’ll make a present—something you can’t buy in a store. But crafting isn’t easy, and it’s beginning to look like she won’t have a great idea in time. Fortunately, with a good doodle session and a whole lot of glitter to inspire her, Chloe figures out just the thing to save the day—and with a little help from her trusty glue gun, she just might save a friendship, too! (goodreads summary)

Chloe has tried soccer, video games and dancing.  As hard as she tries, neither of these activities seem to fit her. Instead, what she's good at is making stuff....she can make outfits out of a shirt, coffee filter flower hats and just about anything if there are googly eyes! When Chloe is invited to her best friend Emma's birthday party, she wants to give her the perfect gift.  She learns that another girl has already purchased the same one and must decide to find Emma something else.  She needs to put her thinking cap on and with a little creativity whip up something special.  

This was a delightful story that had valuable lessons added on giving.  Not only is crafting fun and creative but a homemade gift from the heart can be something extra special. I loved the humorous illustrations and subtle coloring to each page. As a crafter myself, I connected with one illustration of frustrated Chloe trying to figure out what to make.  When an unexpected mishap occurs on the way to the party, Chloe gives in a big way that teaches how good it feels to truly give from her heart. It makes for a great conversation about giving to others and how to be a good friend.  The last page of the book lists a website with directions for all the fun crafts illustrated throughout the story.  I'm looking forward to reading what Chloe has up her sleeve in a next book!  I think this is a "just right book" for ages 4-7.~

Title: Crafty Chloe
Author: Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Heather Ross
Genre: picture book
Pub. Date: February 2012, Anteneum Books for Young Readers
Hardcover, 40 pgs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth review

Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth

In her chapter book debut, Nancy Clancy must find the culprit after a prized possession at school goes missing. Illustrations. (goodreads summary)
Nancy has all the right stuff to be a good detective.  She has her notebook, floppy hat, sunglasses, a fabulous pink trench coat, rhinestone magnifying glass and she loves to snoop.... Her friend Bree has great code-breaking skills and the two have the best Sleuth Headquarters located in Nancy's backyard.  The only thing missing is a mystery to solve.  During their classroom mystery memento assignment, a special item of their teacher's turns up missing and the two finally have a case on their hands.  Using their keen sense of detective skills, Nancy and Bree are determined to crack the case and expose the real thief.
Being a fan of the Fancy Nancy picture books, I was happy to learn that she is now branching out into her own chapter book series.  It still has Fancy Nancy's unique style and her flair for everything posh but in a way that older readers ready for chapter books will enjoy and have a favorite character to grow with. I especially love that it stays true to building vocabulary for its' reader and encourages descriptive writing. While Nancy is working on her creative writing assignment in class, her teacher asks her to read it out loud and then praises her on the vivid word choices. The chapters are short and easy to read with illustrations throughout the book adding to the story. Nancy and Bree piece together many clues in this who dunnit mystery that it makes pretending to be a detective sound like fun. Readers will be introduced to code-breaking and how a super sleuth works. There are even references to Nancy Drew which may spark interest for more mystery reading in the future.  I think this is a "just right book" for grades 2-4.~
Title: Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth
Author: Jane O'Connor, Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
Genre: mystery, chapter book
Pub. Date: April 2012, Harper Collins
Hardcover, 124 pgs.