Monday, January 28, 2013

Almost Home review

Almost Home

When twelve-year-old Sugar's grandfather dies and her gambling father takes off yet again, Sugar and her mother lose their home in Missouri. They head to Chicago for a fresh start, only to discover that fresh starts aren't so easy to come by for the homeless. Nevertheless, Sugar's mother has taught her to be grateful no matter what, so Sugar does her best. With the help of a rescue dog, Shush; a foster family; a supportive teacher; a love of poetry; and her own grace and good humor, Sugar comes to understand that while she can't control the hand life deals her, she can control how she responds.(goodreads summary)

Sugar Mae Cole is finding it harder to keep her head up these days. Her on again/off again father has racked up so much gambling debt unable to repay it and leaving her mother Reba, unable to manage the finances. When he decides to come around, he is full of empty promises and Sugar does not believe or trust him. In the meantime, Sugar meets a girl who insists she take care of her puppy because her father will take it to the pound.  The puppy also has been mistreated by him as well. Soon after, her mom receives an eviction notice on the home they both live in and are forced out onto the street by weeks end. They move in with Reba's cousin who soon makes it known that she feels they have places for "people like them" and asks her to leave. A move into a shelter is tough on Sugar and Shush but she is determined to make the best of it. When Reba learns of a job opportunity in Chicago to clean houses, she decides to relocate them. Unfortunately, the job did not pan out and Reba falls into a depressive disorder, entering into a hospital and leaving Sugar and Shush to seek shelter at a foster home. Luckily, she does have her old English teacher Mr. B back home, who encourages her via email to be strong through her writing to help her with her feelings. All the while, Sugar tries to keep her spirit up and dreams alive of having her mother back and a place to call home again.

I believe I have several favorite middle grade authors and Joan Bauer is right at the top! In this book, she captured the voice of Sugar beautifully and gave her a sense of strength during very difficult times. Having a father she could not trust because he gambled money away or was either drinking to much, Sugar desperately wanted Reba to realize how bad he was for them. At times I felt she was older and wiser beyond her twelve years, realizing that some children need to do this in order to survive whatever challenges they face. There are several topics explored throughout the story such as gambling, drinking, absent parent, animal abuse, homelessness, depression and teenage drug use/death. Each one is written tenderly and with compassion and letting the reader know that, "hey it's out there and people do face difficulties like this everyday".  Great areas for opening up a conversation. Sugar cared immensely for Shush's well-being as he was such a nervous puppy at every noise or drop of a hat. It was only one of the things that came naturally for her. She was also a very talented writer of poems which were inspiring and written with such heartfelt words about her feelings and situation that it touches the heart. She was encouraged by her former teacher who was a strong support role and I liked how that character was included. Her mother promised to make things right again and Sugar held on to that hope but also realized she liked being at the foster home. The foster parents of Lexie and Mac, along with the neighbors and new friends, really helped with Sugar's adjustment.  At every turn of the page, I kept anticipating things were going to get better and I liked how the author gave me that sense of hope right along with Sugar. Both my daughter and myself loved this story (along with the cover).  It opens the eyes of its' reader to the people who are in need and also got me thinking, how would I or my children handle this situation if given? I could only hope I would have the strength and resilience that Sugar had to keep me going. I think this is a "just right book" for a mature/strong 10 year old reader - 13.~

you may also like:

Close to Famous  Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

Title: Almost Home
Author: Joan Bauer
Pub. date: September 2012, Viking Juvenile
Genre: realistic fiction, middle grade
Hardcover, 264 pgs.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Splat the Cat :The Rain is a Pain review

Splat the Cat: The Rain Is a Pain
Splat can't wait to try out his brand-new roller skates! But when it starts to rain, Splat's sure that his day will be ruined. Is there anything fun to do inside?

Beginning readers will love this easy-to-read addition to the Splat library!

Poor Splat.....all he wants to do is try out his new roller skates. But when it rains, he finds that roller skating indoors can lead to many disasters. These are great books for the early reader who is ready for the next step to begin reading on their own. Kids will enjoy looking at the whimsical pictures after reading the short sentences while also recognizing the many site words and sounding out new ones.  Splat is a funny and likable character . Many of his books in this popular series will keep kids engaged in reading.  I know my kids thought he was a hoot! I think this is a "just right book for ages 6.~

Title: Splat the Cat: The Rain is a Pain
Author: Rob Scotton
Genre: beginning reader - level 1
Pub. Date: October 2012, Harper Collins
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Reader review

The ReaderIn this timeless picture book, a new reader trudges through deep snow with a mysterious suitcase in tow. He has something important to share with his faithful companion, who bolts ahead to wait at the top of a tall hill. Our small hero climbs higher and higher, until finally, he is there, too. Then he opens his suitcase ? click, click ? and soon the only sound in the world is the sound of him reading their very favorite book to the very last page?the very last word. (goodreads summary)

One snowy day, a boy and his dog are determined to reach the top of a very tall hill. He has his red sled, warm drinks, a crunchy snack and something very special waiting inside his suitcase for the two to share. When he makes it to the top, they play in the snow making snowballs, angels and a snow dog. The time finally arrives for him to open the case and inside is the best book waiting to read out loud to his faithful furry friend!

A nice story about a boy and his dog spending time together on a cold snowy day finding the perfect place to read a special book.  The subtle watercolor illustrations stand out against the backdrop of a blanket of white snow, giving me a chill when I think about how cold and snowy it could be.  The text is quite simple but sweet as the two share an adventure filled snow day enjoying the wonderful outdoors and special time together reading a book. Afterwards, the two embark on a downhill adventure home on their red sled making it a truly great day. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 3-6.~

Title: The Reader
Author: Amy Hest, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
picture book
Pub. date: October 2012, Amazon Children's Publishing
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Flower in the Snow review

A Flower in the Snow

Luna and her polar bear friend (Bear) discover a beautiful gold flower growing in the snow. But when the flower fades, Bear goes on a search around the world for another to bring to Luna. It's only when he returns home that the true strength of their friendship is revealed.(goodreads summary)

Luna and her best friend Bear do everything together. When Bear shares a beautiful golden flower with Luna that he finds in the snow, she calls it her sunshine flower and wants to treasure it forever. Unfortunately, her special flower begins to wilt causing Luna's smile to fade as well. Bear tries everything to bring back her smile but with no prevail, he decides that he must set out to find her another one. 

One look at the beautiful cover and I knew I was going to like this one. This simple story about friendship is not only sweet and cute but the illustrations added a special warm feeling to it. The spirit of their friendship is felt by its' gentle characters and soft warm colors on each page. I liked the expression Bear had while trying to get Luna to cheer up, either by being roly-poly in the snow or making a silly face. Bears determination to make Luna smile again reinforced how far friends go for each other when in need. When Bear returns with nothing, Luna has a special surprise of her own for him and that just being best friends is more important than anything else. A great story filled with true friendship and love for a cold winters day. I think this is a "just right book for ages 3-6.~

Title: A Flower in the Snow
Author: Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Sophie Allsopp
Pub. Date: December 2012, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 32 pgs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Just One More! review

Just One More

Just one more! Little Brown Bunny insists every night at bedtime, hoping someone will read him just one more book. When there are no more stories left to read, Bunny spends all day creating a bedtime book that is so super-super long that it will last all night. (goodreads summary)

When it is time for bed, Little Bunny wants storytime to never end. All his books are just not long enough... So he decides to make the longest book that will last all night. He works hard at making long words and drawing lots of pictures. But when he reads it to his toys, it is over too quickly. He asks his friends at school what kind of stories they like? He puts together all their ideas to make himself a big, long book and it is ready to read out loud to his family just in time for bed. How many times have we heard "just one more" when it comes to bedtime? I do have to say that I was guilty on many occasions to read one more. This cute story is perfect for ending the day and transitioning into the bedtime routine. The adorable characters have cute expressions and combined with the bright bold colors elicit a happy feeling about reading. Your child may be inspired to write his own bedtime story that will last all night. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-6.~

Title: Just One More!
Author: Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Alison Edgson
Pub. Date: June 2012, Good Books
Genre: picture book
Hardcover, 26 pgs.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Christmas After All: The Diary of Minnie Swift review

At the age of twelve, Minnie Swift is living through one of the toughest times in America's history, The Great Depression. She keeps a detailed diary over the span of one Christmas month. Reflecting the sadness but also the optimism that characterized the time, this is an intimate portrait of a Midwestern family's days and nights, ups and downs, triumphs and losses. It's the story of one family's persevering spirit: The Christmas Spirit.(goodreads summary)

Christmas will not be the same as others have been in the past for 11 year old Minnie Swift and her family.  She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with 3 older sisters and 1 younger brother. Money and her father's hours at work are slowly dwindling causing many changes for the family. Added to this, she has an orphaned cousin named Willie Faye from Texas who suddenly moves in. Businesses and banks are closing daily and eventually her father looses his job, too. Then unexpectedly one day he disappears, leaving his family startled by his abrupt action only leaving a note telling them not to worry. As Minnie journals her month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day in detail, she finds that faith will help keep her spirit alive during these tough times and there just may be a little Christmas magic left after all.

These have always been great Historical Fiction books for young readers. Filled with facts and so many different characters from different eras, this series has always been a favorite of mine  This story was very detailed and gave an accurate account of life during The Great Depression. For example, Minnie and her family shut off rooms to save on heat, ate meatless meatloaf or added cheese and flour to thicken things up, the loss of jobs and the effects on families, banks shutting down and people losing their money, soup kitchen lines getting longer by the day and I could go on and on about these hardships I learned. Despite the tough times though, the story also had some humor and talked about the Golden Age of Radio as a form of entertainment. The children would wait for their favorite radio programs like Charlie Chan and Buck Rogers. Movies were also a big hit because they were inexpensive and Minnie talked about Greta Garbo and Clark Gable. Her older sister, Lady, adores Hollywood and fashion and I visualized her character well with boas and fancy things she would make for herself inspired by the movies.  I especially connected to this part because I remembered my grandmother when she told me she would go to the movie houses as a young girl, sketch the dresses the stars would wear and then go home to sew one just like it because she had no money to buy them.  Oh, I miss hearing those stories.......One thing that surprised me was the fact that a neighbor friend's father committed suicide by a shotgun. I guess it came as an unexpected entry but it was a sign of the times for many unfortunate families. This part was quick but still haunting that it occurred while the girls were arriving to the friend's birthday party and they had to be shooed home because it happened just at that moment. The character of Willie Faye was also important. She arrived from the Texas Panhandle during the Dust Bowl and showed a very different lifestyle from Minnie and her family. She knew first hand what it was like to do without and brought an inspiration to Minnie. Even though the Swifts were in a tough situation, it still did not keep them from enjoying being a family and making it through the struggles keeping hope in their hearts for a better future. The ending has a wonderful epilogue about how the story is based from the life of the author's mother. There are many interesting pictures with descriptive captions showing the reader a different era that we can only hope will never have to face in our lifetime. After reading this story, I really appreciated my life and I  hope young readers do as well. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 10 -13.~

Title:  Christmas After All: The Diary of Minnie Swift
Author: Kathryn Lasky
Pub. Date: September 2012 (republished) Scholastic
Genre: historical fiction
Hardcover, 187 pgs.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Charley's First Night review

Charley's First Night

On Charley’s first night, Henry carries his new puppy in his old baby blanket all the way to his house. He shows Charley every room, saying, "This is home, Charley." He says that a lot so that Charley will know that he is home. Henry’s parents are very clear about who will be walking and feeding Charley (Henry will, and he can’t wait). They are also very clear about where Charley will be sleeping: Charley will be sleeping in the kitchen. But when the crying starts in the middle of the night, Henry knows right away that it’s Charley! And it looks like his parents’ idea about where Charley is going to sleep may have to change.(goodreads summary)

A new puppy can be an exciting time for your household and it is a big responsibility. But in this story, Henry is determined to take care of little Charley and help him feel right at home.  His parents tell him that he will be the one that needs to feed him and walk him and just before bed, they also say that Charley must sleep in the kitchen.  But as the puppy's first night arrives, Henry does his best to make it as comfortable as possible for a good night's rest. This sweet story definitely melted my heart today...  It is written and illustrated with such compassion and tenderness that I really visualized along with the story. Maybe because it is so familiar to a real life scenario that it tugs at the heartstrings.  I liked Henry's perseverance on how he comforts Charley, treating him so gently with words and his actions.  I think it can also teach kindness and thoughtful attention, not only to animals but to others as well. The pages are soft and subtle making this a good quiet time read. The combination of the author and illustrator together made for a nice heartwarming story. I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-7.~

Title: Charley's First Night
Author: Amy Hest, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Pub. Date: October 2012, Candlewick Press
Genre: picture book
Hardcover,  32 pgs.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Let's Play in the Snow review

Let's Play in the Snow: A Guess How Much I Love You Storybook
 The Nutbrown Hares are playing I Spy as they hop through the snow. They spy something that belongs to a tree, a bird, a spider, and even something that belongs to Little Nutbrown Hare that is only there when the sun comes out. But what does Big Nutbrown Hare spy that belongs to him and is his favorite thing of all? (goodreads summary)

If you are a fan of the Guess How Much I Love You storybooks, here is another sweet and tender addition to cozy up with. Playing I Spy in the snow is a wonderful activity to do for the Nutbrown Hares on a cold winters day.  Short and simply written but once again filled with the gentleness of the very special relationship between parent and child.  Little ones will also have fun playing the game as they too can look for the clues on each page while you read. This charming board book is perfect for learning about what nature offers, even in the winter. So why not bundle everyone up and take a walk outdoors to see what could be there just waiting for you to Spy.....I think this is a "just right book" for ages 2-5.~

Title: Let's Play in the Snow
Author: Sam McBratney
Pub. date: December 2008, Candlewick Press
Genre: board book
Hardcover, 24 pgs.