Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: Extraordinary Birds

Extraordinary Birds
by Sandy Stark-McGinnis
Bloomsbury Children's Books
214 pages
ISBN: 9781547601004

Eleven-year old December has seen her share of foster homes. They never seem to work out for her. She dreams of flying away like a bird. So much so, that she convinces herself that the scar on her back is where her wings are now forming. Once her wings are complete, she will fly away from all the human sadness.

December studies birds all the time; her constant companion and security blanket is a book her mother left behind: Complete Guide to Birds: Volume One. She knows the book by heart and if given a page number, she can tell what bird is featured on that particular page.

December knows more about birds that anything else, and when she's placed with a foster parent who rescues birds, it's a match made in heaven, but December fights it as the reader would expect. In school, December makes friends with another bullied student, Cheryllynne who adds to the story in all the right ways.

December knows that most bullies don't want to be mean; they do it because they've been hurt--which is a very mature thought for an eleven-year old to have. She is wise beyond her years, and young readers will have such empathy for her. They will root for December to find her place on the ground with foster mom Eleanor.

With her friendship growing between Cheryllynne and her heart open for family and a home, December is finally able to face her past abandonment. She helps a Henrietta the hawk rehabilitate and learn to fly again, and when she soars skyward, December knows everything will finally be alright. All animals need a home and maybe, just maybe, she's found hers.

What an extraordinary book! The is the gem of 2019 and a MUST READ which is likely to become One Book for many schools and will win many awards this season. Did someone say Texas Bluebonnets? This someone just did! And I'm always right about award books!

Highly, highly recommended and FIVE STARS! BOOK OF THE YEAR, in my opinion.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Alphabet Pick: Bear Is Awake! An Alphabet Story

Bear Is Awake! An Alphabet Story
by Hannah E. Harrison
Illustrations by the author
Dial Books
32 pages

Available November 26, 2019

A different kind of alphabet story! Bear Is Awake! features an adorable bear who wakes up early and a clever little girl who becomes his willing playmate. After his long winter nap, Bear is famished and quickly raids the little girl's family's pantry. She scolds him and they travel across the town to the library (my FAVORITE part!) where the L stands for library, listen and learn. The only drawback to this two-page spread is that the librarian appears to be a stereotype: although she is black, she is middle-aged and shown wearing glasses. Authors and illustrators should be more careful about picturing librarians and teachers as always female, always middle-aged and always wearing glasses, but the rest of the story makes up for this little error. Because I'm a career librarian and educator, I'm hyperaware of this long standing stereotype.

The girl and the bear share adventures, but she knows Bear must go back to the forest and she takes him there, tucks him in and leaves him a note after he falls asleep: See you in the Spring! the note reads.

Illustrations are wonderfully whimsical. Bear will become every child's new best friend. Children should easily be able to explain the message of this sweet story: friendship, care, love and empathy.

Bear Is Awake! is a must have for any child's book shelf and all pre-school collections. This is the best alphabet book you'll ever read! FIVE STARS!

Highly, highly recommended! I love this book! Picture book of the YEAR! This book could be used with older students in art classes and creative writing classes. Writers would have fun coming up with new alphabet books of their own.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: Britfield & the Lost Crown

Britfield & the Lost Crown
by C.R. Stewart
Devonfield Publishing
386 pages
ISBN: 9781732961210

First in a planned seven book series, Britfield & the Lost Crown reads likes a fairy tale. Tom, an orphan, enlists the help of fellow orphans to escape the evil orphanage with his best friend Sarah. Before he leaves, his good friend Patrick  steals a folder from the office and Tom learns a secret about his past and parentage. His parents are alive! Now he has even more questions and no answers.

The pair escape a determined and dogged detective who makes it his business to catch runaway orphans and elude police capture as the navigate by a hot air balloon which just happened to be sitting unattended in a field along their way. Somehow, two kids with no knowledge of ballooning learn to fly the balloon all over England. The story rollicks along London and many famous landmarks.

The kids meet several people who help them unlock Tom's secret and set up the next book in the series. Tame enough for younger middle grade and easy to read, Britfield's page count may terrorize reluctant readers. In that case, perhaps an audiobook or full class read would work better.

This books seems set in the past and pre-Internet, pre-cells phone bygone eras, yet some dialog between the characters is slang of today. One in particular: a character asks, "Too much information?" which if TMI in text and recent (last decade). Dialog in particular is this book's weakness. As a career middle grade (middle school) librarian, the dialog is all wrong.

Recommended younger middle grade. Middle school readers may find the story too predicable.

Grade 5- 6. Grade 7 and up may want a more YA experience.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Alphabet Book Pick: P Is For Poppadoms! An Indian Alphabet Book

P Is For Poppadoms!
An Indian Alphabet Book
by Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal
Illustrated by Hazel Ito
Beachfront Books
32 pages
ISBN: 9781534421721

What a fun way to introduce learners to new words while learning their alphabet! American children may not be familiar with any of the Indian words in this book, but they will love learning about another culture and country. Colorful illustrations by Ito make the alphabet come alive, and the choices of words for each letter convey Indian foods, musical instruments, locations, people, festivals, animals, and flowers. Included is a page of the words written in the Indian alphabet to practice writing.

This is a must have for any multicultural classroom or library. Parents will love this alphabet book for its unique appeal and lessons about the world's largest population.

Highly, highly recommended for any child's library or book shelf. This is a gem of an alphabet book which teaches so much more than the letters of the alphabet. Purchase this one for a kid you love today!

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Non-Fiction Dinosaur Pick: Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts!

Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts!
by Mike Lowery
Orchard Books
128 pages

Mike Lowery's colorful take on everything cool and/or weird about dinosaurs and paleontologists is the most fun reluctant readers and dinosaur fans could wish for! Brimming with interesting facts about dinosaurs and their times, readers will learn about fossils, dinosaur's closest relatives, the rise of of dino and the theories of what happened to them. Lowery includes dinosaur  jokes and How To Draw pages to entertain kids long after they've studied all the facts.

Factoids are illustrated with whimsy and text is easy to read. Visual learners will understand complex eras and plate tectonics through story (comic) bubbles in the illustrations. Full of jokes, puns, and trivia, Lowery has created a awesome learning experience.

This is a MUST HAVE for every elementary collection and middle school readers will love it. If you have a child in your life with dinosaur love, purchase this one for Christmas.

Highly, highly recommended grades 2 and up.

FTC Recommended Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Picture Book PIck: Fly!

by Mark Teague
Beachlane Books
40 pages
ISBN: 97815344451

fly! is a story done with illustrations and  no words. Illustration bubbles above the mommy bird and baby (teen) bird tell the entire story. Teague captures animal behavior well and develops character for both birds via personality through their actions and "dialog" between them.

Baby bird doesn't want to leave the nest where his mother feeds and protects him. Mother tells him he's getting bigger and birds are birds. Birds fly. Soon they will migrate to Florida (Welcome to Florida sign), and he needs to learn to fly. Baby bird imagines flying on a hang glider or using superhero powers complete with cape to fly, or maybe he can take a train or skateboard to Florida. Mother tells him in order to get food and stay safe from predators like cats and owls, he must learn to fly. That does it! The image of an evil owl sends baby bird into the air.

A sweet animal story and a mother's love for her child make fly! a special book. Young readers will have a blast creating dialog for each two-page spread. Early learners and creative writers could use the picture book to develop their own stories.

Highly recommended for all young readers and creative writers.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not received monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, October 25, 2019

MIddle Grade Pick: The Line Tender

The Line Tender
Kate Allen
384 pages
ISBN: 9780735231603

See  my review in VOYA Magazine 

Lucy Everhart is only seven years old when her marine biologist mom dies. Her fisherman father becomes grief-ridden and silent, so Lucy turns to the neighbors and best friend Fred who shares her love of the sea and adventure. Now twelve, Lucy and Fred visit the beach and local fishermen every day. The discovery of a great white shark at their beach sets Lucy on the path to find out more about her mother's study of local sharks. Fred is happy to  help. Twelve going on thirteen is a strange age, and Lucy begins to feel a little differently toward Fred. After their first (and only) kiss, Fred drowns! Lucy has lost two people central in her young life, and turns to her mother's research notes to help her cope. 

Beautiful illustrations of shark species open each chapter. Cover art is eye-catching with a multitude of shark swimming by a young girl holding a notebook. The story begins as a friendship story: tender and naive. After Fred's death, the story shifts as Lucy searches for answers in her mother's research. She gets help from an unlikely old fisherman. When Lucy finds her sharks, she is able to process the loss of her mother and best friend. Page count may scare off reluctant readers. Suited for well-funded upper middle grade collections. 

Recommended for thoughtful readers and animal lovers. The Line Tender would make a great whole class read for a pre-AP English class grade seven or eight. 

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book for an honest review. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review. 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: The Dark Lord Clementine

The Dark Lord Clementine
by Sarah Jean Horwitz
Algonquin Young Readers
329 pages
ISBN: 9781616208943

Middle grade readers: get ready to be delighted, enthralled and enrapt in the immersive world of master storyteller Sarah Jean Horwitz!

Clementine Morcerous is the only child and sole heir to Castle Brack. When her father falls ill to a cunning spell cast by the Whittle Witch (the Witch of the Wood), it's up to Clementine to figure out how to help him and keep their castle and lands running. Father's magic is running out, the scarecrows aren't working in the land, the castle witch runs away with their grocery money, and everything is turning topsy turvy. Things are getting worse on an hourly basis, and unless Clementine moves fast, they could lose everything.

Clementine must find the Whittle Witch and figure out how to undo her magic, fix her father, get the magic back into the castle on pretend to be just as dark and menacing as the Dark Lord himself without ever letting any of the town's people know the Dark Lord is ailing. Everyone knows what happens if the Dark Lord appears weak: the people will wreak havoc and take over the castle. Clementine can't let that happen.

She turns to a magical book: the Witchionary! which has "...cataloged and chronicled" details of the Dark Lord's most dreaded enemies: witches. With her sidekicks a talking sheep, a young boy from town and help from a stranger, Clementine searches to find her place in the world and answers to her father's predicament.

Captivating and mesmerizing, full of wit and snark, and whimsical beings including witches who are indentured servants and a satyr who trades goods for spells, the Lady of the Lake (from Arthurian legend) who is indeed beautiful. But as beautiful as she is, she is an equally horrible singer with a bad memory, and worse yet she keeps mixing her metaphors which is laugh out loud funny.  She's so ditsy,  she'll throw swords at anyone who passes her whether it be a knight or not (hence the swords all over the book cover).

The Dark Lord Clementine will be up for Book of the Year and awarded many state awards.  You heard it here first! It is a rare middle grade find and a soaring triumph that kids will be delighted to read. Clementine is one tough female with equal parts intelligence, humor, and bravery. No matter how dire her predicament, she summons the strength to move forward and do what is right.

Highly, highly recommended as a MUST READ. If you have middle grade kids or know some, buy this book now! A must for all middle grade collections.

Grade 4 and up.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Dystopian Pick: Day Zero

Day Zero
(Book 1 of 2 in duology)
by Kelly Devos
Inkyard Press
432 pages
ISBN: 9781335008480

Available November 12, 2019 

Strap on your seat belts and get ready for the thrill ride of the fall...

Jinx Marshall isn't sure what to expect when her mother marries her stepfather and inherits a ready made family: stepbrother Toby and obnoxious, political minded know-it-all stepsister McKenna, but she's ready for nearly anything. Well, any kind of emergency or chaos, that is. Jinx has been raised in the desert by her Doomsday prepper father for anything apocalyptic.

On a routine trip to the store for snacks, an explosion at the bank next door traps them in harm's way. Jinx finds herself in charge of saving her younger brother Charles and mouthy stepsister, McKenna. Dr. Doomsday's (her dad's) book comes in handy because Jinx knows exactly what to do.

When the kids discover that the entire country is crumbling from within, and the government blames her father, Jinx must save her siblings and prove her father's innocence. Oh, and save what's left of America! It's gonna take her background in coding, friends in the Dark Web and a background in Krav Maga, to escape. Picking up Toby at college, the kids plan to run for the Mexican border.

Her father's teachings have always taught "Trust No One," but Jinx can't do this alone. She'll have to depend on someone and work with McKenna instead of against her. If the family can't get along, they may all die together. Lucky for them, her father planned for this...

Set in the distant future, Day Zero paints a picture for our turbulent times. Explosive and exciting, readers will beg for Book Two! If you loved Yancy's The 5th Wave, get ready for Day Zero!

Recommended YA grades 8 and up. Violence, political turmoil, finance, economics, mature readers.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Hey, Y'all, I Moved Across the Country! Sorry for Fewer Reviews Recently ;)

Hi, Y'all,

I've made a huge life move! Our home sold in ONE hour and was not even on the market. We had only three weeks to find a short-term rental in Florida that was pet friendly and furnished. I rented it ONLINE and took a chance that it would be okay.

We gave away, threw away and left behind most of our stuff and put the rest on a moving truck to Florida and to storage. I drove nearly 1500 miles to the east coast of Florida where we are staying in Jacksonville. Immediately, we searched for a home to buy in Daytona Beach or Port Orange. We found our home in two weeks and were under contract immediately.

Currently, we are waiting for Hurricane Dorian to leave us alone, so we can live our Florida dream, lol! At least I came to Florida just in time for the first hurricane of the season, right?

So, cross country move, 1500 miles, sold a house, bought a house, got rid of belongings and lightened our load and mood. Changed my latitude to change my attitude!

This is why there are so few postings on the blog for July and August. But now, if Dorian is kind, I can get back to what I love: the WORLD OF FICTION!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: Naked Mole Rate Saves the World

Naked Mole Rat Saves the Day
by Karen Rivers
Algonquin Books for Young Readers
304 pages
ISBN: 9781616207243

Available: October 15, 2019

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World is just what readers expect of a Karen Rivers' book: quirky, funny,  and heartbreaking. kit (spelled with a lower case "k" because she's so small) is dealing with more than just "normal" middle school problems. Her mother struggles with mental illness issues. Her mom used to be a famous singer, but now she's so anxious, she can't leave the house. In fact, she's  so anxious that kit is named after her mom's tattoo: k.i.t. which means "keep it together," and kit turns to this phrase throughout the book.

kit's best friend Clem was injured after a fall during the show "The Most Talented Family in America," and now she's shut herself off from kit and their friendship. While Clem deals with depression, kit tries to navigate alone.

Young readers will empathize with the friendship between Clem and kit and the loss kit feels as she wanders. Rivers' characters are believable and lovable. kit will remain with readers long after they close the book.

This is one read with tons of heart and will likely lead to spirited discussions in middle grade book clubs about anxiety, depression, friendship, mental illness in families and how to seek help. I received the ARC of this book which did not contain phone numbers for depression or mental health helplines. The finished book is likely to include toll-free numbers and how to seek help. It would be a plus to include questions for book clubs as well.

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy great characters and value friendship and compassion. Recommended for any middle grade book club and whole class reads. Grade 5 and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Middle Grade Non-Fiction Pick: Fearless Felines...

Fearless Felines: 30 True Tales of Courageous Cats
by Kimberlie Hamilton
Illustrated by Allie Runniyan, et al
160 pages
ISBN: 9781338355833

Available November 5, 2019

Thirty true stories of fearless and daring felines who saved their owners, fought in wars, and patrolled buildings make this middle grade book a treasure trove of fun facts about brave cats. Any young cat lover will revel in the clever antics of each character--and what characters they are!

Cats may not have their place in history books, but author Kimberlie Hamilton insures that young readers will know about them. The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats and believed them to be gods. Cats came to Britain around 55BC when the Romans invaded. From that moment on, cats became important in castles, breweries and businesses to chase and kill vermin. By 1995, cats begant to outnumber dogs as America's favorite pet.

Kid readers will love impressive cats like Pyro who flew missions with his pilot owner in WWII and was considered a good luck charm among all the flyers. A cat aptly named Bomber could tell the difference between Royal Air Force planes (British) and enemy (German) planes during the war. When he alerted his family, they ran for the bomb shelter. A stray cat named Hammer appeared at Army headquarters in Iraq. Not only did he keep them mice-free, he was a therapy cat for wounded soldiers, and he came to the United States when the troops came home.

There are stories of other cats saving their family from fires and attacks from other animals. Some cats have even detected cancer in their owners! So, if your cat is behaving badly: pawing at you, bothering you, creating a ruckus, there's probably a good reason he is trying to tell you something very important. Cat behavior is fascinating to watch and to read about. This little collection is full of TALES about TAILS!

Recommended for non-fiction projects and for cat lovers everywhere. Grade 4 and up. With index, glossary, quiz with answers, further reading and recommended websites.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Dinosaur Pick: Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts!

Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts!
by Mike Lowry
Illustrations by the author
Orchard Books
128 pages
ISBN: 9781338359725

Available October 15, 2019

New York Times bestselling illustrator Mike Lowery tackles the most entertaining non-fiction topic and most popular subject for elementary to middle school non-fiction fans: dinosaurs!

Easy and fun to read, this book is accessible and hilarious and fans of Dav Pilkey will cheer! Dinosaurs come to life in funny comic fashion. True to the cover factoid, "a gazillion true facts!" this beauty delivers hours of entertainment. A section on how to draw dinosaurs offers would be artists and cartoonists a how-to guide.

Give this to any dinosaur fan and expect them to do a happy dance! This may be the most checked-out book at elementary libraries. For those librarians who purchase this one, you should invest in more than one copy as I see this being checked out again and again.

A MUST READ! Highly, highly recommended for every dinosaur fan and every library grade 1-high school. Even teen readers will find this an appealing read. Reluctant readers will be enthralled.

FTC Required reading: I received this ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Non-Fiction Pick: The Brain Is Kind of a Big Deal

The Brain Is Kind of a Big Deal
by Nick Seluk
Illustrated by the author
Orchard Books
40 pages
ISBN: 9781338167009

Available October 1, 2019

Written and illustrated by New York Times bestselling creator of Heart and Brain, this book is a must have for all learners and those young readers interested in science and biology.

Told through a series of jokes and smart comic bubbles, kids have an accessible story about the most important part of the body. They learn that their brain takes care of all the things their bodies do: including those things they don't have the THINK about like breathing, their hearts beating, and their blood pumping. Seluk sets the heartbeat of learning with smart cover design and back cover which features a poster of the brain's band.

A helpful glossary is included for understanding new vocabulary words. Although targeted for grades 1-3, this picture book is easily adapted into all levels of science and biology classes.

Highly, highly recommended for learning about the brain in an entertaining and fun way! A must-have!

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the F&G from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Fantasy Pick: The Oddmire: Changeling (Book One)

The Oddmire: Changeling
by William Ritter
264 pages
ISBN: 9781616208394

Expert storytelling by New York Times bestselling author of the Jackaby series, Changeling is book one in a new series and it's a hit!

Cole and Tinn are brothers; twins, really. But they're not. One is a changeling left by a goblin who was supposed to spirit away the other boy. Kull was interrupted and the baby goblin changed. Now the boys look like exact twins, and Kull slips away into the night without his prize.

Although Annie knows she gave birth to one son, she raises both boys as twins. She is aware of of the town folk who whisper that she's raising a goblin, but they're her boys and her sons. She loves both of them. Kull keeps a close eye on the boys for years, and now that they're thirteen, he plants a note for them to find. It's a tough job for a goblin to learn human language. Tougher still to learn to write human language, but he does.

The boys find a note that tells them to come to the Wild Wood or all the goblin world will die including the changeling. Both boys are curious and agree to go together since they're brothers. Neither wants to be a goblin, but they don't want their twin to be a goblin either. Their adventure begins on a journey to find their truth.

The antagonists they meet along the way are fantastic creatures and great characters. Ritter writes a solid middle grade fantasy tale that readers will love. Changeling is magical fun!

Highly recommended for all middle grade readers. A MUST READ for fantasy fans.