Friday, February 27, 2015

A Tale of Two Daddies/A Tale of Two Mommies (review)


A Tale of Two Daddies
A Tale of Two Mommies
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrators: Kristin Blackwood (only Daddies) and Mike Blanc (both)
Publisher: VanitaBooks, LLC (Daddies: Oct 22, 2013, Mommies: Sep 25, 2013)
Digital review copies of both courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

These two delightful books each take the same general approach in that one child is asking the other about her two daddies or his two mommies. With fun rhyming questions and answers, each book would be perfect for a child either learning to address the questions he/she might have about his/her own parents, but also for other children learning acceptance and understanding. The primary message is that parents are parents, each an individual who might like to cook or tell scary stories, and that parents love their children.

The easy going style is ideal for helping to normalize a situation which is increasingly normal. There is nothing judgmental or preachy on either side, just kids asking each other fun questions about their families. Excellent additions to any classroom, library or social work resource center, and a great pair of books for parents whose kids may have questions about friends, relatives or their own families.

Five stars out of five.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Arilla Sun Down (review)

Arilla Sun Down
Author: Virginia Hamilton
Publisher: Open Road Media Teen & Tween (November 11, 2014)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

Twelve year old Arilla is part Native American and part African American, struggling to find her place in the world and pulled in various directions by her older brother, her parents and her friends. An early theme is how she has to sneak out to be herself, whether to sled or skate or simply to find time to herself. Eventually though, a crisis allows her to find herself in the open, and earns her the name Arilla Sun Down, and the sense of identity she had longed for.

This is a challenging book to read. The language and idiom present the first challenge, but will be more accessible to some than others. In addition, the book is told non-chronologically, which can be challenging as well. Ultimately, if a young reader finds a connection with Arilla, this can be a very satisfying book, but for others it might be frustrating.

Three stars out of five.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Beat the Turtle Drum (review)

Beat the Turtle Drum
Author: Constance C. Greene
Publisher: Open Road Media Teen & Tween (January 27, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

Thirteen year old Kate wants to be a writer, and the author gives her a tremendous voice. I found myself reminded of Anne (of Green Gables) as she describes her family, and especially her almost eleven year old sister, Joss, who is horse obsessed and plans to rent a horse for her eleventh birthday. We are easily swept up in the joys and trials of their family and various friends and neighbors. I especially love how rich and real the side characters feel.

When tragedy strikes, it is almost unimaginable how close it strikes to home. I kept blinking back tears, and wanted to scream at the author that she couldn't hurt these precious, wonderful characters. In fact, if there is any flaw to the book, it is that we are so completely caught up in the normalcy and joy in their lives that the tragedy feels jarring, and happens late enough in the story that we don't have time to recover. But that is the beauty of the book as well, because we can truly feel what the characters are feeling as their lives are interrupted, and we struggle to recover from it just as they must.

Five out of five stars.

Originally published in the late 1970s, Beat the Turtle Drum has endured with its searing story, and has as much punch as it did back then. This digital reissue will attract a whole new generation of fans for Constance C. Greene. Note that the poem in the beginning of the book is easy to miss, but only by reading it will the title make any sense.

Luna's Red Hat (review)

Luna's Red Hat: An Illustrated Storybook to Help Children Cope With Loss and Suicide
Author: Emmi Smid
Bereavement specialist: Dr. Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers
Publisher:  Jessica Kingsley Pub (To be released April 21, 2015)
Review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

Luna's Red Hat is a beautifully illustrated and written book about a young girl grappling with her feelings after her mother's suicide.It is the one year anniversary of her mother's death, and she and her small brother and father are having a picnic. Luna wears her mum's red hat, but feels she cannot smile, because "Today is not a day for smiling" and cannot laugh, because "Today is not a day for laughing."

When Luna's father says she looks like her mum, Luna throws off the hat in anger and says, "I am nothing like Mum!" Her father helps her by accepting her anger, and helping her answer questions about why her mother would do this, and understand that it wasn't Luna's fault or his fault or even her mum's fault. He explains that she had an illness inside, and sometimes the doctors cannot help. Finally, he helps her see that they can celebrate the good times with her mother even when sad that she is no longer there.

Written for children 6 and older, the book is lovely and appropriate for this special need. It also contains a section at the end by bereavement specialist Dr. Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers on more ways to help a child in this sad and difficult situation.

Five out of five stars.

I have added a new category to this blog which I call Self-Help. These are books which help children cope with difficult feelings and situations. Both yesterday's Peace, Bugs, and Understanding and this book will be included, with more books added over time. I hope these can be a resource for librarians, social workers and parents who need books to help children with specific situations. Click on the Self-Help tag at the bottom of the post for all books in the category.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Peace, Bugs and Understanding (review)

Peace, Bugs, and Understanding: An Adventure in Sibling Harmony
Author: Gail Silver
Illustrator: Youme Nguyen Ly
Publisher: Plum Blossom Books (December 9, 2014)
Received in digital form from the publisher via NetGalley.

Lilly is having a picnic, but her little sister, Ruby, keeps ruining things. But just as Lilly starts to snap, her father hands her a special old book, a journal kept by his own grandfather. Lilly gets lost in the story of how her great-grandfather, Lanh, struggles with his own sister, and how he meets a strange frog who is his Anger. Lanh learns that he must soothe his Anger, and search for his Metta, or "loving kindness." I find the latter term a little jarring, but I can see that it would be useful to have a word for this to use with a young child.

Lanh learns to calm himself down and focus on wishing for the happiness of another, in this case his sister. Lilly sees herself in the story, and realizes that she, too, must soothe her anger and focus on wishing for the happiness of her little sister, who doesn't mean to break things or cause trouble.

The lovely watercolors by Youme Nguyen Ly project a sense of calm that works beautifully with the message. I think this would be a very helpful book for parents of young children or for pre-schools.

I would recommend this for children in pre-school through second grade, but especially to be read with an adult.

Four out of five starts.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Random Body Parts - Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse (review)

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse

Author: Leslie Bulion
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (March 1, 2015)
Review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley.

For Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, I had to let people know about this book coming out in about a week. There may be some who can resist a book with poetic riddles, science and gross imagery, but not me. With witty and intriguing poems that often slyly echo Shakespeare, entertaining illustrations and explanations for those youngsters who want to dive deeper into the science, this would be an excellent book for middle grade classrooms or homes.

A few of the words may be challenging, especially the more medical ones, but the author does a great job of explaining what they mean. Kids will enjoy learning some of the grosser words, and may well be heard repeating some of the clever phrases.

One riddle that I particularly enjoyed:

Wherefore Art Thou, Alveoli?
al VEE oh LI
al VEE oh LI
please tell me why
we must rely
on such small fry
to say goodbye
to carbon di-
oxide and then
how is it that you know
just when
to give us
My only quibble with the format of the book is that the solutions are too close to the riddles, though I understand it would have made the book much longer to put them on subsequent pages. I simply think kids might try a little harder to figure out the riddles (and feel smart when they do!) if the answers were more removed. On the other hand, I love that the poetic forms are explained at the end after the glossary. Yay, poetry.

Nonetheless, I would strongly recommend this for fifth and sixth graders interested in science, poetry, riddles or the human body.

Four out of five stars.

It has been quite a while since I have participated in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, but I was glad to see that Shannon Whitney Messenger is still active. See her blog from today for many more MMGM links.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fairy Tales for Young Readers (review)

Fairy Tales for Young Readers
Author: E. Nesbit
Publisher: Dover Publications (Jan. 14, 2015)
Review copy courtesy of NetGalley

When I was young, I remember reading and listening to a few of the wonderful children's books by English author, E. Nesbit, so I was intrigued to see that a book was being republished of her classic fairy tales interpretations. I expected to enjoy them, but I had forgotten what an influence she had been on writers such as P. L. Travers (Marry Poppins), C.S. Lewis (Narnia books) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter books), all of whom echo at times her wry, clever humor. I recommend that parents read these aloud to their children, as there is as much for adults to enjoy as for the children, and both will delight and laugh in the imagery and wit.

As I read through the stories, I kept stopping and reading passages to my wife, so I thought I'd share a couple that I shared with her.

From the middle of Cinderella:
For in those days shoes were not sold ready-made in shops, but were made specially to fit the people who were to wear them. And besides, the glass slipper was magic, and so had too much sense to have fitted any one but its owner, even if the country had been full of shops selling Rats' Ready-made Really Reliable Boots.

From the beginning of Jack the Giant-Killer:
In the long-ago days of King Arthur, who invented round tables, there was a sort of plague of giants in the West Country-just as nowadays there are plagues of wasps, and mosquitos, and millionaires, and the giants threatened to spread, like other plagues, till they had eaten up all the nice, proper-sized people in England.

While a few words may seem unfamiliar or antiquated, by and large the stories are timeless and charming. I strongly recommend these to both adults and children. They will remind you that children's literature can be so much richer than Captain Underpants without being boring or irrelevant to modern children.

Five out of five stars!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Grandma's a Ninja (review)

My Grandma's a Ninja 
Author: Todd Tarpley
Illustrator: Danny Chatzikonstantinou
Publisher: North South Books (March 1, 2015)
PDF review copy courtesy of NetGalley

What would you do if your grandma was a Ninja? Ethan thinks it's cool at first when they zipline to school and Grandma teaches the other kids karate lessons. But thinks take a turn for the worse when Grandma deflates the soccer ball and ruins soccer practice. Ethan isn't so sure about having a ninja Grandma, but everything works out well as Ethan learns a few tricks from Grandma, and she takes a bit of advice from him.

The illustrations are delightful, and add a lot to the story. Kids will laugh as they see Grandma fly through the air and do somersaults, and the ending illustration only adds to the fun.

A lively and entertaining book for first and second graders. I would definitely recommend this to both boys and girls who like fun and humor.

Four out of five stars.

Kikoo and the Land of the Shimmers (review)

Kikoo and the Land of the Shimmers - Book One

Author: Suresha Hill
Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing (Feb 19 2015)
Review copy courtesy of NetGalley

I recently joined NetGalley, and was looking for new children's books to try. Kikoo and the Land of Shimmers attracted my attention because of my interest in multicultural books, as well as the fact that a review copy was available without requiring approval.

In this story, Kikoo and his dog, Boonie, discover that Kikoo can travel to a land called Terraauck, descibed as "right next door to where you dream." In this land, Kikoo has a mentor who will teach him what he needs to know. Pretty quickly, he needs to know how to get back to the regular world, where some boys are stealing his bike!

I found that I liked the story when it was more concerned with getting Kikoo's bike back, but less so when it was in Terraauck. The magical realism of the early part of the story was promising, and the lesson Kikoo learned about helping himself by helping others was a good one. Unfortunately, the magical part was a little clumsy. One problem might be that the book is the first in a series of stories, and the author needed to get past the explanations, but I think the story could have been more smooth. While the digital version did not include all the illustrations, some were at the end, and were interesting though a little amateurish. It also should be noted that the multiculturalism is mostly reflected in the names, illustrations and descriptions of people, not in any deep sense in the story or interactions.

I would recommend this book for first through third graders who like dogs and magic.

Three out of five stars.