Monday, June 1, 2015

My Stinky New School (review)

My Stinky New School
Author: Rebecca Elliott
Publisher: Lion Children's Books (To be released June 19, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

Toby is about to start at a new school, and he is not happy about it. His brother and sister go to daycare and preschool, and both of them seem like so much more fun. While his sister's school "smells of rainbows, paint and chocolate", and his brother's school "sunshine, playdough and bananas", his new school "stinks of pigeon poop, ogre armpits and sadness."

Worst of all, Toby doesn't know how he will make friends. Fortunately, thanks to an alien called Jake and a pirate called Lilly, he manages to make friends without even knowing.

This is a wonderful book for children facing a new school. It is fun and silly in a way that will put kids at their ease, and they will laugh both at how scary school seems and how Toby finds his way to liking it. I can see giving it to my goddaughter who is going to Kindergarten next year.

Five stars out of five!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Unicorn on a Roll (review)

Unicorn on a Roll: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure (Heavenly Nostrils)
Author: Dana Simpson
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing (To be released May 26, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

I was not aware of the Phoebe and Her Unicorn comics before I read this collection, but I am certainly a fan now. It reminded me a little of Calvin and Hobbes, if Calvin were a spelling whiz girl who loved nerdy things and if Hobbes were a fashion conscious unicorn with attitude.

What I like best about Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (the unicorn) is that they aren't too perfect or too obnoxious or too smart, but simply real, or as real as friends can be when one is a magical unicorn. They have adventures, friends and enemies, and muddle through life whenever they aren't rollerskating through it. It is wonderful to have a book to give young girls that doesn't put them ornaments, or love interests, or even evil nemeses for the boys in the story. I think quite a few boys might enjoy it as well, though they might not admit it.

My only real issue with the book is that as with many collection of comics, it is better for dipping into than reading whole as there in no particular storyline, simply a series of daily comics. On the other hand, some of them are brilliant, such as Marigold singing Modern Magic Unicorn, her version of Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major General.

Four out of five stars. (Available for pre-order now)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland (review)

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland HC
Author: Eric Shanower
Illustrator: Gabriel Rodriguez
Publisher: IDW Publishing (To be released May 26, 2015)

Based on the comic strip by Winsor McKay from the early 20th century, Eric Shanower has crafted an entirely new set of adventures for Slumberland. The illustrations are marvelous and intricate in the style of the illustrations of that era (best know from the Oz books, and are a joy to flip through.

In this series of adventures, King Morpheus' daughter, simply known as the Princess, is looking for a new playmate to replace a long line that have not worked out well. When she sees that one of the candidates is named James Nemo Summerton, she chooses him because of a previous favorite playmate was named Nemo.

Unfortunately, Nemo doesn't want to be known as Nemo, he prefers Jimmy. He doesn't like to play with girls, and especially not the Princess. The adventures range from various of the King's court trying to get Nemo to Slumberland (I especially liked these) to their attempts to get him to stay and play with the Princess.

The story feels a little dated, as I am sure is intended, and I imagine that will intrigue some and irritate others, but I would recommend it for anyone who likes comics and somewhat old fashioned stories.

Four out of five stars.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nobody!: A Story About Overcoming Bullying in Schools (review)

Nobody!: A Story About Overcoming Bullying in Schools
Author: Erin Frankel
Illustrator: Paula Heaphy
Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing (May 15, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Thomas is reluctant to go to school, and the reason is Kyle, who taunts and teases and puts down Thomas at every turn. Thomas has other friends, but they are a little afraid to stand up for him because they don't want to become targets themselves. That leaves Thomas feeling even more alone, and if he complains to a teacher, it is only his word against Kyle's.

Things get better when Thomas realizes that being "different" can also mean being unique, and when his friends start standing up for him, Kyle realizes he has been too mean and backs off, so things get better for Thomas

This is a book very focused on a specific anti-bullying message, and it would work very well as a conversation starter or part of a guided discussion. I think that is its primary purpose, so it feels appropriate, but I want to clarify that it is not really a story first with a secondary anti-bullying theme, but rather a focused anti-bullying story. There are excellent resources at the end of the book on how to discuss different parts of the story, how people act and react, and what different points of view there may be.

My only complaint is that there was a moment when it seemed likely that we would get a little more insight into Kyle and what might drive him, and then it seemed underutilized. While the focus should stay on Thomas, any conversation about bullying is likely to include how and why bullies get to be bullies.

The illustrator deserves kudos for delivering this message in illustrations that feel more like a graphic novel than a picture book. I think this broadens the age group who would respond well to the book. I would recommend this for parents and other adults of children from kindergarten through 4th or 5th grade.

Four out of five stars.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The War that Saved My Life (review)

The War that Saved My Life
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Publisher: Dial Books (January 8, 2015)

Ten year old Ada has never left her apartment in pre-WWII London, because her Mam is ashamed of Ada's clubfoot. She doesn't even know how to walk, but then her brother, Jamie, brings home news that children are to be evacuated to families living in the countryside as the war threatens bombings. Ada doesn't want to be left behind with her abusive mother and starts a secret campaign to teach herself to walk. When they are notified that Jamie is to be evacuated, Ada's mother says she can't go, but Ada sneaks out and limps to the station to make her escape.

When they arrive, nobody really wants them, but the woman in charge finally convinces a spinster, Miss Susan Smith, to take them in for a while. Over the course of the book, Ada struggles with whether she can trust Miss Smith even as she learns to love her. She knows that at any moment, her Mam may take them back.

Brilliantly written and emotionally engaging, this well crafted book has a powerful message about what we deserve and what we get. It is also a wrenching story, especially with the abuse early on and the well described symptoms that we would call PTSD today. My only concern is that it may be too raw or powerful for some children. I might hesitate to offer it to a class of 4th or 5th graders, no matter what the reading level is. At the very least, a parent or teacher should probably read it first to know what is coming. With that caveat, I would strongly recommend this to boys and girls in 5th or 6th grade.

Five stars out of five.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure (review)

Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure
Author: Ruben Bolling
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing (To be released April 7, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley.

Stuart Tennemeier, his best friend, Brian Hrznicz, and Stuart's little sister, Violet, (but only because Mom insists!) have a super secret club. Shhh! In their club, they explore, solve mysteries and do other unbelievable things. Or they plan to, but how are three kids going to find mysteries to solve?

Never fear, they find a mystery and it is a whopper. I can't tell any details because it is super secret, but trust me when I say there are robots, aliens and world-saving involved. All before dinner!

Written as a comic book/case book, this promises to be an absolutely wonderful series of stories for the elementary crowd if this first installment is any indication. I would strongly recommend this for second through fourth graders.

Five out of five stars!

The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens (review)

The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens
Author: Henry Clark
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (To be released April 14, 2015)

Ambrose Brody and his best friend, Tom Xui, meet a girl at the carnival and she takes them on a trip back in time to 1852. For three children of color (black, Chinese and Gypsy), it is a dangerous time to land, and they race to escape bounty hunters and other bad guys. Things gt even worse when they return to their own time to find it significantly altered... for the worse. As they race back and forth in time trying to fix what they have broken, they are aided by a copy of the I-Ching, a 3000 year old book of Chinese wisdom that mysteriously uses Morse code to give them clues about what to do.

I felt pretty mixed up about this book. The I-Ching/Morse code part was brilliant and will intrigue young readers a lot, the history was interesting and the action exciting. I had three problems with the book, but I don't know if middle grade readers will overlook them or not. The first is that the time travel issues seemed awfully reminiscent of the Back to the Future plot lines and other time travel tropes. That likely won't bother young readers who may not have read many time travel stories. The second is that the "bad guys" are drawn with such a broad brush that they feel like caricatures. I would guess that this will bother some readers, whether they are able to identify what is wrong or not.

The third problem is the most serious and troubling to me. While I admire the author for trying to include diverse (or one might say, normal and reflective of real life) characters, the result is quite stilted. I never got any sense of Ambrose at all and would not have known he was black if it were not revealed to us. Yes, revealed like an "aha!" moment. The depictions of his friend, Tim, as a Chinese boy and Shofranka ("Frankie") as a Gypsy girl only enforced stereotypes. I especially cringed at the following exchange which starts with Frankie speaking:

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Detective's Assistant (MMGM review)

The Detective's Assistant
Author: Kate Hannigan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 7, 2015)
Review copy courtesy of the publisher

I am thrilled to offer a great new historical novel with a terrific girl heroine for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  From intrigue to history to ciphers, this book should interest many middle graders of either gender.

When eleven year old Nell Warne is dropped off at her Aunt Kitty's door not long before the Civil War, she is not wanted and not welcome. Kate thinks she has no use for the girl, but Nell's indomitable spirit, clever mind and dare devil attitude soon prove to her aunt that there is more to the girl than meets the eye, as Nell helps with some of the dangerous and tricky cases her aunt has to solve. Because Kate Warne is a detective with Pinkertons, and they are called to solve jewel heists and murders, and even to protect Abraham Lincoln as he makes his way through a sharply divided land to his inauguration.

In a very clever juxtaposition underlying the story of Nell and Kate is the story we learn through letters between Nell and Jemma, a friend whose family has fled to Canada. Though they have always been free blacks, the roving bounty hunters have little respect for the law. Nell and Jemma practice ciphers and code words to prevent anyone who intercepts the letters from finding out details about  Jemma's family and the people who help slaves escape to the North. We gradually learn how the underground railroad and the abolitionist movement are intricately involved with Nell's story, and in the end seal the increasing affection between Nell and her Aunt Kate while helping her faraway friend.

In short, the book is delightful. Nell is a terrific combination of smart and careless, take-charge and nervous. She has trouble with her spelling, embarrasses her Aunt and herself, and doesn't always (often) do as she is told. I think girls of today will love her spunk and courage while laughing at how she makes the same mistakes (and decisions) they do.

Five stars out of five!

To find other posts for MMGM, visit Shannon Messenger's blog where she toils to keep up with them.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids (review)

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids
Author: Ammi-Joan Paquette
Publisher: Tanglewood Press (February 7, 2012)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

This is a follow up to a book (which I have not read) called The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies which received a fair amount of attention. It is a combination story/activity book meant to encourage little children to look and listen and notice when they go to the beach. There is a good mix of fact and whimsy mixed in, with ideas that sound like fun such as making mermaid shapes in the sand much the way you make snow angels in the winter.

The illustrations are a slightly jarring mix of real photographs of children and mermaids illustrations. Part of me likes it, and part of me wishes they had stuck to photographs. I hesitate to make too much of this, as I am sure there are kids who would enjoy this mix, but the effect didn't quite work for me.

I would recommend this for very small children planning a trip to the beach.

Three stars out of five.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Missing Jack (review)

Missing Jack
Author & Illustrator: Rebecca Elliott
Publisher: Lion Hudson (Feb. 20, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

Toby was sure that his cat, Jack, was the best cat in the whole world. He wasn't snooty, he was very friendly, and he didn't scratch even when Toby's little brother pulled his whiskers. Best of all, he was never boring, and bounced around like a Lion who was king of the jungle. But Jack got older and slowed down, and finally he died. Toby isn't sure he'll ever get over Jack's death, but then he meets Humphrey. Humphrey is awesome, and finally Toby realizes that he doesn't have to forget Jack in order to welcome Humphrey.

This is a lovely book with wonderful illustrations, and perfect for any young child dealing with the death of a pet, or even a pet who is growing older. I would strongly recommend it for children from two years up to Kindergarten.

Five of five stars!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other)
Author: Geoff Rodkey
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (To be published April 7, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

It is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, so I thought I'd highlight a book coming out soon. It is available for pre-order, so follow the link above if you would like a copy.

Claudia and Reese are twins, but they are nothing alike. They have almost no goals in common, until they start a war (with each other) or pranks and practical jokes that gets increasingly out of hand and involves many of their classmates as well. The problem with a war is often how to end it, and neither one is quite sure how.

Written in an entertaining and often very funny combination of oral interviews (transcribed), texts between the parents (which are hysterical), screenshots and photos (Some quite silly), this book will entertain anyone in grades 3 to 7 who has to endure the trials and pitfalls of school, friends and family. I definitely recommend it.

Four stars out of five.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Adding a Diversity tag

Search for reviews tagged with new Diversity tag.

I have thought about adding new tags to make it easier for people to find books on special interest areas such as LGBT or multicultural or others, but have always hesitated for two reasons.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Night Horses (review)

The Night Horses
Author: Anaka Jones
Publisher: CreateSpace (February 26, 2013)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

It is an unusual thing to find a self-published picture book, especially one created by a sixth grader, and still be able to recommend it, but Anaka Jones is clearly a talented young lady.

In the first part of this lively, colorful story, it is daytime and the horses trot and eat and do normal things, but at night time they get the disco ball out and things get more wild. Children will enjoy the colorful illustrations and the funny things that the horses and other animals do at night(including a small mouse who kids will search to find on almost every page).

I would definitely recommend this for young children 3-6 years old. I was glad to see it is available both in print and digital form, as this would be one I would want to hold in my hands.

Four of five stars.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Bunk-Bed Bus (review)

The Bunk-Bed Bus (Janet and Sam Book 1)
Author: Frank Rodgers
Publisher: Hungry Horse (March 1, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

An absolutely delightful story of Janet and Sam and their wonderful Granny who never believes she is too old to do what she wants, and never stops trying new things. She jogs in a tracksuit she knitted herself, she learns to work with wood and make shelves, and she's never afraid a new challenge.

When grumbly next-door neighbor Mrs. Grimbly-White mentions an art exhibition and dismisses Granny as "too old" to be artistic, Granny puts her mind to it and makes an amazing Bunk Bed Bus, much to the delight of all the children in town.

I strongly recommend this for preschool and early elementary children, and also to their parents, teachers and librarians to read aloud or along with.

Five stars out of five!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Little Miss Evil (review)

Little Miss Evil
Authors: Bryce Leung & Kristy Shen
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press (March 10, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley.

I was hoping to review this for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, but work demands prevented it, and it is being released on March 10th, so I wanted to give people a chance to hear about it first.

It is hard enough having crazy parents who are normal crazy, but when you live in a volcano, ride a helicopter to school and your dad is an evil super-villain with a super-weapon, things can get seriously out of control.

Fortunately, Fiona's two best friends are also the kids of evil super-villains who understand what it's like. Even though their parents don't talk to each other, Fiona, Ruby and Jai stay friends.

Unfortunately, Ruby's evil super-villain pilots attack Fiona's volcano, wage war on her father and his Storm Troopers and steal the super-weapon he is protecting. When they kidnaps her father, it doesn't seem like things could get much worse.

Fortunately, Fiona got a portable flame thrower for her birthday this year.

This book is a crazy ride that I would recommend to boys and girls in 4th to 8th grades who like super-heroes and super-villains. I have to say, I was a little dubious at first as the premise seemed too far fetched, but it kept getting better as the story developed. I'm glad I stuck with it, and I think kids would probably enjoy it even more.

Four of five stars.

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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk (review)

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk (to be published by Knopf in April 2015)
Author: Liesl Shurtliff
Review ARC sent by publisher

Having read and greatly enjoyed Liesl Shurtliff's debut middle grade novel, Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, I was eager to read "Jack," but a little worried that it might not live up to her first. I needn't have worried.

Shurtliff devised a very clever way to tie together the two stories, while managing the essential task of allowing each to be read on its own. Jack does not start out in the same magical world in which "Rump" takes place, but instead in a place slightly reminiscent of Dorothy's Kansas in the "Wizard of Oz." But we do eventually get to that world, and the shift will delight young readers with its shift in perspective as much as earlier readers delighted in the magical kingdom of Oz.

Giants, elves, pixies and golden eggs, and none of them quite what they seem at first. Jack is destined to be the hero, but not in the way he expects, and only after getting in and out of a number of difficult situations and learning to depend on others, no matter how small. Keep a close eye out, because other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters make appearances as well.

While I read this as an ARC, I'll be sure to pick up a hardcover copy when it is available. Terrific fun for kids (and adults who aren't afraid to be kids as well).

I can easily recommend this book for both boys and girls in third through seventh grade. I'm glad to have had a chance to read it.

Five out of five stars!