Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: Allie and Sallie

Allie and Sallie:  Nice and Cozy
By Jenny Harrison
Book Krafters, 2014
Reviewed from personal copy
Audience: Ages 4 to 6
ISBN:  9780615970066
Publication Date:  Spring 2014

Allie and Sallie are identical twins who are best friends, and it all started way back in their mommy's belly.  The two girls played tagged, napped, and hiccuped together for nine months.  Then, Allie wanted to explore the world and meet mommy, but Sallie was nice and cozy and wanted to stay put. But both girls were happy to meet their parents and continue being best friends.

My mom gave me this book for a couple of reasons.  One, I'm having my own Ali (but just the one, thank goodness!) and two, she knows the author.  Jenny grew up in my church and knows my mom pretty well, so there's a nice little hometown connection.  

Back to the book.  I can only think of one other series about identical twins, Ling and Ting by Grace Lin, although I suppose that twins were quite the rage in more classic children's literature, and who could forget the ever expanding Sweet Valley High series. I feel like if you see stories about twins today, it's more likely about fraternal boy and girl twins like the characters in The Genius Files series by Dan Gutman.  

But this is a picture book about twins, which is quite relatable for younger readers, or new moms expecting twins.  It goes through the girls playing in their moms belly and hiccuping, something I can definitely relate to right now, and future books promise to explore other events in the girls' lives.  It would also be a great book for an older sibling, whether the family is expecting twins or not since it depicts life in the womb in a way that children can understand.

The illustrations are colorful and vibrant, but can be overwhelming at times.  This might be a more personal thing than anything else though.  I do appreciate that the dialogue for each girl is given it's own color as that makes reading together easier and helps define the narrator.  

Since this is a self-published book, it can be a little hard to find, so skip Amazon and head straight to Jenny's webpage, Allie and Sallie.  From there you can check out book signing dates, head to the books Facebook page, and order a copy for yourself or someone you love.

Allie and Sallie:  Nice and Cozy is a great book for the twins in your life, or as a gift for a soon-to-be older sibling.  Just reassure that older sibling that you are only having one baby, if that's the case.

Happy Reading!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Five Things: Friday!

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1. Vacation Bible School wrapped up last night, and while I wasn't in charge, I still volunteered, so I'm very happy that it's over!

2.  As a reward for surviving four days of work, then VBS, I had hot chocolate this morning and it was bliss.  Can't wait for coffee though.

3.  There was a random deer grazing on the grass surrounding the parking lot today.  I tried to get a picture, but I was too far away and didn't want to spook it.  Nice little calm sighting to start the day.

4.  I posted six (6!) book reviews in a row!  I think I might deserve a medal, or at least another hot chocolate.

5.  It's Friday and that's enough.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review: Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor
By Jon Scieszka
Amulet Books, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Ages 6 to 10
ISBN:  9781419712180
Publication Date:  August 19, 2014

How to capture readers Jon Scieszka style.  First, have a James Bond-worthy introduction with your hero in mortal peril.  Second, rewind and show your hero creating a self-aware robot, Frankenstein style.  Finally, write a book with a real weenie for a villian, a chimp CEO, peanut butter bubble gum, and two wacky robots.  Add a dash of stylized illustrations and done.

Frank is an inventor at heart, something that he has learned from her grandfather Al.  He wants to create a robot that will be able to learn like a human in order to win the town science fair and use the prize money to save his grandfather's business.  The original plan does not work out, but a happy accident causes Klink, a robot with a human-like learning ability, to create himself, and a friend Klank, a robot with the mind of a HUGME monkey doll.  This duo, together with Frank and his best friend Watson create an Antimatter Motor-a motor that creates a crazy amount of energy from just one tiny drop of water and anti water.  But where there's a stellar science fair project, there's a crook, and T. Edison is out to still this wonder, and destroy Frank in the process.

From beginning to end, this was one fun read.  Klink and Klank are two characters that play very well off each other and will have readers laughing out loud.  Frank's determination to create something incredible will also delight readers since he alludes to failed past experiments that sound like any kids dream.  There is real science here too, making this a great choice for all of those schools and library pushing STEM eduction right now.  But Scieszka makes science, even quite complicated stuff, sound simple and fun.  Frank's enthusiasm may just be contagious and readers will look forward to their next science project.  

There is a full dictionary of scientific terms used in the book in the back, and the definitions are both factual and funny.  Klink and Klank also teach readers how to make antimatter, but they get a little sidetracked by a joke, so don't worry, readers will not be asking for a trip to the Large Hadron Collider anytime soon, although they may ask to Google it.

Scieszka has come up with another winning character.  Schools and libraries will have a very hard time keeping this one on the shelves.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Dreams of Gods and Monsters
By Laini Taylor
Little, Brown, and Company, 2014
Reviewed from ebook
Audience:  Grades 9 and up
ISBN:  9780316134071
Publication Date:  April 8, 2014

Days of Blood and Starlight left us in a cave with chimera and seraphim in an uneasy peace, Mik playing the violin with Zuzana by his side and no mention of the relationship between Karou and Akiva.  Dreams of Gods and Monsters backs up a little bit to give this moment more context.  Angels descend on earth.  It is a sight met with curiosity and wonder, but the seraphim are uneasy, and Karou and the chimera army, not to mention Akiva and the Misbegotten know what Jael is really up to.  Meanwhile, Eliza, a runaway from a religious cult, is wondering how this angel invasion relates to her, the supposed chosen one of her former faith.  She ends up in Morocco studying a mass grave of chimera hosts, and inadvertently meets Zuzana and Mik, who manage to heal her after running a bait and switch on Karou's nefarious "aunt".  Then there are problems between the Misbegotten and Chimera as they try to unite to fight a common enemy, another brewing seraphim and chimera romance, rifts in Eretz that could bring everything crashing down, and more small plot lines that will confuse, delight, and enrapture readers.  

It's all a little much.

But it's like eating a death by chocolate cupcake.  It's too much, but it's glorious and you can't stop, and is that another cupcake?  Yes please!

Just know this:  If you enjoyed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Days of Blood and Starlight, you will be satisfied.  You will be drunk on chocolate cupcakes and begging for more.  You will question the ending because it's resolved but open, and you hear that Laini Taylor is working on another project, when there is still material in Eretz that could be explored.  Maybe she is leaving that for the fan fiction writers, of which I assume there are many.  Not being a fan fiction girl myself, I don't know.  But I might have to check it out in the future.  

Looking back on the whole series now, I would have to say that I am pleasantly satisfied with it.  In so many series, there are multiple ways that it could have worked out, and while that is the case here, I feel that it was always running toward this type of ending for Karou and Akiva.  The final book delved deeper than I imagined it could, but I loved it.  I loved learning more about the seraphim and the war they were fighting on the edge of Eretz that had nothing to do with chimera.  I loved learning about the first fall to earth, and seeing all the minor players in the final book get what was coming to them, especially the "aunt".  Oh, I hated her!  Just remembering the whole thing now makes me want to go back and start over.  

I'll be looking forward to whatever Laini Taylor has in store for readers next.  Until then, I'll just have to gaze longingly at the amazing vacation photos on her blog.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: Loot

Loot:  How to Steal a Fortune
By Jude Watson
Scholastic, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience:  Grades 5-7
ISBN:  9780545468022
Expected Publication Date:  June 24, 2014

This heist caper starts in Amsterdam, where young March watches his famous jewel-thief father fall to his death.  With his last words, he tells March to "find jewels", but after following some clues left in the getaway pack, March gets caught and finds his twin sister Jules.  The pair are sent to a group home back in the states where they meet Darius and Izzy, two other wards of the state, and together the group learns about the moonstones that cursed March and Jules ten years ago, and how they can get them back.  From there, it's a race across the country for this band of young thieves to beat Oscar Ford, their parents former partner, to the stones and change their fate.  

Let's take a minute to talk about Jude Watson.  Writing as Jude Watson, she produces plot driven, engaging tales of action and intrigue, but she can flip a switch an be herself, Judy Blundell, author of the National Book Award winning What I Saw and How I Lied, a book full of literary prose and plot twists.  That much talent in one person seems quite unfair, but it's beautiful to see both sides of her writing.

Back to Loot.  As a Watson novel, you can bet this is all plot and action.  It's a typical caper novel, with a little more drama than the Swindle series by Gordon Korman, but a natural next step for fans of that series.  I would absolutely compare it to the 39 Clues series in terms of action and pacing, but I do feel like we get a slightly deeper look at the characters.  They become quite the supportive family, which is something readers are sure to notice.

While this book wraps up nicely, I do wonder if this could be the start of a series.  Part of my hopes it will stand alone.  There are so few books of this nature that stand alone, but after a while, the series becomes stale and readers age out of the reading level (again, Swindle, I'm looking at you!).  But if this were to become a series, it would be nicely done, I'm sure.  I can't see Jude Watson putting her name on an inferior product, even when she was writing Star Wars formula fiction, it was good formula fiction.

For a fast-paced heist caper, readers will find none better in the middle grade section than Loot.

Happy Reading!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Review: Super Red Riding Hood

Super Red Riding Hood
By Claudia Davila
Kids Can Press, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience:  Preschool to Grade 2
ISBN:  9781771380201
Expected Publication Date:  August 1, 2014

Ruby loves superheroes, so when she puts on the special red cape that her grandmother made her, she become Super Red Riding Hood!  Ruby gets ready to pick raspberries in the forest by putting on her rubber boots, grabbing her flashlight, packing her lunch box, and finally donning her cape.  Nothing can scar this superhero, until she hears a loud grumbling and comes face to face with a wolf!  She outsmarts him and finds out that he might not be as bad as he seems, and he learns that girls can be superheroes too.  

This is a fun take on a classic fairy tale.  The illustrations are colorful and slightly reminiscent of comic books without being too overwhelming.  I do have to mention that the e-galley I received was rather poorly formatted and I missed out on some of the action, but once those problems are fixed in final production, the story will be clear and flow well.

What other fairy tale characters could have super powers?  We already have Rapunzel's Revenge, but maybe Jack and Jill have some special powers, or Goldilocks could be more than she seems.  Use this book as a starting point for more fairy tale-superhero mash-ups.

Happy Reading!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Book Review: Hug Me

Hug Me
By Simon Ciraolo
Flying Eye Books, 2014
Reviewed from Edelweiss
Audience: Preschool-Kindergarten
ISBN:  9781909263499
Expected Publication Date:  September 9, 2014

Felipe is just a normal cactus, except he wants to be hugged.  He is not in a family of huggers, however, and when he meets a friend (a balloon) the results are rather disastrous.  He goes off in search of a new family, but no one wants to hug him, so he learns to live alone.  That is until he finds someone else that is equally unhugable, but still deserving of love.  Readers will appreciate this sweet little cactus that just wants a friend and will also enjoy the friend that he finally makes.

Hug Me would be a great addition to a story time on plants, friends, or even just hugging.  Readers will immediately understand why Felipe isn't getting a hug, but maybe they could suggest other animals or things that might hug Felipe, like a porcupine.  Readers could even write a similar story with an unhugable animal like a skunk or possum, although I might be the only person that thinks possums are completely unloveable.

This sweet little book is likely to delight readers and leave them a little more sympathetic to the plight of the cactus.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review: Andy, Also

Andy Also
By Maxwell Eaton III
Blue Apple Books, 2014
Reviewed from Edelweiss
Audience:  Preschool to Grade 3
ISBN:  9781609054571
Expected Publication Date:  August 5, 2014

In this short chapter book/graphic novel adventure, Preston and Andy have an identity crisis of sorts.  Preston insists on being called Andy which angers the original Andy who then somehow becomes Doctor Turkeyfeet, which in turn confuses the original Doctor Turkeyfeet.  In the next chapter, the animals strike up a band much to the dismay of Andy, the original.  Finally, Preston, once again Preston, tricks Andy into a foot race with 100 insulted bunnies.  If it all sounds a little too strange, that's because it is, and young readers will love every word!

I enjoyed this sequel to Okay, Andy!  Like most buddy books, you have one fanciful character and one curmudgeon and plenty of fun. The dialogue is easy to read and the action is snappy and will provide plenty of laughs.  

My only problem would be cataloging this book.  Where would you put it?  Picture book, easy reader, chapter book, graphic novel?  I think the case could be made for all of these.  I would like shelve this in the easy reader section despite the designation as a beginning chapter book.  The chapters are more like simple stories to me.

One final thought, this book would be great for a simple reader's theatre or class play.  Each chapter could easily be played out by students and they would greatly enjoy the humor.

And how surprising is it that I actually posted a book review?  I'm just as shocked as you are!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

5 Things: Lunch Date

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1. I can tell that today will be best spent doing busy work and rocking out to Pandora radio.  This might even be the kind of day to curate a new station.

2.  The fact that I get to leave work early today to go to the dentist entirely makes up for the fact that I have to go to the dentist.  Unless he tells me I have a cavity, in which case, I should have stayed at work.

3.  I have a lunch date today with my hubby and the dog.  Exciting stuff!

4.  The Kindle reading app on my computer.  Helping me covertly pass the time since 2012.

5.  After seven weeks, we're finally done with the doctor recommended birthing classes.  I was not a fan, so if you are given the option to take them, do yourself a favor and just watch 20+ hours of birthing videos online and you will essentially have the same experience.  Or, just go with the flow because when your pregnant, the birth is going to happen whether or not you take the class.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5 Things: Rainy Days

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1. Pre-8 am Ke$ha.  It's just ridiculous to hear a party song on the way to work.  

2.  I'm a farmer's daughter, so I know that a well-timed rain is a beautiful thing, and while those mowing hay are a little irked by it, we're dry and need the rain for the crops.

3.  Today I will make my fourth donation to Locks of Love.  I'm so ready to get my hair cut after two years of growing it out.  If I were smarter, I would cut my hair in March and have nice, short, cool hair all summer long, but I'm not that smart, so getting it cut in early summer will have to do.

4.  There's another Kate Spade flash sale, but I'm only window shopping!  My Visa is still in recovery from all of the little things that we are picking up here and there for our new arrival.  

5.  Yesterday was my first day volunteering at Colchester Library!  It was a drive-by story time of sorts, but so much fun.  There were about 30 kids gathered on the lawn outside the library, which happens to sit on a busy highway, and did I mention there was an alpaca?  There were plenty of things competing for the kids' attention, but most of them were engaged with the stories.  Yesterday was Wacky Pets so I read One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo and The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble.  Better yet, I've been asked to do a little more next week, so I'll add a book and another activity. That's all fine with me!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Here's What I Haven't Been Telling You

For the past nine weeks, my life has been in turmoil and I haven't known how to verbalize it to anyone. When I wrote my Recalculating post, I alluded to some detours ahead, but that's all I've been able to say on the subject.  I feel like now is the time to come out and inadequately say what has been happening in the past weeks.

On April 11, my mom was diagnosed with recurrent uterine cancer that was inoperable and incurable.  At the time, I was 6 months pregnant and faced with losing my mom before my baby was born.  Nothing is more heartbreaking or unfair or terrifying than that type of news.  I've thought over dozens of different ways to tell this story, but I can finally tell it now because I have a silver lining.

Mom's abdomen was a mass of cancerous tumors.  I can't get into the medical-ness of it all right now because I don't totally understand it, but what she has is very rare.  It's a type of cancer that is more commonly found in the ovaries, not the uterus.  That she had it at all was rare, that is came back is even more so.

Right after her diagnosis, she starting taking a treatment that was meant to slow the progression of the tumors.  We weren't given a lot of information at the time because this was a new drug and the doctor did not know if it would be effective.  We just found out that it has been effective.  Incredibly so.  Mom's tumors have shrunk 80-85%.  This drug only has a 30% success rate.  If it hadn't worked, mom would likely not be here today.  But since it has worked, she'll likely meet my daughter, see her baptism and sneak in thousands of kisses.

This is still not a cure.  The end result of this disease will still be the same.  Mom will never be cured.  But, we've been given so much more time.  Time that we can use to be together, have more laughs, make more memories, share more stories.  It's still hard, but when she told me yesterday that she likely has six months or more, I cried knowing what that will mean for my family.

I still feel like a tangled mass of emotions, pregnancy plus family hardships will do that to you.  It's difficult working through this type of anticipatory grief, but I'm not grieving today.  I'm rejoicing!  This news is so incredible that I can't believe how we've been blessed.  I still need to focus on everyday and be happy for every opportunity, but it's great to know that I'll have more opportunities with my mom than I first thought.  It's so wonderful to have her with us.

Deep breath.  Today is a beautiful day, today we are thankful.  Today I know that my mom is doing well, that my daughter is kicking, and that near future is bright.  That's good enough for me.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

5 Things: Peace and Quiet

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1. With this week's storm outbreak, I'm really thankful for our finished basement.  We just slept down there rather than try to listen for sirens and storm warnings.  

2.  Where would I be without online shopping?  I'd probably have more money and less random stuff, but buying baby shower presents would be a lot less fun!

3.  It's so quiet around here!  I need to soak it all up because it won't last for long.

4.  Today's Thursday and that means Resistance Band Workout Day!  I like doing resistance band training at work, mostly because it gets me out of my chair, even if it kinda makes me feel like a little old lady to do it.

5.  When you're pregnant, you're not allowed any vices so you have to find a way to splurge when you can.  My latest obsession-lemonade!  I usually water it down so I'm not shocking by baby with sugar, but it's still great after a long day.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Read-a-Louds for a Zany 6-Year Old

Now that Anthony is a big time Kindergarten graduate, he's ready for some more serious read-a-loud books.  He wants action, adventure, humor, and his mom would like some things that are not totally formula fiction.  Aunt Lou the librarian to the rescue!  Put down your Magic Tree House and pick up something else!

Not that there's anything wrong with MTH, quite the contrary.  However, if the only book that your child's teacher or librarian can recommend for your reader is MTH, suggest they spend a little more time hitting the books--or that they check out this post.

I've taken the liberty of breaking this list into three categories as defined below:

Stand Alones-books that either have no sequel (and in some cases, no equal) or books that really don't need a sequel.

Super Series-okay it's a series, there's a formula, but it's a darn good formula!

Maybe Give it a Year-books that Anthony (or your zany child) might like today, but might like more tomorrow.  You know your kid and what they can handle.

Also, I'm not including some basic parent/child read-a-loud favorites like HP, Narnia, Percy Jackson, so on and so forth.  I'm here to tell you about the hidden gems!  You are here for personalized book recommendations, if you want generic info about bestsellers, go to Amazon.

I give you Read-a-Louds for a Zany 6-Year Old!

Stand Alones:

Bunnicula by James Howe.  This is required reading in my world.  I'm guessing that Anthony will love the animal narrators and strange action.  Yes, there are more books in this "series" and there are newer versions, but stick with the original.

The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman.  A caper for the youngest readers, with pictures!  Quick and satisfying, and there are a couple more of these as well.

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman.  A Newbery!  For younger readers!  It's a great adventure story that's funny too, and Newbery-approved.

Mammoth Academy by Neil Layton.  This short, illustrated chapter book has a little mystery and a lot of laughs.  Also a few of these, but really, stick with the first.

The Boy of a Thousand Faces by Brian Selznick.  This book is beautiful, a perfect Halloween read-a-loud, or a great read-a-loud for a boy that thinks dressing up for New Year's means wearing his pirate costume.  Again, it's short, but wonderful.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar.  You have to be young with a weird sense of humor to get this book.  It's one of my top expiration date books, but 6-year old boys have a bizarre sense of humor, so I'm guessing this will be a hit.

Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins.  This book always struck me as a weird sell, but this might be the place for it.  You need a reader that likes longer stories, but still believes in the magic of their toys, and six might just be the perfect age.

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi.  Anthony loves good dragon hunt, and might appreciate this little book about saving, not slaying, a dragon.

Half Magic by Edward Eager.  Nothing like the classics!  A family of children find a magic coin, but their wishes only come half-true.  It's gentle but engaging.

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes.  This gentle classic is about a great little dog that goes missing, but all's well in the end.

Super Series:

The Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka.  Start reading these about these time-travelling adventurers today, then read Scieszka's biography Knuckleheads in a couple years.

43 Old Cemetery Road by Kate Klise.  This book is full of puns and word-play, plus it's written through notes and letters, which will provide a great teachable moment about narration.  And it's funny.  Like snort-Sprite-through-your-nose-funny.  Not that I've ever done that.  Or can tell you how much it hurts.

The Knights' Tales by Gerald Morris.  A very light-hearted looks at Arthurian legend complete with illustrations and harrowing battles, perfect for my little knight in shining armor.

Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo.  Mercy Watson is a pig that just can't stay out of trouble and it's all really, really funny.

McBroom by Sid Fleischman.  I mostly recommend these because I remember finding them hilarious in elementary school, meaning that these books are old.  Really old, so good luck finding them!

Maybe Give it a Year:

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo.  Really everything by Kate DiCamillo is beautiful and adventurous in it's own quiet way, but this book might be especially great for bedtime since it's magical and quiet.

Swindle by Gordon Korman.  Another great caper book, and several others that follow, but the group of kids are older, and there's more talk about school, which a six-year old wouldn't have a context for just yet.  But a great adventure none-the-less.  Also, maybe talk to your child about when to involve a parent in their capers!

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood.  Three adopted children that act like wolves--does that sound at all familiar, sister?  This book is a little snarky, so some of the humor will go over Anthony's head, but make you laugh.  That's why I say give it a minute.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  Like the Magician's Elephant, this is a quietly beautiful quest story.  Might be good for bedtime now.

What did I miss?  What did I get right?  Was this at all helpful?  Are questions annoying?  Hopefully this list will help you out when picking books for your reader, or read-to-er, this summer.  And parents, just because your little one can read on their own doesn't mean you have to stop reading to them.  It's such great bonding time!  It's one of the things I'm most looking forward to about being mom!

Happy Reading (to your zany child!)

Monday, June 2, 2014

5 Things: Found It!

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1. Great long weekend in Chicago.  Doug's grandma turned 100 years old on Thursday and we helped her celebrate.  Then we stayed in Chicago and enjoyed the weekend with plenty of good food and family time.

A sidenote about the above picture:  it's hard to get everyone to look great in one photo with five cameras running at the same time.  Also, I'm not that pregnant.  The camera adds like two babies.  

2.  After two short work weeks, I'm back to a five day week, but, I do have three various appointments this week (I'm trying to fit everything in before the biscuit comes) so I have three shortened days.  I'm easing back into this full time thing!

3.  Is there any better feeling than sleeping in your own bed after being away?

4.  Yes there is!  It's sleeping late in your own bed after being away, even if only for a little while.

5.  I completely thought I'd lost my summer story time booklist this morning, which would mean starting over on my story times that start next week, but I found it all tucked away in my wallet, by really important things like the business cards I never hand out and store loyalty cards for places I never go to.  You have to keep the important stuff safe!!