Saturday, January 30, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

Happy Saturday blogging world! It's snowing and blustery outside, which makes me want to just curl up with books for the entire weekend, disregarding all those chores that need to get done.What are you doing this weekend?

I have three sweet stories for you today! Each touched my heart a bit and hopefully you'll enjoy them just the same. Have a Happy Weekend!

The Best Family in the World by Susana Lopez and illustrator Ulises Wensell

I do love a good adoption story and this one is charming and sweet for sure. Little Carlota is finally being adopted and all she can do is dream about who the best family in the world will be. Will they be pastry chefs? Pirates? Astronauts?

Her new family is none of these things Carlota dreams of, but has their own ways of becoming the best family a girl could ever dream of.

I loved the illustrations in this one, as they accompanied the story well and drew my eye all over the page. It's a very nice choice for children that were adopted when they older, though infant adoptees would certainly enjoy it as well.

The Best Family in the WorldSusana Lopez
28 pages
Picture Book
Kane Miller
January 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Forever Friends by Carin Berger

A heartwarming story of a bird and bunny, destined to be forever friends. They play together in the forest all summer long, until the bird must fly away south for the winter. Bunny is sad and lonely without her friend, but when the snow is thawed by the sun and Spring arrives again, so does Bird and their friendship is able to continue.

A very simple plot, but perfect for your youngest children. Sweet and to-the-point, you don't have to be afraid of distracted kiddos during this one. I am in love with the illustrations! Bold, modern, and very unique, Berger used cut-paper collages from receipts, letters, ticket stubs, and old books. Very cool!

Use this for a bedtime read at home or with toddlers for storytime, encouraging them to make their own collages for their crafts.

It's not being published until March, but it's definitely worth a preorder. I'm pretty excited about sharing this one!

Forever Friends
Carin Berger
40 pages
Picture Book
March 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Lost and Found: Three Dog Stories by Jim LaMarche

I'm a sucker for dog stories and these are each short enough and cute enough that your kids are going to love them too!

We begin with the story of Molly, a beautiful dog that accompanies Anna, her pint-sized companion as she attempts to run away after Mom puts her in time-out. When Anna wants to go back home, but can't find her way, Molly saves the day!

The second story features Ginger, a little dog that gets lost while out hiking with her family. No matter what Jules and his dad do, they just can't find her. When it gets dark and they have to leave, Jules makes a bed for Ginger, hoping she'll be safe and sound in the morning, which of course, she is!

And finally, we have Yuki, a dog that finds Jack, but that Jack can't keep. He knows Yuki belongs to someone else, so he makes posters, trying to find Yuki's owners (though he really just wants to keep the dog himself). When the owner comes forward, she is so thankful to Jack and his mom that she offers a wonderful surprise to them.

Cute stories, very sappy, but dog fans will enjoy them. The illustrations are beautiful and showcase the calming nature of this book. Another good one for bedtime.

Lost and Found: Three Dog Stories
Jim LaMarche
48  pages
Picture Books
Chronicle Books
July 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more about any of these titles, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a small commission for your purchase. Thanks!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Noodle Pie (MG review)

Jacket description:
"Meeting relatives for the first time isn't easy.

And when they speak a different language, seem to be greedy and imaptient and run a pretty crummy restaurant, it's the worst. Talk about culture shock!

For Andy and his dad-a former refugee returning for the first time-Vietnam is full of surprises. Somehow though, it also becomes the place for learning how to see things in a whole new way."

Ruth Starke has done a great job at introducing cultural differences and family bonds to middle grade readers. Andy had realistic thoughts and feelings about his extended family members and the culture they lived in. He didn't understand their rudeness, their impatience, and the manner in which they showed each other love. He also struggled with the idea of being both Australian and Vietnamese and wasn't quite sure how to blend those in a good way. The revelations that Andy came to throughout the book were some of which I think we could all learn from when it comes to different cultures...not to mention, our families!

I loved all the food aspects of the book, great descriptions that made me hungry from the very beginning. If you're a fan of Asian food, make sure you eat before the book starts or you'll be starving after the first couple of chapters!

Overall review: 3 out of 5
Hand this to your middle graders, use it as a discussion piece for different cultures and their unique qualities.

Noodle Pie
Ruth Starke
180 pages
Middle Grade Fiction
Kane Miller Publishing
March 2010
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a small commission for your purchase. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January Mini-Reviews

If you've never seen one of my Mini-review features, here's the synopsis: Reviews are of books that have already been reviewed about a million times by other bloggers and/or titles that I just feel don't need the full synopsis and in-depth reviews as other books I've read throughout the month. Enjoy!

Candor by Pam Bachorz

Want a thriller? This is your book. I found myself staying up late into the night to finish this, flipping pages with my heart racing, not being able to stop thinking about Oscar's ridiculously dysfunctional life. Teen boy or girl, adult or reluctant reader, hand it to anyone. It's that good.

And it's been shortlisted for a Cybil Award--wahoo!.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Pam Bachorz
256 pages
Young Adult
September 2009
Book borrowed from my local library

 Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Oh gosh, I think this may just be my favorite Laurie Halse Anderson book yet! Beautifully and powerfully written. Great for students and classrooms to read together, an excellent selection for book clubs, and definitely deserving of its Cybils nod. as well as being a National Book Award finalist and the winner of the Scott O'Dell Book Award for Historical Fiction. I'm sad I didn't get to it before now, but I'm happy I don't have to wait as long for the sequel, Forge, due out this fall. 

I even loved the typeface and the deckle edging of the pages. It appeared to be out of a real journal, which just added to the overall story.  

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Laurie Halse Anderson
320 pages
Middle Grade 
Simon & Schuster
October 2008
Book borrowed from my library 

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Another series that has taken me years to get to, but I'm finally fully enjoying. After listen to the full-cast audio version of The Goose Girl, I was really excited to do the same for Enna. It's delightful to listen to the different voices, almost as if you're watching a movie with your eyes closed. I was a little disappointed in Finn's voice...he sounded like a complete wimp, but I was pleased with everyone else. 

Bayern is a wonderful land, filled with fantasy and magic. I definitely recommend listening to these books, but if you're like me and can only get the first two on audio (or none of them), at least pick up the book versions. I'm off to read River Secrets next!
Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Enna Burning
Shannon Hale
Audio CD
November 2009
Borrowed from my library

A new "Kissing Hand" book

So, unless you've been living under a rock for the past 17 years, you've heard of (and probably read 100 times) The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and illustrator Nancy M. Leak. A great, classic story about the love between a mother and child. Penn has released the fifth book featuring Chester Raccoon and his mother, focusing on an incredibly difficult topic for children, again infused with the love of Mrs. Raccoon, titled Chester Raccoon and the Acorn of Memorie

Centering around the death of a classmate and how a young child (or, I suppose, Raccoon in this story) deals with loss and the concept of remembering a friend we are presented the tough topic in a gentle and easy-to-understand manner. Questions that children will most likely have, such as "Why can't he play anymore" and "How do you make a memory" are answered subtly and with ease.

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed at the length of the story, as most pages had several paragraphs (even if they were short paragraphs, they were still paragraphs), making it a bit long for a picture book. On a topic such as this one, lacking in excitement and focusing on the serious, a long story is going to allow time for children to lose focus.

I also have to be a little critical on the illustrations. Though some may absolutely love the pictures, I was disappointed, as the images appeared almost computer generated. Not that illustrations of that nature are a bad thing, but I've seen illustrator Barbara L. Gibson's work in A Pocket Full of Kisses, the sequel to The Kissing Hand, and it was right along the lines of the original story with a classic, beautiful feel. And this latest book's illustrations seems to be a bit generic and cartoonish (which is fine, I guess I'm just partial to the older books). I also haven't looked at the other middle books in the series, so they may be the same way.

That being said, the plot and the overall subject matter is most important and when dealing with the loss of a loved one, Chester Raccoon and the Acorn of Memories would be a great resource. When not comparing it to the other books in the series, it's a nice stand alone.

Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories
Audrey Penn
32 pages
Picture Book
Tanglewood Press
August 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a tiny commission from your purchase.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More covers are a'changin!

After all the craziness surrounding the Magic Under Glass cover and the ultimate decision by Bloomsbury to have the cover change, we should all be pretty pleased to learn that all of The Mysterious Benedict Society covers are also being changed. Leila raised the point of color...well...lack there of, on the covers and Little, Brown has responded.

I'm a bit disappointed in myself for not catching this mistake by the publisher prior to reading about it on the web. I loved the first two books in the series and although I haven't yet picked up the third, I wish I would have caught the issue. 

Thanks to School Library Journal for the link.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Spectacular Animal Towns

Another awesome series from Bearport! I've reviewed lots of their books over the past three years and they just keep getting better and better. One of the strongest bindings I've ever seen, allowing for lots and lots of checkouts from a library (or the frequent pullings of a toddler). And the content is always awesome. Great photographs, straight-to-the-point facts, a nice glossary. In every single book they produce, these come standard. Really, check them out, especially if you are a librarian.

Ok, off my Bearport plug, I recently reviewed two titles from the Spectacular Animal Towns series and felt they definitely deserved a mention here. The Prairie Dog's Town: A Perfect Hideaway by Miriam Aronin and The Honey Bee's Hive: A Thriving City by Joyce Markovics are each centered around intriguing topics (prairie dogs are just adorable and bee's are fascinating, if not a bit scary!) and you'll finish the book knowing more about each animal than you ever would have thought.

Did you know that each honey bee egg is about half the size of a grain of rice? Or that prairie dog burrows are about 10 feet deep and contain 24 feet of tunnels? Kids are going to love learning about these animals and will be encouraged to seek out the others in the series. I didn't review those, but I can only imagine they're just as good. The other titles include:

The Ant's Nest: A Huge, Underground City
The Coral Reef: A Giant City Under the Sea
The Bat's Cave: A Dark City
The Beaver's Lodge: Building with Leftovers

I would love to read about the coral reefs...they're just such interesting and intriguing places.

If you want to learn more about either title, or to purchase, click on the  book covers above to link to Amazon. I'm an Associate and will receive a small commission for your purchase. Thanks!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

When You Lose Someone You Love (NF review)

Jacket description:
"There is nothing more devastating than the death of a loved one. And whether it comes suddenly and unexpectedly, or at the end of a long and painful illness, every death is experienced anew, a shocking loss that takes our breath away and leaves us disoriented and lost.

Grief is mysterious, misunderstood, and experienced differently from individual to individual, yet there are certain universal elements. In this compassionate epistolary handbook on grief, a pastor offers comfort and understanding to a man suffering a profound loss, showing grief as a healthy process that God can use to mend broken hearts.

Revised and updated, this twentieth-anniversary edition features prayers and scripture meditation, as well as a new introduction and epilogue. Simple, profound, personal, compassionate ... When You Lose Someone You Love tenderly walks the grief-stricken through sorrow to peace and, eventually, renewed joy."

I'm not usually one for books on this topic. How to grieve, how to heal, etc. come along all the time and I think it's really hard for someone to get what another person is feeling, even if they've been in a similar situation. Everyone handles death differently and I think reading a book of another person's opinion or experience simply doesn't do it. But that's just me.

When I was asked to review Richard Exley's book, I figured I would give it a shot, knowing it was Scripture based and written in letter form. It intrigued me, to say the least. And if you read this blog on a regular basis, you know I've experienced quite a bit of death and grief over the last couple of years, leading me to want to give at least one book of this nature a chance.

I was impressed, I was encouraged, and I was comforted. The letters between a Pastor and a grieving parishioner are compassionate, helpful, and based around God's word. It's not a step-by-step guide as to how to get through one's grief, but rather the explanation of a process and how a grieving individual can use the power of God to get through the days.

I especially liked the prayers at the end of each letter, as I'm one of many Christians that has trouble coming up with exactly what I want to say when praying. It's helpful and comforting to see these prayers and use them intermixed with my own words.
According to the description, this is the 20th anniversary edition of this book, which doesn't surprise me in the least. I can see Pastors and outreach coordinators handing it to masses of people in their congregation or family members giving it in times of need. This is one grief-centered book that will be remaining on my bookshelf and will be recommended when appropriate. Bravo to Richard Exley.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5
Obviously this isn't the book for everyone. Not only is it about the process of grieving, but it's also Scripture based. It's fantastic for its category though and from me, gets a 5.

When You Lose Someone You Love
Richard Exley
128 pages
Adult Non-Fiction
David C. Cook
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a small commission for your purchase. Thanks!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

It's that time of the week again! I'm trying to clean off my TBR shelves from 2009, so once again I have a smorgasbord of picture books for you this week. Hopefully you'll find at least one that grabs you!

What's New at the Zoo? An Animal Adding Adventure by Suzanne Slade and illustrator Joan Waites

I'm a big fan of books published by Sylvan Dell, for their educational elements, combined with the fun aspect of a picture book for kiddos. This one takes the subject of addition and adds in some fun rhymes and enjoyable pictures of zoo life to keep your child interested, while their working on their math.

My favorite page features penguins, some of my own favorite animals (giraffes and dogs take a high stance on my favorites list too, in case you're interested!). The rhymes reads:

"Ten playful penguins
slip and slide and flip.
Five chicks want a turn.
How many take a dip?"

And then the problem, 10 + 5 = ? is show on the bottom of the page. Fun right?
And as always with Sylvan Dell books, the fun and learning isn't over when the story ends. The back is filled with lots of additional activities, like animal matching and different addition methods. And the website, has free online resources to go along with the book as well.

What's New at the Zoo?
Suzanne Slade
32 pages
Picture Book
Sylvan Dell Publishing
June 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator LeUyen Pham

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that Rosenthal is one of my favorite children's authors and she has yet another adorable book, coming out in March. You should preorder's worth it!

Roles are reversed when a little girl has the challenge of putting her mommy to bed. First she has to have a bath, then teeth brushing, then a story, etc. And once Mommy is finally tucked into bed, it's time to start on Daddy!

A really sweet story, with fantastic illustrations. I've read a few books illustrated by Pham, but nothing that has stood out like the pictures in this one. A great bedtime read!

And if you're interested in the whole role-reversal at bedtime topic, Topsy-Turvy Bedtime by Joan Levine is another one to look up.

Bedtime for Mommy
Amy Krause Rosenthal
32 pages
Picture Book
March 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Ferocious Wild Beasts by Chris Wormell

Oh, I just loved this! Such fun! A young boy gets lost in the forest, scared because his mother has warned him about all the ferocious wild beasts that live in the forest. The boy meets a bear and warns him about the wild beasts...and then an elephant...a lion, a crocodile, etc. All of the animals and boy are scared the wild beasts that just must be lurking somewhere in the shadows.

So cute! The animals have no idea that they are the wild beasts that Jack has been warned about, but your children will understand and will be shouting at the pages during the entire read. Fantastic for a group story time, with a fun plot, a nice, bold illustrations to keep them focused.
One of my favorites of the year so far, for sure!

Ferocious Wild Beasts
Chris Wormell
32 pages
Picture Book
December 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay and illustrator Renne Benoit

Well this is my serious choice of the week. So many books are written about war, but not that many that tastefully describe it for children. In this one, a young boy asks his grandfather, a veteran, questions about war and is given beautiful imagery in response. And I say beautifully, because the grandfather answers so honestly, yet in a manner that allows his grandson to become incredibly proud of what his grandfather went through in war.

As the grandfather is describing his experiences, beautiful images begin intertwining with the illustrations, making the reader feel as if we are reading two stories. Very well done. A great choice for children who have a parent or grandparent that is in the military.

Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion
Jane Barclay
24 pages
Picture Book
Tundra Books
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more about any of these titles, or to purchase, click on the book covers above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a tiny commission from your purchase. Thanks!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Boys Without Names (MG review)

Jacket description:
"For eleven-year-old Gopal and his family, life in their rural Indian village is over: We stay, we starve, his baba has warned. With the darkness of night as cover, they flee to the big city of Mumbai in hopes of finding work and a brighter future. Gopal is eager to help support his struggling family until school starts, so when a stranger approaches him with the promise of a factory job, he jumps at the offer.

But Gopal has been deceived. There is no factory, just a small, stuffy sweatshop where he and five other boys are forced to make beaded frames for no money and little food. The boys are forbidden to talk or even to call one another by their real names. In this atmosphere of distrust and isolation, locked in a rundown building in an unknown part of the city, Gopal despairs of ever seeing his family again.

But late one night, when Gopal decides to share kahanis, or stories, he realizes that storytelling might be the boys' key to holding on to their sense of self and their hope for any kind of future. If he can make them feel more like brothers than enemies, their lives will be more bearable in the shop—and they might even find a way to escape"

 I don't think there could ever be too many books written on the subject of child slavery. We need to make everyone aware of this horrific travesty that is happening all over the world, including our children. Author Kashmira Sheth takes a very troubling and traumatic subject and delivers it gracefully and will tact, leaving out graphic language or imagery and simply introducing events that some children really do go through.

The book contains and enthralling story, with a brilliant main character. I thought the overall book was a bit long, being slow in a couple of places, but for the most part completely had my attention and had me writing down names of kids I would recommend this to as soon as it hits shelves later on this month.

Read it aloud to your class, to your family, or just read it to yourself. Gopal's story is wonderfully told, yet heartbreaking.

Oooh and if you haven't before, pick of Sheth's Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet. It was published several years ago and I read it for a Children's Lit class, loving it.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Boys Without Names
Kashmira Sheth
320 pages
Middle Grade fiction
Balzer + Bray
January 2010
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a small commission for your purchase. Thanks!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

YA you need to read

Over at Abby (the) Librarian, I learned about an Unsung YA blog blitz, happening today, put on by YAnnabe. Cool huh? I know that I have piles of books each year, that I loved and cherished, but not a whole lot of others got their hands on. This is our chance, as YA readers and bloggers, to share some of those titles and hopefully they will find their way into the hands of book lovers and truly get the attention they deserve. Browse the other blogs (meet some new bloggers!), and add some of their picks to your teetering TBR piles!

Another note about my list, they're all rather new, written in the last couple of years. I've only been doing this blog for about 3 years now and before that, I stuck to mainly reading adult fiction and picture books, as I was working toward a Children's Librarian position. And when I was actually a teen, I had access to a tiny library system that only purchased the newest and most popular titles, leaving me with Cooney, Pike, Pascal, and McDaniel as my authors of choice. Not exactly unsung.

So, without further blabbering, these are a few that I think everyone needs to read. Links to reviews I've written (if there is one) are included.

Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney: I raved about it in my review Tuesday and I'll be raving about it for years. It's on the Cybils shortlist this year, so others obviously agree with me.

The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher: I read this one for last year's Cybils and still find myself referring to it when I need to give a recommendation. Really loved the artsy aspects and the honest romance.

Thaw by Monica M. Roe: Another from last year's Cybils. This one has a protagonist that I just loved to hate. Another I'm always recommending.

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka: I thought this was such and honest and interesting look into a polygamist lifestyle, without criticizing their beliefs. Three very different women and three very different viewpoints on the life they are meant to lead. 

Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt: This was one of my favorites of this year. Such a simple story and a quiet main character, but filled with heart and soul. Plus, I was a big fan of the setting of this one. Something new!

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford: I don't usually like to use the same words over and over again to describe a book, but "quirky" is definitely my descriptive term of choice for this one. It's getting a bit more recognition being on the Cybils shortlist, but it deserves a whole lot more!

If I Grow Up by Todd Stasser: A difficult book to read, topic-wise, but so necessary. This is the way a lot kids live out their lives every day in this country and Strasser gave a pure voice to that.

I think that's it for now! I really hope you'll add at least one of these to your TBR list and make sure to check out YAnnabe's blog for more lists!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The one book I've been waiting to write about

I gave my favorites of 2009 earlier this month, listing Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney in one of the YA spots. Honestly, I've been really thinking about this review, because I can't say enough wonderful things about this gem of a book, without sounding somewhat ridiculous and overly sappy. Truth be told, I really AM ridiculously sappy and gushy about Blue Plate Special. So here I am...doing my best to express my love for this book:

Jacket description:
"Doomed loves, failed families, nixed dreams someone else's leftovers are heaped on our plates the day we come into this world.

Big Macs and pop tunes mask the emptiness as Madeline watches her mom drink away their welfare checks. Until the day Tad, a quirky McDonald's counter boy, asks Madeline out for a date, and she gets her first taste of normal. But with a life that s anything but, how long can normal really last?

Hanging with Jeremy, avoiding Mam, sticking Do Not Disturb Post-its on her heart, Desiree's mission is simple: party hard, graduate (well, maybe), get out of town. But after Desiree accepts half a meatball grinder, a cold drink, and a ride from her mother's boyfriend one rainy afternoon, nothing is ever simple again.

Too many AP classes. Workaholic mom. Dad in prison. Still, Ariel's sultry new boyfriend, Shane, manages to make even the worst days delicious. But when an unexpected phone call forces a trip to visit a sick grandmother she's never met, revealing her family's dark past, Ariel struggles to find the courage to make the right choice for her own future.

As three girls from three different decades lives converge, they discover they are connected ways they could never imagine. Each of them finds strength that brings her closer to healing a painful past, and faith that there is a happier future."

Such a heartbreaking, yet hope-filled novel. Each character, Madeline, Ariel, and Desiree have their own strong voice and spoke to me in entirely different ways. I think truly connecting with character is really rare and I was able to connect with all three. Very impressive. And the unique layout of the story was fun to follow and piece together. These stories are going to stick with me for a long, long time and I can guarantee this will be my go-to book for gifts this year. 

I had the pleasure of being a first round judge for the Cybil Awards this fall, on the YA panel, and that's where I happened to have this lovely book fall into my hands. As a panel we decided that it definitely deserved a place on the shortlist (of only 7 books out of 168). Go get it now! No, it. 

Blue Plate Special is Chronicle Books first venture into the realm of Young Adult, and I would say it's an absolute success. An amazing, multi-generational story, that I put all of my recommending power behind.

Blue Plate Special
Michelle D. Kwasney
304 pages
Young Adult
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a tiny commission from your purchase. Thanks!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: The Wonders Inside Bugs & Spiders

Such a cool book! You and your bug-loving kiddos could spend hours paging through the fantastic illustrations (and you might just learn something from all the facts too) and shouting out the fun...and often gross...facts.

A whole team of individuals over at Silver Dolphin books have put this unique book together, combining facts on all types of bugs and spiders, with artsy learning methods, like transparencies between pages that allow the reader to visualize things like the inside of a beehive, the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and the working parts of a locust. There are also 3-D cross-sections that really get inside the habitats of these creatures. You'll find yourself flipping the entire book sideways, trying to get the best view, getting an insider's look into these amazing worlds of different bugs and spiders.

As I was reading through, I found myself exclaiming several times to my husband, "Hun, did you know...?" just because I found some of the facts so interesting. Take for instance termites. Eew. They may be gross, but man are those little buggers (pun intended for sure) hardworking! "In Australia, termites build mounds of mud 25 feet tall and 100 feet wide. Belowground, a mound can be 225 feet deep." Can you BELIEVE that? Craziness.

I was really overly impressed with this book and would highly recommend it for all libraries to have on hand (and you'll probably want a couple of copies). I loved the interactive nature of the transparent pages and the scattering of short-but-sweet facts around the pages.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5
A great non-fiction choice for your bug lovers...and even those (like me!) that aren't so into bugs.
The Wonders Inside Bugs & Spiders
80 pages
Silver Dolphin Books
August 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a tiny commission from your purchase.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Unlikely Disciple review

Jacket description:
"No drinking. No smoking. No cursing. No dancing. No R-rated movies. 

Kevin Roose wasn't used to rules like these. As a sophomore at Brown University, he spent his days drinking fair trade coffee, singing in an a cappella group, and generally fitting right in with Brown's free-spirited, ulta-liberal student body. But when Roose leaves his Ivy League confines to spend a semester at Liberty University, a conservative Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia, obedience is no longer optional. 

Liberty is the late Reverend Jerry Falwell's "Bible Boot Camp" for young evangelicals, his training ground for the next generation of American's Religious Right. Liberty's ten thousand undergraduates take courses like Introduction to Youth Ministry and Evangelism 101, hear from guest speakers like Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, and follow a forty-six-page code of conduct--called 'The Liberty Way'--that regulates every aspect of their social lives. Hoping to connect with his evangelical peers, Roose decides to enroll at Liberty as a new transfer student, leaping across the God Divide and chronicling his adventures in this daring report from the front lines of America's culture war.

Roose's journey takes him to an evangelical hip-hop concert, a Friday night Bible study group, and choir practice at Rev. Falwell's legendary Thomas Road Baptist Church. He experiments with prayer, participates in a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach (where he learns to preach the gospel to partying coeds), and pays a visit to Every Man's Battle, an on-campus support group for chronic masturbators. He meets pastors' kids, closet doubters, and Christian rebels, and in a twist of fate, he conducts what would turn out to be the last print interview of Rev. Falwell's life."

I picked up this book out of blatant intrigue, but was filled with doubt at what I would find. I expected a bashing of Liberty University and a mockery of their rules and conduct codes. I mean...come on, a 19 year old Brown student decides to just head to one of the most conservative colleges in the country to study it's culture? An extreme liberal going ultra conservative? What I found, was the exact opposite of what I expected. Roose wrote an incredibly mature and open-minded account of the experiences he had, the people he encountered, and the courses/rules/daily life of Liberty without the bashing I had intended to read.

I was completely swallowed up in this book from the very beginning, intrigued by why students decide to go to Liberty, just how many disagree with it's incredibly controversial founder Jerry Falwell, and the level of doubt by some of the students. One would think, having chose to go to Liberty, all of the students would be devout Christians, literally living out God's word, but plenty of them are more liberal than one would believe. And some are definite extremists.

Roose's writing is amazingly mature for his age and I truly enjoyed reading his work. I learned a lot about the culture I suppose I identify with, being a Christian, though I also learned why I would definitely not be the right fit at Liberty (though I would like to take some of the courses offered) and how much I still disagree with the teachings of Jerry Falwell. Watching the author grow into a more spiritual individual was heart warming and I really loved that he questioned constantly, throughout the entire journey. That made his experience feel real and honest.
I love, love, love this book...and not simply because I'm a Christian. This is a sociological study in cultures (which is what my Bachelor's degree happens to be in). Anyone with an interest in religion and how some Christians spend their college experiences should read this. It's interesting, funny, thought-provoking, and informative, all while being well-written and honest.

Overall rating: 5 out 5
My first 5 of the year! I can't wait to see what else Kevin Roose decides to write about in the future. Very talented!

Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University
Kevin Roose
336 pages
Adult Non-fiction
Grand Central Publishing
March 2009
Book borrowed from my library

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a tiny commission for your purchase.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Picture Book Satuday

It's been awhile since my last Picture Book Saturday and I'm hoping you're itching for some good reads (I know I was!). No theme today, just some random stories I've enjoyed over the last few weeks. Hope you find something you like!

Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer by Carol Brendler and illustrator Ard Hoyt

Winnie Finn just loves earthworms and really wants to enter them into a category at the county fair. She knows every little thing to know about the worms and thinks she can win a prize for sure. Unfortunately, there is not a category for worms at the fair and everyone she asks about it thinks she's completely silly for even considering trying to enter worms! Well, Winnie is determined to get her beloved earthworms way or another!

Got a tomboy in your life? Winnie is a such a great character, standing up for herself (and for her love of earthworms) and showing pure determination in getting her point across. A spunky, strong girl that likes to dig in the dirt and play with worms!

The illustrations are adorable and help to depict Winnie just as I would see her in my head. Cute freckles, no-nonsense clothes, and a glint in her eye. They'll easily hold a child's attention during a read aloud.
Get this one for the young girls in your life...let them know it's ok to play with dirt and bugs (and it's even fun!). Boys will enjoy it too, Winnie's story is a lot of fun and filled with a great message.

Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer
Carol Brendler
32 pages
Picture Book
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
August 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Too Purpley! by Jean Reidy and illustrator Genevieve Leloup

This one had me cracking up, because I know a few children just like our main character. She's just a tad bit picky when it comes to what she wants to's either too prickly, too itchy, too matchy, or of course, too purply! She keeps going through outfit changes until she finds something that is "so comfy!"

So cute! Each page really stands out, due to Leloup's awesome, modern illustrations and our pig-tailed main character is adorable. I loved the "too matchy" page and the look on her face during the "too feathery" page will make your kiddos giggle.

Perfect for a read aloud with toddlers. The illustrations will help teach certain words, like what stripes are, the color purple, polka dots, etc. Again, very cute!

Too Purpley!
Jean Reidy
32 pages
Picture Book
January 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Brand-New Baby Blues by Kathi Appelt and illustrator Kelly Murphy

Newbery Honor author Appelt has made me laugh with this new picture book! A sweet girl's entire world is flipped upside down when her new baby brother makes his appearance. She's no longer the center of attention and she's crying the Brand-New Baby Blues!

The illustrations are fantastic, but the story really runs this book. It's cute and rhyming, with the little girl occasionally singing the blues:

" 'Cause the good ol' days are over.
   It's official, it's the news!
   With my brand-new baby brother
   came the brand-new baby blues! "

It's adorable! Perfect as a gift for an older sibling expecting a new brother or sister or just as a fun read a loud with your family. Kathi Appelt is obviously not just talented in writing middle grade fiction!

Brand-New Baby Blues
Kathi Appelt
32 pages
Picture Book
December 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Bird Child by Nan Forler and illustrator Francois Thisdale

This is such a sweet and touching book. The topic of bullying is at the center of the story, with one girl being bullied and the other learning to find her wings and stand up to the bullies for her friend.

So beautifully written, with unique illustrations that will have you staring at the pages long after you've finished reading the words. Eliza and Lainey could be two girls in any school today, making this a realistic and discussion-provoking story.

Share with your older children and use as a jumping-off point to talk about bullying in their school.

Bird Child
Nan Forler
32 pages
Picture Book
August 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more about any of these titles, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a tiny commission from your purchase.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Some bookish news

In my resolutions for blogging in 2010, I mentioned that I wanted to share more book world news with you all. I read things every day pertaining to books, authors, release dates, etc., but never really talk about it. That's going to change! If I find out something interesting, I'm really going to try to share more with you. Today, we have a few tidbits of info, two regarding book releases (and very exciting ones!). 

Anyone remember that little Inkheart trilogy? One of my favorite books series for sure. Lyrical and magical are a couple of words that come to mind. Well, after a couple of years of waiting, author Cornelia Funke has a new book on the horizon, Reckless, which is due out September 14th. Can you say...pre-order?! Credit for that bit of news goes to PW Children's Bookshelf. No cover for that yet.

I can also thank PW Children's Bookshelf for a first look at the cover of Rick Riordan's newest title, The Red Pyramid, the first book in his new series, The Kane Chronicles. That's one I've already pre-ordered. A bit similar in concept to the Percy Jackson series, but I loved that one, so I'm really not complaining. I'm sure it will be enjoyable. This one comes out in May.

 And finally, if you've been living under a rock then you may not know that the ALA Awards are going to be announced on Monday morning (YAY!!). A lot of us librarians and book lovers are totally excited and will dorkily be watching the live stream of the announcement of the Printz, Sibert, Newbery, and Caldecott (among a bunch of others) bright and early. If you would like to join this group of self-proclaimed geeks, you can also watch the live webcast at 7:45am EST. Which for your West Coasters is verrrry early in the morning. Thanks to Abby (the) Librarian for the link.

*I am an Amazon Associate and will receive a tiny commission for any purchase you make on Amazon after linking from this blog.

The Dog in the Wood (MG review)

Jacket description:
"It is the end of April, 1945 in a small village in eastern Germany. The front is coming closer and ten-year-old Fritz knows that the Soviet Army's invasion of his family's home can be only a few days away. Grandpa Karl, a Nazi sympathizer, takes Fritz into the forest that surrounds the family farm to show him a secret. 

Under a tall pine tree, Grandpa Karl has dug a pit and covered it with branches.The hole is to hide Fritz's sister, mother, and grandmother when the Russians invade their village. Grandpa Karl is convinced that he and Fritz will defend to the death the Friedrich family. 
But when the Russian soldiers arrive, Fritz, his sister, and his mother find themselves alone. They look to Lech, a Polish farmhand, for help, but new communist policies force them off their farm and into the role of refugees. Separated from his home and eventually his family, Fritz has to find his own way in a crumbling world." 

Wow. Heavy stuff people. Powerful and haunting are some other words that come to mind. And such an important message. Debut author Monika Schroder gives us this huge novel in such a short and compact package, one that really puts the effects of war out there and makes them known, without skirting around the edges. Schroder is not subtle in her descriptions and neither is the heart of our main character, Fritz, with his love of his vegetable garden and his family and his fear of his current world.

There are  some really difficult parts, but they're truth and we can't ignore that. These things happened to people during World War II (and a lot of them are probably happening in other parts of the world as we speak), but we can't keep quiet and hide our children's eyes. We have to teach...and The Dog in the Wood would be a great companion to a unit on WWII.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Hand it to students and older tweens that love deep stories and real character connections. It's not a cheerful book, but it's a well-written one, with a very important message attached. Incredibly inspirational and discussion-provoking.

You can find more thoughts over at Becky's blog, Becky's Book Reviews.

The Dog in the Wood
Monika Schroder
192 pages
Young Adult
Front Street
November 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a tiny commission for your purchase.

Day in the Life of Lauren Kate

I have an extra-special treat for you all today! Lauren Kate, author of Fallen (which I reviewed here), has sent over some pictures, chronicling just what a day in her life is like. After looking through these, I started telling my husband that I think I really do want to write a book...if only because I'll learn to make pasta and play the acoustic guitar. Hehe...enjoy!

(I apologize in advance about some of the formatting...Blogger was not cooperating during the creation of this post!)

Good morning! It's about eight am in Los Angeles and the sun is just cresting over the east side of Laurel Canyon.

I never was a morning person until I figured out how to program this fancy coffee maker. Hard to stay in bed with a carafe of hazelnut coffee calling your name.

 One of the best parts of living in Laurel Canyon is our neighbor, Runyon Canyon. Aptly named—it a great place to go for a run. But first: stretch it out.

Goin’ Runyon. Don’t be misled by my sweatshirt. It’s just your average 75-degrees-and-sunny January day in LA.

From the trail. I usually plot out the next chapter in my head while I run. I just wish I had something scenic to look at...  

 After the jog, I head home. Time to hit the laptop.


A former writing teacher always said to eat walnuts before sitting down to write because…they look like little brains. I try not to think too hard about this as I toss a few on my cereal. 

No more procrastinating. Must make self sit down and write.  

I finished the first draft of Torment in December and am waiting on comments from my editor before I start the revision. Which means, I have time for the fun stuff! Today I’m working on a blog post about writing and cooking for


 Fashionable attire is essential when you work at home alone.


We moved into this house six weeks ago, but we’ve been out of town for four of them…which means there is still mucho unpacking to be done. When your husband is a musician and you’re a writer, the amount of books and music you acquire can make your head spin.  


So I say: What better way to force yourself to unpack than to host a dinner party? I tell Jason I’ll do the cooking if he’ll tackle that messy heap of boxes. He goes for it.


The friends coming over just got engaged, so an executive decision is made to bust out the pasta maker. The first time we made our own pasta, it turned into a dough football. This attempt looks a little more promising. 


Whoops, we had so much fun at dinner, I forgot to take any pictures. Here’s the aftermath!


Then, we retire to the sitting room.

The newly-engaged friends convince Jason to sing the song he played at our wedding. It’s the first time I’ve heard it since right before we cut into our wedding cake and I feel just as swoony as I did then.  


I loathe doing dishes. This grin is just for the camera.  


It’s the end of the day. Here’s what’s in my bedside reading stack these days. The green thing on top is the shiny new kindle Jason got me for Christmas. I love it!  


As my dad always says, that’s all she wrote. Good night and thanks for spending the day with me!

 Hope you enjoyed that! Wasn't it nice for Lauren to stop by? And don't you want to learn how to make pasta now? Yum!

The blog tour continues over at The Children's Book review today. Go check it out!