Thursday, December 7, 2017

Bet you didn't know! - a review

A few days ago I suggested a possible holiday gift for the youth services librarian on your list.  Today I have a suggestion for a child - especially if you know a curious child who is a reluctant reader. Of course, this book would be a great purchase for any school or public library, too. *

Bet you didn't know!: Fascinating, Far-out, Fun-tastic Facts
National Geographic Kids, 2017

A teacher used to seek my advice whenever her class was prepping for the annual "academic bowl," which pitted schools against each other, and was difficult to prep for because of the random, Jeopardy-like questions.  I always supplied books similar to Bet you didn't know!: Fascinating, Far-out, Fun-tastic Facts.  They are entertaining as well as educational.

Although many books in this genre are similar, I like this one for the following reasons:

  • It's big—192 pages and more than 12" in size.
  • It has an index.  It's fun to browse randomly, but sometimes you just need to quickly find the page number for a particular fact.
  • You can always count on National Geographic books to have excellent photographs.
  • The categories within the book (there are more than 80) were chosen specifically for their kid-appeal factor, e.g., "Dolphin Facts to Flip Over," "Fiery Facts about Dragons".
  • It's very current.  The "What's the Difference" category even discusses the difference between macaroons and macarons. 
 My favorite section is "Page-Turning Facts About Books."  Among the ten bookish facts is this little-known gem,

"J.K. Rowling considered calling the final Harry Potter book Harry Potter and the Elder Wand."

 The publisher's suggested age range for this book is 8-12.  If you decide to purchase a copy, consider your local independent book store.

 From the publisher:

"BIG, packed with gorgeous photos and illustrations and guaranteed to keep kids occupied for hours and hours, Bet You Didn’t Know is the perfect holiday gift for the fact-lover or for your kid’s favorite teacher’s classroom. Did you know that the first stop signs were black and white? Or that a litter of kittens is called a kindle? Or that butterflies can see more colors than humans can?  Based on a favorite department in Nat Geo Kids magazine, this book is overflowing with fascinating facts, silly stats, and catchy little knowledge nuggets in all kinds of cool categories, from astronomy and sea creatures to revolutions and breakfast. Special features include Extreme Weirdness, Strange Places, Wacky World, and more."

Note: My copy of Bet you didn't know! was supplied by the book's publicist.

*As always, I make no promises that I will review books that I receive, and I receive no remuneration for books that I review for my blog.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Lit - a review

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult
Written and read by Bruce Handy
HighBridge Audio, 2017

Some unsolicited gift advice for you today. 🎁

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Wild Things for AudioFile Magazine

Usually, I'm a proponent of using your local library, however, if your holiday gift list includes a youth services librarian, you might want to buy this one!

Click any of the links to read my review of this Earphones Award winner in AudioFile Magazine

Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Brigadista Year - an audiobook review

My Brigadista Year
by Katherine Paterson
Read by Frankie Corzo
Brilliance Audio, 2017

In 1961, following the Cuban Revolution, Cuba was largely populated by illiterate, rural farmers. Whatever may be your thoughts on Fidel Castro and the often brutal results of the revolution, it is difficult to be unimpressed by Castro's Literacy Campaign, one of his first initiatives. Using hundreds of thousands of young volunteers, he embarked on a one-year plan to bring literacy to the entire country.  Most of the volunteers were young, teenage girls from Havana and other large cities, who traveled to rural areas to live and work with farming families by day, and educate them by night. Amazingly, he succeeded. My Brigadista Year is a fictionalized, epistolary account of one volunteer.

Note: The current literacy rate in Cuba is 99.8%, according to the CIA World Factbook, and Cuba continues to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Reliable, current statistics on the US literacy rates are not readily available.

Below, author Katherine Paterson discusses her book.

My copy of My Brigadista Year was provided by AudioFile Magazine. *Edited to add video(oops).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Everybody's Somewhere - a review

Everybody's Somewhere
by Cornelia Maude Spelman
Illustrated by Alea Marley
Quarto, 2017

Everybody's Somewhere is a rhyming concept book that explores a sense of self and place. Global in scope and culture, the cheerful artwork in bright but softly muted tones,shows a wide variety of children and adults from a wide variety of settings and locations—a city, a farm, a person in a wheelchair, campers, a soldier, and more.
Each of us is somewhere
Here or there.

Each of us is someone
In our own somewhere.

This is a fine choice for storytime. (Read it first so as not to stumble over the rhyme.)

My copy of Everybody's Somewhere was provided by the publisher at my request.  It will be donated to the preschool where I read it this morning. The teacher was quite taken with it and loved the illustrations. 😊 The kids enjoyed it, too!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mouse - a review

by Zebo Ludvicek
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2017

A mouse with a cherry meets the letter M.
May I have a bite?
"A bite? Absolutely not!" replied Mouse.
May I PLEASE have a bite?
"All right. One bite." agreed Mouse.
Sadly for the mouse, the M's bite is rather large, and the mouse is left without a cherry.  The kindly M feels remorse and offers himself as a snack for the hungry mouse.  Mouse nibbles so much, that M, is soon an N.  And when Mouse sleepily climbs upon the N for naptime,  N tips over and becomes a Z.   And so it goes.  M transforms into several letters as the two become friends over their shared experiences and Mouse attempts to return his new friend to his original state.

Author and illustrator, Zebo Ludvicek, makes impressive use of white space and a minimal color palette to highlight the very expressive Mouse and his transformational letter friend.  Mouse's dialogue is in red italicized typeface; M is actually a part of his dialogue, complete with eyes, eyebrows, and mouth.  Some illustrations are double-spreads, but it is the large, single-page images of the mutually adoring friends that will win your heart.

Although the specified age range for this book is 3–5, I read this book to a group of first graders before their lunch.  (Older children often get so much more out of picture books.) After lunch, several of the kids clamored for me to read it again!

Look for Mouse on a shelf near you in a few days. 

My Advance Reader Copy was provided by the publisher at my request.

Note: See if you can read this book without thinking of The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood. Both mice are so winsome, yet fiercely protective of their fruit! 😊

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sticks 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones - a blog tour and book giveaway

 (An Unhinged History Book)
By Ted Enik
Illustrated by G.F. Newland
Schiffer, 2017

Welcome to Day #5 of the Sticks ‘n’ Stones Blog Tour

To celebrate the release of Sticks ‘n’ Stones ‘n’ Dinosaur Bones, written by Ted Enik and illustrated by G.F. Newland, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content about this humorous tall tale and giving away chances to win a copy of Sticks ‘n’ Stones ‘n’ Dinosaur Bones.  Below, you can find today's Rafflecopter giveaway and the location of other blog tour sites.

From the publisher:
This first book in Ted Enik and G.F Newland's "Unhinged History" series is a ripping yarn - full of adventure and deceit - that brings to life the best-known public spat in all of paleontology: the bitter rivalry between Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh that became known as "The Bone Wars." Lively and witty rhymes plus beautifully demented illustrations by Newland reveal how the paleontologists' infamous rivalry began and how their mutual obsession with outdoing and ruining one another spun out of control.
Here's my takeaway on the book:

Stick 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones is what I usually characterize as a picture book for older readers.  This one is unique in that it can appeal on several levels.  It's Seussian, sing-song nature and humorous illustrations will entertain even children too young to understand the book's overall concept.  It will attract kids interested in paleontology—and aren't all kids interested in paleontology at some point? And finally, it's useful in introducing the subject of information literacy.

Here's how:

The crazy one-upmanship and outright lies of Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh may be fodder for laughs and entertainment, but it's useful to point out that belief in outlandish claims is nothing new in American history.  One need only look to today's internet, television, and newspaper articles to see rampant and competing claims of "fake news!"  What's an educated news consumer to believe?

Sticks 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones can be an educational or cautionary tale about the need to investigate news sources and shun sensationalism.  Remember, the "Bone Wars" was not the only time that a gullible populace has fallen for exaggerated, overblown, or downright false claims. Jim Murphy's book, The Giant and how he Humbugged America (Scholastic, 2012) and Candace Fleming's The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum (Schwartz & Wade, 2009), are two stellar books for older readers that spotlight the gullibility of the general public and the great lengths that people will take to exploit it.

I can't wait to see what topic will be tackled next in the "Unhinged History" series.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Schedule of Blog Tour
November 8: Books My Kids Read
November 10: Kid Lit 411
November 11: Shelf Employed
November 12: Frog on a Blog

From the publisher:
About the Author
Ted Enik has worked as an illustrator for most of the well-known New York publishing houses, applying his versatility to both original art as well as classic and current children’s book characters, including the Magic School Bus, the Eloise books, and the popular “Fancy Nancy I Can Read” series. This is the first picture book Ted has authored. It was first published in 2013 by Pixel Mouse House, New York, and honored as a Finalist in the American Book Fest’s 2014 Best Children’s Nonfiction and a Finalist in American Book Fest’s 2014 International Book Award for Best Children’s Nonfiction. Learn more about his books at and his illustration at
About the Illustrator
G.F. Newland is a part-time illustrator and the systems administrator at the School of Visual Arts, New York, NY. His doodles have found their way onto buttons, bags, posters, and T-shirts, and have been published by Scholastic, Hachette, and Pixel Mouse House. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and a pet fish named Enki. Visit his website at

My copy of Sticks 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones was provided by the publisher.

Note: This book trailer was created by a previous publisher.

Friday, November 3, 2017

They Didn't Teach This in Worm School - a review

They Didn't Teach This in Worm School! : One Worm's Tale of Survival
by Simone Lia

The publisher's description accurately captures the spirit of this book.
A hungry chicken (who thinks he’s a flamingo) and a quick-thinking worm set off on a madcap adventure — and forge an unlikely friendship.

Published first in the UK, it has a definite feel of British humor, which I enjoy.  I often think that we, as Americans, take ourselves too seriously.  Canadians and Brits definitely have a quirkier funny bone, and it is on full display in They Didn't Teach This in Worm School.  When Marcus and Laurence set off on their adventure, the goal is to find Africa so that Laurence can unite with his "fellow" flamingos.  Along the way, they become convinced that they've found France because of the many "Eiffel Towers" that they encounter.
Source: OpenClipart
Marcus and Laurence take this all in stride, even the fact that no one in "France" seems to speak French.  Things go poorly and, aided by some local worms, they narrowly escape with their lives, prompting Marcus to remark,

     I was really glad to have met these French worms.
     They were really kind and helpful.
     I liked them, even though they were weirdos.
Their adventures continue in a similar zany vein until eventually, all is sorted out, and the two have become fast friends despite their disparate interests.

My Advance Reader Copy was of one color, but the finished book with have two-color illustrations like this sample page:

Every page is illustrated to some degree, and there are occasional double-spread images throughout. Simone Lia's illustrations bear some resemblance to those of Sara Varon, but have more straight-up humor and none of Varos' pathos.

They Didn't Teach This in Worm School is a perfect choice for readers with a quirky sense of humor who won't mind a rather heavy-handed dose of ethics on the friendship front.

Look for this on a shelf near you in February, or pre-order it now.

My copy of They Didn't Teach This in Worm School was provided by LibraryThing's Early Reviewers.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Bad Seed - a review

The Bad Seed
By Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
Harper, 2017

The Bad Seed was once a happy seed in a lovely sunflower. Could he help it that he was harvested for a bag of sunflower seeds and later spat out under the bleachers at the baseball game? It's no wonder he became bad!

Too often, I hear of "the bad kid" in school or even preschool! Preschool and elementary school children are way too young to be written off as "bad seeds."

I hope that The Bad Seed will remind us of three important things: not everyone is bad all the time; there is a reason for bad behavior; people can change. As the Bad Seed says,

"And even though I still feel bad, sometimes,
I also feel kind of good.
It's sort of a mix.
All I can do is keep trying."
The illustrations are funny and wonderfully expressive. If you work with children, share The Bad Seed.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Death on the River of Doubt - an audiobook review

Death on the River of Doubt
By Samantha Seiple
Read by David de Vries

Modern presidents usually retire to enjoy family and do charitable works.  Theodore Roosevelt was unusual even in his day. Small and sickly as a child, he became a fearless outdoorsman.  After his presidency, despite his advancing age, he accepted a dangerous mission to survey an uncharted Brazilian river with a team of Brazilian and American explorers and cartographers.

Relying heavily on the journals of the explorers, Samantha Seiple tells a riveting true story of the exploration of the river that now bears his name.  i listened to the audio version, but I'm sure it's equally entertaining in print.

Generally listed as a YA nonfiction title, this is also suitable for older middle school readers. Adults will find it interesting as well.  In audio book format, it's a brisk 3.5 hours.

I recently reviewed this book for AudioFile Magazine. You can read my complete review at AudioFile Magazine. []

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rise of the Jumbies - a review

Rise of the Jumbies
by Tracey Baptiste
Algonquin Young Readers, 2017

Rise of the Jumbies is the second book in a new fantasy series,uniquely set within the culture of the Caribbean islands. It introduces the reader to the rich and sometimes frightening folk tales of the Caribbean islands and Africa.

      "There are more children missing," Mrs. Ramdeen said.  "Three of them, all of them lost by water.  The sea, the river, and now the well."  Her voice carried over the sounds of the market.  People dropped the produce they were buying to watch and listen.  Mrs. Chow tried unsuccessfully to hold back a sob.
     "Children fall into danger all the time," the witch said.  "Especially by the water."
     "But three in less than a day?" Mrs. Ramdeen asked.
     "Coincidence," the witch said, shrugging.  She looked pointedly at Corinne and pursed her lips as if she was waiting for something.
     Corinne swallowed.  "Could it be a jumbie?"
Through the adventures of  Corinne, the series' spunky protagonist who is half jumbie herself, the reader will meet the wily head of the mermaids, Mama D'Leau, and many more magical beings.  Some may be helpful if one is careful, like the land-loving, Papa Bois and the local white witch. Some will cause only evil.

Corinne and her friends travel with mermaids to Africa to unravel mysteries that may free the children of her village who have been trapped under the sea. They will meet danger and deception at every turn.

I suggest starting with the first book in the series, The Jumbies, to better familiarize yourself with the culture and the large cast of characters.

Can't get enough of jumbies?  Learn more.
Not having read the first book in the series, I wish I would have seen this first.  It, and the field guide below, would have been helpful.

Watch the trailer for the first book in the series, The Jumbies.

 My copy of Rise of the Jumbies was provided by the publisher at my request.