June 10, 2013

Lizzie Nonsense by Jan Ormerod

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:27 am by suebe2

Lizzie Nonsense
by Jan Ormerod
AR 3.2

The little church where Mama and Papa got married is far away from their little house in the bush.  In fact, town is so distant that when Papa has to go to there to sell a load of sandalwood, he is gone for weeks at a time.  Fortunately, Lizzie has a great imagination to keep her occupied until Papa gets home.

Mama just calls it Lizzie nonsense.  But Lizzie’s “nonsense” keeps her going as they haul water to water the garden and give baby a bath, Mama cleans the house and they do the mending.  When Mama chases a snake out from under the rug, Lizzie declares that she is the bravest Mama in the whole world.

“Nonsense!” says Mama.

But Lizzie isn’t the only one with an imagination.  On Sundays, she and Mama put on their very best clothes.  With baby in the carriage, they walk the track and return home, pretending that they were able to go to church.

One morning the see a cloud of dust and hear the jangle of tack, it can only mean one thing.  At long last, Papa has come home.   They rush out to meet him before the whole family returns to their little house.

The story is fiction but with a lot of information about pioneer life in Australia.  This would be a great book for young readers who have read about American wagon trains, little log cabins or dugouts.  A wealth of information, such as the look of the house, their clothes and the local wildlife comes in through Ormerod’s watercolor paintings which depict Australia’s wilderness in a gentle glow.    Page back through and look at the art work, picking out kookaburra and kangaroos, dingos and some little creature with a prehensile tail like an opossum.

A quiet, gentle book about bravery, imagination and family.  Sadly, it seems to be out-of-print here in the US.  Look for it in library collections or through used bookstores if you won’t want to order it from overseas.  It is definitely a book you should have on your shelves.





May 23, 2013

A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:06 am by suebe2

A Place for Bats
by Melissa Stewart,
illustrated by Higgins Bond
AR 5.0

Mention bats and you get one of two reactions from people.  Cool! or Eww!

I learned I wasn’t alone in thinking they’re awesome on a Scout camp out when I spotted them zipping around the campsite, gobbling up mosquitoes.  When another Mom asked me what I was looking at, I just shrugged.  “Oh, I thought you might have seen the bats. They’re awesome.”

And they are. Bats pollinate crops (including mangoes), keep pests down, and are part of the food chain for other predators.

Unfortunately, we do many things that can harm bats.  In addition to pesticides, Stewarts book taught me that even wind turbines can be harmful.  It isn’t because the bats fly into them, but the difference in air pressure actually causes blood vessels to burst.  Eww!

Don’t think this is one of those gloom and doom books.  Stewart peppers the text with ways that people can help the bats who live around them.

The text is composed of a short main text that gives information on how we share our environment with bats.  There is also a sidebar for each spread that talks about a specific type of bat, such as an Indiana Bat or a Western Red Bat, and how it’s struggle to survive can be helped by simple steps taken by caring humans.

Bond’s acrylic paintings show an amazing amount of detail ranging from the finger bones in a Mexican Free-Tailed Bats wings to the amazing ears on the Virginia Big-Eared Bat.

I have been fascinated by bats since I was little and my grandfather would walk me into the mines where I would see wee tiny figures clinging to the walls.  Whenever I’m in a cave, I look for bats.  And I’ve learned where to spot them in the roofs at Scout camps or soaring around bill boards lit along the highways.

Share this with the young nature lover in your life and spend your evening searching for the swooping, diving figures of the bats that share our world.




May 13, 2013

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:53 am by suebe2

Looking for Alaska
by John Green
AR 5.8

At 16 years-old, Miles Halter’s life has been safe and more than a little bit boring.  He’s an excellent student but he has no real friends and his life hold no adventure.  Miles’ one hobby is collecting the last words of famous people; this hobby is the one reason that he likes to read biographies.  How can you have great words of any kind if you’ve never lived?

Miles transfers to Culver Creek Boarding School where his father went to school.  The school in rural Alabama is a world apart from his comfortable Florida home.  The majority of the students may be wealthy teens who live there only during the week, but the dorms are unairconditioned even in the worst of the summer heat. The night before classes start, Miles is snatched from his room, mummified in duct-tape and tossed into the lake.  He manages to free himself and his roommate helps him plot a prank to get even.

Miles soon finds that the classes at Culver Stockton are much more difficult than his old school so a lot of time is spent studying.  His remaining time is spent in planning pranks with his roommate, a brilliant scholarship student and a gorgeous girl named Alaska.

And then something happens that changes their lives forever.

I can’t tell much more about the actual plot without completely spoiling it.  This book is true YA.  There is alcohol (a lot) and there is sex (two or three scenes).

That said, this is a very powerful book about friendship and trying to find meaning in the meaningless things that happen every day, some having almost no impact at all and some changing more than anyone could possibly imagine.  Themes of responsibility, guilt, love and forgiveness pull it all together.

While the reading level is well within the range of a middle schooler, I’m not sure a younger reader would be as interested in this as an early young adult.





April 1, 2013

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:26 am by suebe2

My Life Next Door
by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Dial Books
AR 4.4

Samantha has lived next door to the Garrett’s for years.  The Garrett’s are a big, boisterous family with a yard full of toys and a house full of love.  Unfortunately, all Samantha’s mother sees is the disorder.  Disorder has no place in the life of her mother, the Senator.  The woman is so “orderly” that she actually vacuums her way out of the house to keep from leaving tracks on the carpet.

But outside Samantha’s second story bedroom window is a the perfect vantage place on the roof.  Perfect for watching the stars.  Perfect too for watching the Garrett’s from a safe, envious distance.

Little does Samantha know that one of the Garrett’s has been watching her right back and one day he invites himself up the trellis to say hello.  Before she knows it, Samantha is spending almost every day with the Garretts, slipping back home right before her mother walks through the front door and sometimes sneaking off again at night.  It doesn’t take long before she’s in love with Jase Garrett and his family too.

I know I fell for the Garrett’s and fell hard.  My favorite may very well be worry wart George — a preschooler who gathers facts the way some kids pick up interesting rocks.  Unfortunately, he not only gathers them, he worries about them from black holes and tornadoes to blue ring octopus and whether or not bacon comes from Wilbur.

I can’t say a whole lot more without giving away plot that you must discover on your own.

Admittedly, I initially thought I had stumbled across a piece of chick lit.  Samantha and Jase are two beautiful people madly in love.  Sure, Samantha’s mother is a controlling loon but she’s a rich controlling loon and Samantha actually has it pretty easy even if she does have to listen to her mother’s lectures about bad choices resulting in a tough life.  Mom loves to deliver this lecture whenever she sees the Garretts and their many children.

But then Samantha begins to spot imperfections in the lives of those around here and I don’t mean the Garretts.   Soon she’s wonders how long she’s been lying to herself about people she’s known her entire life.

Yes, the book has a 4.4 reading level (4th grade, 4th month) but this is not a book for the grade school crowd.  These characters ultimately deal with drugs, alcohol, sex and a felony (I won’t say what because, again, I simply refuse to spoil this plot).    Everything that happens on screen is fairly mild so this book would be okay for a middle schooler but, again, not a grade schooler.

There’s a lot that goes on here but it would still be a good summer read.  There is tons of humor (oh, thank you, George) but enough substance to make you want to continue reading.  Fitzpatrick has created a book that deals with personal responsibility and appearances and is a must read for teens dealing with both in a society that emphasizes how you look to far too great an extent, over who you are and how you treat those around you.


March 28, 2013

Sophie’s Fish by A. E. Cannon, illustrated by Lee White

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:47 am by suebe2

Sophie’s Fish
by A. E. Cannon,
illustrated by Lee White
AR 1.7

When Sophie asks Jake to watch her fish when she goes out of town, Jake doesn’t hesitate to say yes.  After all, how hard can it be to take care of one little fish?

But as he waits for Sophie and her fish, Jake starts to worry.  Do fish need special food, special bed time stories and special comfort?  In short order, he’s not at all sure that he’s the man for the task.  By the time Sophie shows up with her fish bowl in her wagon, Jake has worked himself into a frenzy.  Fish are so small and fragile.  What if he messes up?

Author A. E. Cannon and illustrator Lee White work together to take full advantage of the picture book format.  The text is short — at only 370 words — yet we get a good look at who Jake and Sophie are.  Jake wants to help other people, but, like a lot of us, he isn’t 100% secure.    White’s illustrations, which seem to involve collage, build on this picture of Jake by giving us a small boy with big glasses who has a tendency to look surprised and more than a bit pensive, and that’s on a good day.

You’re going to have to read this to get the full perspective on Sophie’s personality because there’s no way I can give you a clue who what kind of kid she is without also giving away the twist that ends this book.  Suffice it to say — Funny stuffy!

This one would make a good read aloud for one child or a group.  You could also use it as a talking point for discussions on responsibility, friendship and even worry.

Share this one with the young reader in your life today!


March 25, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 3:23 am by suebe2

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
AR 2.9

Ari is cruising through summer vacation, just kicking back and taking things easy.  He wishes Mom would get off his back but she’s worried that he doesn’t have any close friends.  He decides to make her happy, and cool off from the desert heat, by going to the pool.  If someone speaks to Ari, he responds but he generally doesn’t seek out other people.  He likes his own company and has taught himself the basics of swimming — how to stay afloat and move from place to place.   Then another fifteen year-old who offers to teach him how to swim and soon he has a friend, Dante.

Both of them are Mexican American, growing up in El Paso, Texas in the late 1980s.  But neither one of them feels truly Mexican.  They speak the language — a little.  They like the food and some of the art.  But their names?  Aristotle and Dante?  Neither one is even remotely Mexican.  Dante is an artist, who loves to draw, who is also a top notch swimmer.  Ari is just kind of drifting through life.  He has three older siblings although all he knows about his older brother is that he is in prison.  His parents and twin older sister clam up whenever he asks any questions.

With Dante, he has finally discovered someone he can laugh with, hang around with and just be himself.  Sure, sometimes he annoys Dante, but Dante annoys him too.  Still, they get over it.  Isn’t that what friends do?

Then a storm comes and hail covers the ground.  Before Dante can move out of the street, a car careens around the corner.  The last thing Ari remembers before waking up in the hospital is yelling Dante’s name.

I have to admit that I’m worried about already giving away too much of the plot in this amazing book.  You know its going to be relevant to where we as a society are now.  How do you know that?  It won the American Book Award and the winners of that particular award always deal with topics straight from today’s headline news.    It is also the 2013 winner of the Pura Belpre Award which is given each year by the American Library Association to a Latin American author who has created a work that depicts that Latino experience.

Don’t let the reading level fool you.   This is not a book for the grade school set.  Not that it is gory or graphic, but it probably wouldn’t interest an 8 or 9 year-old.  These characters are teens and this is, after all, their story.

Whether or not you are Latino, or even Latina, pick up this book.  Admittedly, I was hooked by the setting.  It isn’t every day that you find a book set in El Paso, Texas.  But this is a story about identity and family and secrets and growing into ourselves and being comfortable in our own skins.  It is about living and laughing and loving.

Share this book with the young reader in your life.  Give it the opportunity to spark an amazing discussions about the universe and our place in it.



March 21, 2013

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:13 am by suebe2

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom
by Christopher Healy
Walden Pond Press
AR 5.0

Everyone knows that Prince Charming is tall, astonishingly handsome, tenderly romantic, and in control of absolutely every situation.

Except for those times when he’s not.

Sometimes Prince Charming is a clothes horse whose afraid of his own shadow.  Other times, he’s the dopey little guy who would follow a bunny off a cliff, assuming of course that the bunny was that dim.  Then there are those days where he’s big,  bad tempered and more than a tiny bit sarcastic.

Then there are those days where the hero isn’t even male and the princess saves herself.

Apparently, the bards aren’t particularly good at getting the details right.  They just want to put together a catchy number that will get everyone singing and tapping their toes, and that’s what starts the whole problem.

Four different princes feature in four different ballads but they are all astonished that the girls get top billing.  Perhaps most astonished of all is Prince Liam who rescued Sleeping Beauty.  She may be a sight to behold but she’s got a tongue that could cut diamonds.  Everyone knows about her and her infamous temper but they still believe all the awful things she says about him.

Think of this book as a buddy movie set in a fantasy kingdom with giants, dragons, trolls and a very wicked witch.  The four heroes want to prove to everyone, including themselves and the ladies in question, that they really do have what it takes to be heroes.  Unfortunately, this is going to require working together which takes a few tries to get right.  

There isn’t much I can say about the plot without giving something away.  Suffice it to say, with these four goof balls adventuring together, there was bound to be funny and Healy delivers.

Pick this one up expecting humor and adventure in equal portions.  It might be a bit daunting for a reluctant reader given that there are so many characters but it is a fun, fast-paced read.   Middle graders will identify with the characters who can’t be everything that is expected of them, no matter how hard they try.


March 18, 2013

Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:15 am by suebe2

Noah Webster and His Words
by Jeri Chase Ferris,
illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
AR 5.2

“Noah Webster always knew he was right, and he never got tired of saying so (even if, sometimes, he wasn’t).”

So begins Ferris’ picture book biography of Noah Webster of dictionary fame.

Because I “know” Ferris through an online writer’s community, I’d heard about this one long before it came out, and I wondered.  How on earth could you hook children and make them want to read about the guy who wrote the dictionary?

Well, like that apparently.   And what better way to start?   Every kid on earth knows someone like this. Sometimes the person is another kid.  Embarrassingly often, it is an adult.  And just to make good ol’ Noah Webster seem a bit more like a swelled head, that ‘s how illustrator Vincent X. Kirsch depicts him on the very first page, as a guy with an enormous head.  In fact, this head takes up so  much space that the words actually appear on Noah’s face.

This probably wouldn’t be enough to hold a reader for long and Ferris moves on to even more Webster facts with which a child could identify.  He did not like working on the farm and he’s rather be doing his own thing.  Not every child lives on a farm, but they know what its like to want to do one thing while Mom or Dad wants you to do another.

The dictionary wasn’t Webster’s first accomplishment.  As a teacher, he wished that there were American school books for his students to use.  Before he published anything else, he wrote the “blue-backed speller,” a speller bound in blue.   He is responsible for spelling “plow” vs the English “plough” and helping Americans settle on one spelling for the ever-confusing mosquito.   Then he wrote a grammar book and a reading book, and six more school books before working on the dictionary that would take him to Europe to visit the great libraries of Cambridge, London and Paris.  He wanted to pull in not only American words like tomahawk but also words from other texts which required him to read in Welsh, Italian and even Arabic.

Kirsch’s illustrations combine ink, water color and pencil.  The illustrations include numerous loopy squiggles (see the books in the cover above) that look a lot like writing but others also include words in a similar loopy hand.   Ferris adds to the fun word play by incorporating dictionary-like definitions into the text.  Throughout the book, Ferris also emphasizes how Webster’s work helped knit the United States together as a nation.

This wouldn’t be the picture book for younger readers but share it with the elementary school book lover in your own life, or even an author or teacher with a patriotic spirit.



March 11, 2013

If the World Were a Village by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:56 am by suebe2

If the World Were a Village
by David J. Smith,
illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
AR 5.0
Kids Can Press

The fact of the matter is that a lot of realities are hard to visualize and this is especially true in any discussion that involves large numbers.  People just can’t wrap their minds around the reality of what they are hearing.

To make this easier, at least in terms of various situations concerning the people of the world, Smith has created a global village of 100.  Using this global village as an example, he discusses:

  • How many people live in the various geographic regions from Africa to the Americas.
  • What languages the people of the world speak.
  • How old we are.
  • What religions we celebrate.
  • And much, much more.

Not every picture books makes for a great bed time story and this is definitely one of those books.  It is meant for older readers, to be used as a teaching tool to make various facts about the people who live in this world more understandable.   How do we use our energy?   How much food is there and who eats what?  What resources do we each have access to?

As a teaching tool, this book is invaluable for how it breaks down a vast amount of data into an understandable form.

Shelagh Armstrong’s illustrations show the groupings of various peoples as well as the few isolated souls out there on their own.  Her acrylic paintings bring the ideas to life but are abstract enough to keep people thinking and wondering just a bit.

This book is part of the CitizenKid series which is designed to help children learn more about the world in which they live while also becoming better global citizens.  Pick up this book and consider sharing the ideas in it with the young reader in your life today.



March 7, 2013

The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:50 am by suebe2

The Prairie Thief
by Melissa Wiley
Margaret K. McElderry
AR 5.4

Louisa Brody knows her papa is no thief.  She knows it for a fact.

But she can’t deny that their neighbor’s hatchet, pocket watch and china doll were found in the abandoned dugout on their farm either.  And that’s all it takes to get the sheriff to haul Papa off to jail.  Louisa can’t stay on the isolated farm by herself (Mama died when Louisa was hardly more than a baby) so she’s taken in by Mr. Smirch, the very man who sent for the sheriff.

Their little cabin might not have been perfect, but Louisa soon learns that not every family is a loving place to grow up.  Mr. Smirch is kind enough, in a gruff way, but he doesn’t interfer when his wife thunks Louisa on top of the head with a metal ladle.  Their little boys are no better, constantly telling Louisa that they know her Papa is going to hang.  Louisa knows they are just repeating their mama’s words but she doesn’t understand why the woman is so mean.

The only bright spot at the Smirch home is Jessamine, a cousin who was forced to move in with the family when her own parents and brother died.  She and Louisa quickly become friends and allies even as they search for the wee little man that Jessamine saw disappearing into the hazel grove.

On a brief trip back to her family cabin, Louisa discovers that several items are missing.  She knows this should be enough evidence to save Papa but how will she make it to town, 13 miles away, across the prairie?

Fleeing from Mrs. Smirch one dark night, Louisa finds out who has taken everything and why he has hidden it in the dugout.  The only problem is that like her Mama, she has promised to keep his existence a secret.  Will she find a way to prove Papa is innocent without breaking her promise?

Wiley has created a fun story full of old world magic and charm.   I loved the way the old stories come to life amid a new world of tricksters (coyotes) and fleet footed prong horn.

If the story seems a bit slow initially, be patient.  As soon as Louisa decided to escape from the Smirch’s things start moving at a much faster pace.

In Louisa, Wiley has created a character that young girls will love. She’s smart, she’s compassionate and she’s up for the adventure of a life time.  This story combines mystery, fantasy and a satisfying story of family and friendship.

Why not share it aloud with the young book lover in your life?



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