Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 1

In this sequel to the hit Nickelodeon series we get to see where Aang and his friends have been up to. During the story the crew heads to an island to celebrate an airbender holiday with Aang's new disciples. Unfortunately the island has become the site of a major mining operation that threatens to destroy the island.

This story is geared towards fans of the television series and most newcomers will have a difficult time understanding the group dynamics. However, for someone who has seen the entire series, this was an interesting look at where the characters are now.

I was a little disappointed that the story wasn't longer as I wanted to learn more about their new world but all in all it wasn't bad. The authors managed to keep the characters personalities intact through their dialogue and views on the mining operation. The artwork is also consistent with images fans will remember from the Nickelodeon series.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and Dark Horse Publishing in exchange for and honest review.

This comic book came out on March 18th, 2014 and is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"E Squared" by Pam Grout

So I've been reading this book, "E squared" by Pam Grout, about how there is this force out there that we just have to tap into to change our lives and the world. It contains nine experiments to prove that this field exists. The first one is simply suspending ones disbelief and saying (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Hey, field. I need some proof that you exist. Not just a nudge or something I can pass off as coincidence but some real proof. And hey, you've got 48 hours starting now." then you go about really looking for signs during that time frame. Simple enough.

At any rate I gave it a shot, starting at 08:48 A.M. on Oct 5 and ending at 08:48 A.M. on Oct 7, and here are my results. About 15 hours later a gal I work with pulled up in front of my truck, jumped out and gave me a chocolate bar, not a Hershey's bar (which, by the way, I'm not a huge fan of) but a 70% dark chocolate bar with chili's and a bit of orange. Something I never would have bought for my self because I have a hard time paying more than a buck for something I'm not sure I will like. But it was totally delicious and very cool to get random chocolate (thanks Teresa!).

Fast forward about another 12 hours and I'm stopped at a rest area because my bladder can't handle the amount of Monsters I've drank, and I find a colorful leather bracelet sitting by the sink. My first inclination was to find who it belonged to because it was small, possibly a child's. So I took it outside, looked around and there were no children in the rest area. I put it back thinking someone would be back for it and then started thinking, someones probably going to come in and just toss it, and I bet my daughter would like this and the owner probably isn't going to come all the way back for it before it gets chucked.

During that 48 hours I also hit one lane construction just as they were letting my side through, saw a couple of coyotes, got a brisket sandwich and chips from another one of my co-workers (Thanks Jeff!),  got a call that payroll had finally corrected the amount they were deducting for health insurance, and just had a really great couple of days.

So to conclude, whether there's a field I jacked into or whether I just noticed good things because I was looking for them, it doesn't really matter, the experiment worked. I had a lot of fun and am looking forward to trying more of the experiments.

Oh, and by the way, I told my 7 year old about it, so she gave it a shot. This morning one of our neighbors brought us a giant box of walnuts and the first thing my daughter said was. "The universe brought me walnuts, do I like walnuts?" Turns out she does!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Review: El Deafo

El Deafo is the story of a young girl, Cece, who comes down with meningitis and loses most of her hearing. At first she feels very lonely because she can't hear anyone and even with the hearing aids she has a hard time understanding what people are saying. Her friends don't understand her and think it's funny when she gets words wrong. For a while Cece goes to a school with other deaf kids but eventually her parents move and she has to go back to a regular school. For her new school, Cece gets a hearing aid that's connected to a microphone that the teacher wears and begins to think of herself as a super hero when she can hear the teacher even when she's not in the room. Unfortunately she still feels lonely and different from everyone else, and likens herself to Batman who has to hide who he is to fit in.

Author Cece Bell did a wonderful job of capturing what it was like to grow up hearing impared. The situations are believable and pulled me into little Cece's world.

The artwork is cute and the frames of the comic are very easy to read and understand. Children around 6-10 I think would connect with this book the best, though I enjoyed the brief sample as well.

It's important for children to be able to connect with people who are different and realize that their own differences are what makes them unique and special. Each child has something about themselves that they believe sets them apart and seeing that it can be a strength rather than an undesirable quality is part of growing up and accepting who we are.

El Deafo comes out on September 2nd and is available now for pre-order in paperback, hardback and for the kindle on

I received a free sample of El Deafo through and Amulet Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book Review: Totem

Totem, by Jennifer Maruno, follows a young boy as he runs away from one of Canada's residential boarding schools for First Nations or Aboriginal children.

Jonny Joe has been living at Redemption Residential school for as long as he can remember. Despite how long he's been there Jonny doesn't really fit in, it's a native school and he's the only white boy. When summer break comes along all the other boys get sent home to be with their families, except for Jonny, being an orphan he spends his summers right there at Redemption Residential.

This year turns out to be different when a boy gets hauled to the school by the Indian Agent. Apparently Ernie's family had been taking him out on long fishing trips each year when the Indian Agent came around to take the kids away to the school. So as punishment Ernie will have to spend the summer at Redemption Residential.

Ernie is set on trying to escape and enlists Jonny's help. At first Jonny, having never lived anywhere else, doesn't want to run away. But when one of the new priests, Father Gregory, starts taking a rather personal interest in Jonny, Ernie convinces him that he needs to leave too.

The night that they escape a huge storm comes through that leaves the boys stuck in a secret cave. While they're looking at the drawings on the cave, lightning strikes right out side and both boys are knocked out. When they wake up they are in a different time, back before white people had settled in the land. An old man, who seems to know why they are there and where they came from, takes the boys to the village.

They spend close to a year living in the village and learning about their past. Eventually a ship carrying, priests, nuns, adventurers, and a photographer arrive. Though they are friendly they bring with them a disease that wipes out most of the village. Jonny and Ernie run back to the cave to warn the old man not to come to the village when another huge storm comes up and they are zapped back to the present.

Upon coming back to the town they realize that they've only been gone for one night. Not to mention, lightning had struck Redemption Residential and burned it to the ground. Jonny decides to stay with a local farmer and put the skills he learned to use. He carves a totem to mark the grave site of the village from long ago.

This book was both fascinating and intense. When Father Gregory takes Jonny into the basement to help him, I kept thinking "run man run!". There's a lot of history in this book, from the Residential schools that tortured and abused many of the First Nations people to the tribes that were wiped out by disease. Jennifer Maruno did a great job of making a history lesson into a gripping story of a boy connecting with his roots.

Totem comes out on July 7th 2014.

I received a digital copy of this book through NetGalley and Dundurn in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Plant a Pocket of Prairie

This book explores the disappearing plants and animals of the prairie and encourages children to plant a bit of prairie in their own backyard. The first 30 or so pages are filled with great illustrations of prairie wildlife and the text gives the names of the plants as well as what birds and insects might show up to eat the plants. This section of the book is geared towards a young grade school audience. There are only a few lines of text per page so children will be able to enjoy the pictures and ideas without being bogged down by information.

The last portion of the book has more detailed information on the disappearance of our nations prairies with a specific focus on Minnesota. It also gives instructions on how and what to plant to help the species of the prairie avoid extinction. The book ends with brief descriptions of the wildlife found in prairie ecosystems as well as their current endangered status.

All over the world ecosystems are being pushed aside to make room for the ever growing human population. But as we move into new territory it's good to keep in mind the impact we are having on our planet. I liked that this book introduced kids to the problem and gave them a hands on way to be part of the solution. Not to mention I think my own girls would enjoy planting things in order to attract butterflies.

This spring, when we do the Our Green World science unit I plan on reading this with my daughter and finding some native Washington plants to start outside our apartment.

I got to read a digital copy of this book for free through NetGalley

Plant a Pocket of Prairie is scheduled to be released on April 15th 2014.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kitty Castle Valentines by Celesta and Keziah Thiessen

Kitty Castle Valentines is a fairly short chapter book that is relatively easy to read for young kids. In the story the young royals try to turn a dragon into a kitten using water and some chocolate. Apparently there are magical dragons that are created when kittens are mistreated and splashing water on them turns them back. However, the dragon they are dealing with is real and the water hurts him.

The dragon ends up escaping and plans on going back to exact revenge on his tormentors. Fortunately for the kids they are able to explain why they did it and apologize. In the end the dragons go and enjoy a valentines celebration with everyone in the kingdom.

As an adult I have some issues with this book. The story line wasn't super engaging for me and I wish there were some more illustrations for the kiddos. But that's assuming that this book was written by an adult, which it wasn't. Considering that this story was actually written by Keziah Thiessen who, according to the book, was between 7 and 11 when she wrote the story, this is a great book. I'm always impressed when young kids can come up with detailed stories and put them on paper. It is exactly what I would expect from a young author putting their imagination to work. My 7 year old comes up with stories about dragons all the time and Kitty Castle Valentines reminded me a lot of how she thinks and writes.

When reading this story to kids, be sure to tell them that it was written by someone their age. It makes a world of difference in how they look at the book and may even inspire them to write their stories down.

I received a digital copy of this book through Story Cartel in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Phyllis Root Talks About Writing And Her Upcoming Book: Plant a Pocket of Prairie

Today we are talking with author Phyllis Root about her upcoming children's book, Plant a Pocket of Prairie

Hello Phyllis,
Thank you so much for agreeing to do an interview with me.
I read in one of your online bio's that you didn't really begin writing until your 30's, what did you do before that? Did you always want to write books for children?


I have been writing since at least second grade and, thanks to a wonderful fifth grade teacher, knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was ten years old. But classes about writing were thin on the ground when I was in school, so after I graduated I worked a lot of different jobs just to pay the bills: bike mechanic, costume seamstress, administrative assistant to name a few. Whenever I tried to write in my free time, though, I came up against my own inability to shape a story. Finally, I confessed to a friend that I really wanted to write for children, and she told me about a class I could take. The class taught me that there are tools of writing -- a revelation to me -- and also that we must write from our hearts about what matters most to us. I started writing for children in 1979 and haven’t stopped since.

People tend to write about what they know. So how do you stay young at heart and write to keep young children engaged in the story?


One of the best things I do to stay open to all the possibilities of stories is to travel. I seldom travel a long way (although I’ve been to London, South Africa, Spain, Mexico, and Vanuatu), but wherever I go, whether sailing or canoeing in the BWCA and Quetico, or visiting Minnesota prairies to look for native plants, I’m aware anew of the amazing world that we inhabit and the many, many stories that share the world with us. Maybe stepping out of my own life, even if it’s just a little step, reminds me in some way of how amazing our world must look through a child’s eyes.

Is there a driving force behind what you write? Do you have any goals in mind when you begin writing a book? Is there an age group you prefer to write for?


For me, a story starts with an idea, a line, a character, something that makes me want to follow that trail of breadcrumbs and see where it leads. Many, many of my stories fail in terms of being publishable, but they all teach me something about writing. And because most of the stories that call to me seem to be for young children, and because that’s how the stories come out when I write, I have mostly written picture books and an occasional middle grade novel.

Was there any one of your stories that failed to be publishable that you would consider rewriting or one that you had a real attachment to? 


I have several manuscripts right now that are making the rounds that I hope will be published, and if an editor suggests revision, I'm always willing to give it a try. I think of all writing as practice, so even if a story is never published, I'm glad to have worked on it and learned from it. That said, I do have a manuscript about writing picture books that I hope will make it into print sometime

What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Do you have any pre-writing rituals?


I don’t have a typical writing day, because a good share of my time is taken up with earning a living. I teach in a low-residency MFA program at Hamline University in writing for children and young adults and do free lance editing as well. But I feel as though some part of my brain is always on the alert for possible stories and keeps track of ideas until I find time to sit down and work on my own writing.

What do you do when you're not writing? When it comes to reading, what type of books do you enjoy? Do you have a favorite author?


When I’m not writing or working, I love to garden and hike and canoe and just generally be outside. And I read—children’s books, of course, but also mysteries and other novels for grown-ups along with some non-fiction. I love too many authors to have a favorite one.

I recently read your upcoming book Plant a Pocket of Prairie. What prompted you to write it? Is the disappearance of prairie wildlife a topic that is close to your heart? Do you have a bit of prairie at your house?


Plant a Pocket of Prairie seemed like a natural follow-up to Big Belching Bog. I love visiting Scientific and Natural Areas in the spring, summer, and fall to discover the native plants that grow there. Because almost the entire prairie in Minnesota was plowed up and farmed, there really are only pockets left—less than one tenth of one per cent of the original prairie. We really can’t bring that original prairie back because it was gone even before anyone understood all the dynamics of a prairie. I also read Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home, in which he shows the connection between native plants, native insects, and native birds and the consequences of losing our native plants. I wanted children to know about the prairie, what an amazing ecosystem it is, how at risk it is, and how even a small pocket of prairie plants can help native insects and birds and other animals. Almost all the grass in my city yard has been turned into prairie or vegetable garden, and now plants grow up that I didn’t plant, whether brought there by birds or simply from seeds waiting in the soil. I feel passionately that we must preserve what we have left of prairie and make every effort to restore as much as we can. Aldo Leopold’s first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. We need to save the parts we have left, even if we can never recreate the whole.

If a child were to grow just one of the many plants you mention in your book, which one would you suggest?


Which plant would I recommend a child grow? That depends on where the plant will grow and how much sun it will get. If the plant is in a flowerpot or box, I might suggest coreopsis or coneflower or aster. If there’s room for a plant in the ground, I might suggest native sunflowers, since they provide so much satisfaction, beauty, and seeds for wildlife to eat, or Monarda (also known as bee balm) or butterfly weed, which monarchs love. But the whole nature of a prairie is that everything in the prairie is related to everything else, so once someone plants one plant or flower, I say plant another, and another, and another. Paul Gruchow wrote, "The prairie teaches us that our strength is in our neighbors."

In your book you answer the question of what the average person can do to help the native wildlife in their area. Do you think a change of perspective towards our nations unique ecosystems will occur in our lifetimes? Will we be able to stop species from going extinct due to a lack of suitable habitats?


I have no idea what will happen to our ecosystems in our lifetime. I’m not trained as an ecologist or climate specialist or horticulturalist or naturalist. I am someone who loves what we have left in native plants and animals, and I think anything any of us can do, however small, has the potential to make a change.

I really enjoyed reading Plant a Pocket of Prairie. It's not only a lighthearted call to action, but also a great field guide for kids who are curious about what lives in their backyard. Do you have another book in the works?


Right now I am working on a non-fiction survival story that takes place on Isle Royale and a picture book about cats, with which my two cats are always willing to help by walking over my keyboard an random moments.

There you have it, that was Phyllis Root, author of Big Momma Makes the World, Ten Sleepy Sheep, Big Belching Bog and Plant a Pocket of Prairie among others. 

Plant a Pocket of Prairie comes out on April 15th