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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Review: Good Crooks Book One: Missing Monkey!

Billy Crook is, well, a crook. His parents are thieves and are training him and his twin sister Jillian to become criminals as well. Billy isn't sure he wants to be a thief, in fact, he sometimes wonders what it would be like to help people instead of taking things from them.

One morning, as he's out looking for a bacon burger, dressed as an old woman (his family never leaves the house without putting on disguises) he sees a poster advertising a volunteer day at the zoo. Billy is curious about what doing a good deed would be like so he signs up to help pick weeds near the monkey cages. A short time in, his sister (also dressed as an elderly woman) shows up at the zoo. At first Billy is afraid she will tell their parents what he was doing but Jillian confides that she has been out doing good deeds too.

Everything seems to be going great until their parents show up wondering what they're up to. In an effort to distract his parents Billy points out that the monkeys are mimicking them as they work. This gives his mom and dad an idea, they decide to steal a monkey and train it to pick pockets.

Throughout the rest of the story Billy and Jillian attempt to get their parents to put the monkey back in the zoo. The monkey pours ketchup all over Jillian and eats Billy's ear wax along the way. When the twins finally do sneak the monkey back to the zoo they end up releasing a ton of other animals.

This book kept me smiling the whole way through. My favorite part was when Billy and Jillian were trying to get the elephants back into their pen and Billy makes up an elephant song to the tune of "My Darling Clementine".

"I'm a darlin', I'm a darlin', I'm a darlin' elephant..."

Of course, I had to sing it out loud, which garnered some funny looks from my family. All in all I enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the next book in the Good Crooks series.

I got to read a digital copy of this book through NetGalley and Egmont publishing in exchange for an honest review.

This book is due to be released on February 25th 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Review: FytDroids: BLAST OFF!

Ajay Scout is excited about getting to go on an alien tour with his uncle, that is, until he gets there. The tour takes them to a barn, a diner and a desert where an alien spaceship supposedly crashed. Beyond bored, Ajay pulls out his remote control car and sneaks off to play in the sand dunes. Suddenly his car takes off and even pulling the batteries out of the remote won't stop it. Determined not to lose his toy Ajay chases the car through the desert and finds it parked against a half buried metal box. Just as he's about to look inside his uncle calls him back to the tour group, so Ajay stuffs the box into his backpack before anyone sees.

Back home Ajay finally gets the opportunity to look in the box, inside there are nine rings with tiny rocket ships on them. He puts one on, aims it at the wall and yells blast off. At that moment the rocket shoots off the ring through the wall and gets lodged in an old refrigerator in the backyard. Freaked out but still curious, Ajay runs outside and opens the door to the fridge. A small robot or FytDroid flies out and tells Ajay that he needs his help to save the world from a doomsday device controlled by an evil alien. After recruiting his two best friends, they and the FytDroids head off to the amazon to find the device and save the planet.

Though this book isn't very long, the story line is fun and engaging. Middle school kids will probably enjoy this title as it has a lot of action and the characters are around their age. The only thing I didn't like about this book was that they never addressed what happened when Ajay's parents found the gaping hole in his bedroom wall. Just a thought, but as a parent, that would definitely merit a sit down with my kid.

I did enjoy the story and was happy to see the kids get a little more involved in the pyramid puzzles than just wearing the rings to activate the FytDroids. All in all, not a bad story.

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

To view this title on Amazon go to FytDroids: BLAST OFF!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth

The book, Grow a Sustainable Diet, is filled with in-depth information on planning and growing a garden that will not only provide food for the whole year but will also increase soil viability. Author Cindy Conner brings both research and personal experience to the table as she talks about living a sustainable lifestyle.

The beginning of the book discusses planning out a space for a garden, what different set ups the author has used and why. Through hand drawn maps and diagrams the reader can see how Cindy's garden has changed over the years as she gained experience.

There are a ton of worksheets in the book to help both beginners and veterans optimize their space and yield. There's even a chart to track the temperature and rainfall each year so the gardener can better plan their planting and harvesting.

The most interesting part for me was the discussion on cover crops and ways to boost the nutrients in the soil without buying fertilizer. I tend to have trouble keeping house plants alive so this section was kind of fascinating to me.

Grow a Sustainable Diet is definitely geared towards people with a decent amount of land and at least a little gardening experience. Not to say that beginners won't benefit from it, but the amount of information is a bit overwhelming.

While this book isn't very relevant to my current situation, I live in an apartment, I plan on hanging onto it for when I am able to start my own garden.

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

This book comes out on April 15th 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae: Original Koryo and Koryo

Written by two Tae-Kwon-Do masters, this book contains some interesting information on the origins of the art as well as a detailed walk-through of the Koryo form (pattern) or poomsae. The beginning of the book traces the roots of several different martial arts throughout Asia. Tae-Kwon-Do, in its current form, is a fairly new martial art which has origins in Korea, Japan and China. Secretive hand to hand combat training grew out of these countries due the ban on weaponry at the time. Much like Capoeira, which was started by slaves in Brazil to give themselves a better chance at escaping, dance like forms helped to keep martial arts practitioners under the radar.

The authors of the book stress the importance of Tae-Kwon-Do students learning not only the movements of the art but also the history and philosophy. Understanding the art is not possible without understanding where it came from and on what principals it was based. 

The end of the book contains a walk through of both the Original Koryo and Koryo forms. Each step of the forms are accompanied by a photo and instructions on execution as well as a diagram showing foot placement. After the forms, there are a series of photographs depicting the martial applications of each movement. 

I studied Tae-Kwon-Do as a kid and ended up getting my 1st degree black belt. Although the school I was taught at used the ITF forms so I never learned Koryo. This book expanded on my knowledge of Tae-Kwon-Do's history a great deal. I knew about General Choi, the Hwarang and the Silla but not about how influential karatedo was in the creation of this unique Korean art form. Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae also gave me the opportunity to learn a new form in an easy to follow format. 

I enjoyed this book, and as a historical reference I think most people will be able to get some use out of it. However, there is a lot of content that would be best understood by an experienced martial arts practitioner. So for anyone looking to delve deeper into their Tae-Kwon-Do practice this is a very informative read, but unless the reader has studied martial arts to some degree the technicality of this book will likely overwhelm them.

Regardless of the technical aspects and the large gap in my practice of Tae-Kwon-Do I got a lot out of this book. Thank you Doug Cook and Richard Chun for a fascinating history of the art and an explanation of a form I had never seen. 

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and YMAA Publication Center Inc. in exchange for an honest review. 

To view this title on Amazon go to Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae: Original Koryo and Koryo

Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review: Sheep in a Jeep

What happens when a bunch of sheep try to drive a jeep? It gets stuck in the mud and they need pigs to help push them out.

My daughter and I read this book as part of her literature and comprehension class. Sky was able to read it on her own and learned about changing her tone of voice when she sees exclamation points. She thought it was hilarious when they had to sell the broken jeep at the end of the story.

Sheep in a Jeep has only a few sentences per page and everything rhymes making it easy for little ones enjoy the story. While this book worked great as an early reader for my oldest daughter, my 12 month old's were also able to pay attention as she read it. The pictures of the sheep are very expressive allowing young children to recognize when the sheep are happy or sad.

We have an older copy of this book which didn't include the Make-Your-Own-Sheep activity but Sky did pretend she was a sheep as she retold the story. She got way into it and came up with funny sheep voices.

All together this is a great older book for young kids.

Book Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Ophelia is eleven years old, has asthma and thinks about everything very scientifically. In fact, she is a member of the Children's Science Society of Greater London. Unlike her mother, who recently passed away, Ophelia definitely does not believe in magic or fairy tales. That is, until her father, who is an expert on swords, gets called in to help with a sword exhibition at a museum in a faraway city.

While there she runs into a boy locked in one of the museums many rooms, the boy claims that wizards took away his name to protect him and he needs her help to escape and defeat the Snow Queen. At first Ophelia doesn't believe him, but as she finds more and more things in the museum that cannot be explained through science she starts to change her mind.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a great fairy tale story for children. There are ghosts, giant birds, wizards, and stone snow leopards that come to life. In the beginning of the book, Ophelia is quite firmly rooted in reality and is still grieving over the loss of her mother. Throughout her epic adventure she learns to be brave and finds a way to connect with her mothers love of fantasy.

Karen Foxlee really brings Ophelia's world to life in her writing. Her descriptions made me feel like I was right there, sneaking through a huge creepy museum. I especially liked the way she described the ghost girls.

"She felt Kyra then, close beside her, breathing right into her ear, and the singed popcorny smell of her tickled her nose."

Who knew ghosts smelled like popcorn?

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy was fun and scary without going overboard. I will definitely be reading this with my girls.

I got to read an advance copy of this book through NetGalley and Random House Children's in exchange for an honest review.

It is due to be released on January 28th 2014.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review: Amelia Bedelia

Amelia Bedelia gets a job as a maid working for Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. On her first day Mrs. Rogers leaves Amelia a list of things to do while Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are away. The list says to dust the furniture and draw the drapes among other things. Unfortunately for the Rogers, Amelia takes everything quite literally. She does exactly what the list tells her, from drawing a picture of the drapes to covering the furniture in dust. Needless to say Amelia's employers are not entirely thrilled when they get back.

I read this book with my daughter as part of her first grade Literature and Comprehension class. She loved that Amelia did everything in a silly way and laughed at her crazy antics. This book is part of the I Can Read series and Sky was able to read almost the entire story on her own (except for the parts in cursive). She also learned what an idiom is.

When I was a kid my mom read the Amelia Bedelia series with me and my younger brother, we always got a kick out of how silly they were. Even though this book was first published in 1963, kids today still love the unique way Amelia Bedelia looks at the world.

To view this book on Amazon go to Amelia Bedelia (I Can Read Book Level 2)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review: Will o' the Wisp: An Aurora Grimeon Story

Aurora's parents have just died from an accidental mushroom poisoning and Aurora barely survived. Instead of being sent into the foster care system the state locates her one remaining relative, her estranged grandfather Silver. Silver lives out on Ossuary Isle where hoodoo is part of daily life. Aurora struggles to fit in and though she finds the hoodoo customs fascinating, many people on the isle view her as bad luck. The situation doesn't improve when some of the residents start washing up in the swamp. As Aurora becomes friends with the local hoodoo woman, magic and evil spirits come head to head with her grandfathers scientific approach to life.

Prior to reading this book the only experience I had with graphic novels was reading the Elf Quest series as a kid, so I wasn't sure what whether I would still enjoy this genre as an adult. Fortunately the dark story in Will o' the Wisp coupled with the unique illustrations drew me right back in. Even though the story has a dark theme there is some comic relief in the form of Silver's pet raccoon.

Will o' the Wisp is not only a story of a young girls struggle to find out where she belongs but also a fascinating introduction to hoodoo. While most people are used to hearing about druids, wiccans and other more mainstream magic and belief systems, hoodoo seems to remain in the shadows. So reading a book where the practice is just a part of daily life was both interesting and informative. I am really hoping they come out with another chapter in the saga of Aurora Grimeon.

I got to read a digital copy of this book for free through NetGalley and Diamond Book Distributors in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Book Review: Protecting Beauty: Three Horses Against the Siege

The book starts out with three horses going down to a creek to get a drink of water. At the creek they notice that the water has an unpleasant smell, so they decide to head up stream to find the source. Along the way they meet up with Scout (a bird) and explain why they are travelling. Scout flies ahead to see what he can find out. The horses eventually come across wagon tracks and get attacked by a dog who is in turn killed by a mountain lion. Scout returns and tells the three horses that some humans dumped chemicals in a cave near the stream. The horses decide they need some help from humans as chemicals are outside their area of expertise.

That pretty much sums up chapter one, which is about where I stopped reading. While the story does seem to be kind of interesting, the apparent lack of editing and proofreading made this book almost unreadable. Virtually every time a character speaks the sentence starts with <characters name> says. That by itself was enough to pull me out of the story. Not to mention the numerous punctuation errors. There are many instances where the end of a portion of dialogue is missing a quotation mark.  For example:

Amos says, "I am not afraid and sings, "Get along little horsies, get along we go...

All said, this book could really use a good run through with an editor.

I do think they did a good job on the cover image. The bright colors and different style drew me to this book and I would imagine children will like the image as well.

I got to read a digital copy of this book for free through NetGalley and Hillcrest Media Group in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Book Review: Tools and Treasures of Ancient Egypt

This book is part of the What Can We Learn from Early Civilizations? series. The book has four different sections each highlighting a different aspect of Egyptian history. In the first chapter, The Ancient Egyptians, children learn about the Nile River as well as the surrounding desert. They also get to see a carving of Hapi, the god of the Nile. Chapters two and three cover the class system as well as the culture of the early Egyptians. The last chapter discusses how the Egyptian civilization came to an end.

Tools and Treasures of Ancient Egypt is packed with photographs of Egyptian art, monuments and the landscape of Egypt. Each picture is accompanied with a caption that either gives more information on the photo or asks a question for kids to think about. There is not a large amount of text on each page so a younger audience won't struggle to pay attention. At the end there is a list of recommended books on Egypt.

The photographs in this book are amazing. After reading it I went back and looked through all of them again. My daughter did a history unit on Egypt a few months ago and we read quite a few books on the topic. So I was pleasantly surprised that this book contained information that we had not come across yet. For example, I had no idea that Hieroglyphics were not the only form of writing in Egypt. There was apparently a simpler version that was used by merchants and upper class citizens. I was also surprised when I read that the Greeks ruled Egypt as Pharaohs. I knew that Alexander the Great had conquered Egypt, but I didn't know the Greeks had mostly left the culture intact instead of replacing it.

While this book would work well in elementary school classrooms, I think it would be just as useful to have at home. The pictures alone kept me going back through the book and I imagine a lot of children would enjoy being able look through them a second or third time. I know my daughter will sometimes take out a book like this and use it as inspiration for her art work.

Though this book is relatively short, 40 or so pages long, it is filled with great information. I definitely wish we would have had this a few months ago for Sky's history class.

I got to read a digital copy of this book through NetGalley and Lerner Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

To view this book on Amazon go to
Tools and Treasures of Ancient Egypt (Searchlight Books - What Can We Learn from Early Civilizations?)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: The Otter, the Spotted Frog & the Great Flood: A Creek Indian Story

The book starts out with Listener the Otter and Honors Himself the Buffalo talking by a fire late at night. Listener hears the spotted frogs singing and calls the loudest over to tell them what they are singing about. Honors Himself does not like the frog and does not want to hear what he has to say so he throws the spotted frog into the fire. Listener pulls him out and the spotted frog looks as though he was never burned, but this action just irritates Honors Himself so he throws the frog back into the fire again. This happens several times until Honors Himself gives up and walks away.

The spotted frog tells Listener that there will be a great flood and that if he wishes to survive he will build a raft and tether it to the tallest tree. Listener does what the spotted frog tells him to in spite of Honors Himself's taunting. Otter Woman wants to believe Listener but in the end she does not board the raft with him. When the flood does come all of the animal people climb a tall hill while the buffalo assures them that they will be safe. The water covers the hill and all the animals drown except for Listener the Otter who is on the raft.

Once the water recedes Listener is all alone and he doesn't know how he will survive. Spotted frog returns and tells him to do as his name suggests and listen. In the end Listener the Otter is turned into the first man and Otter Woman is turned into the first woman.

Great Flood stories exist in virtually every culture on the planet and the Creek Indians are no exception. I have always enjoyed reading myths and legends from other cultures and comparing them with the stories I was brought up with.  This one was unique for me in that it not only told a great flood story but also the story of the first humans.

As much as I enjoyed the story, the illustrations were by far the highlight of this book. They are both beautiful and engaging. I read the digital version of this book and for how good the pictures look even on my phone I can only imaging how much better they would look in the hard copy. Kudos to Illustrator Ramon Shiloh for his excellent artwork

I got to read a digital version of this book for free through NetGalley and Wisdom Tales publishing.

To view this book on Amazon go to The Otter, the Spotted Frog & the Great Flood: A Creek Indian Story

Book Review: Scooby-Doo! The Secret of the Sea Creature

This is one of several new you choose style Scooby-Doo books. The story starts out with the Mystery Inc. gang heading to the beach some summer fun. When they get there they all go off in different directions to enjoy their vacation. While they are there a giant sea monster emerges from the ocean and the gang must find a way to stop it.

At the beginning of the book kids get to pick which character to follow and then what decisions they make along the way. Depending on the character and choices that are made the story ends differently.

As a kid I loved the which way books because it made me feel like I could control the outcome. Reading this with my daughter was a lot of fun as she chose which direction the story took. She followed Shaggy and Scooby as they ate hot dogs and rode the "sea monster" ride. After we finished reading she was excited about making the story end "The right way".

This book definitely engaged Sky in the story. She wanted to see what happened next and what the outcome would be. As an adult I wish the paths were a little longer but for my 7 year old they were just long enough. Also, the text was easy enough that in a few more months she will probably be able to read this book on her own.  The best thing about this book is that the next time we read it she can take a completely different path and the story will be brand new again.

We got to read the digital version of this book for free through NetGalley.

This title is due to be released April 1st 2014

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Review: The ABC's of Yoga for Kids

This book introduces yoga poses to kids in a fun way. There are illustrations for every pose as well as a rhyme about how to do it. The illustrations are of kids performing the yoga poses and pictures that go with the name of the pose. In the picture of the Dog pose, for example,  there is a boy doing the pose next to a puppy stretching in a similar position. The rhymes explain how to do each one and emphasize not stretching beyond what is comfortable, not to mention they are rather entertaining so it does not seem like a lesson.

I started reading The ABC's of Yoga for Kids with my oldest daughter (7) Sky. She has never really been interested in stretching as she always wants to run and move, so I wasn't sure whether she would enjoy the book or not. To my surprise, Sky loved the book and actually remembered how to do most of the poses she had learned when we read it the next day. Of course, she still wants to move a lot during the exercises but the fact that she stops long enough to try them is a huge win in my book.

While older kids may not enjoy the ABC theme or simple explanations, as an adult I got a lot out of this book. I have some experience with yoga (okay rather shaky attempts at yoga) and I enjoyed the fact that this book made it simple and fun. I imagine if I were to seriously practice I would need to find some more comprehensive instruction but for just starting out this worked well for me.

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

To view this book on Amazon go to The ABCs of Yoga for Kids

Book Review: Midrealm

The first chapter of this book starts out with an overachieving high school girl, Sarah, talking about the day that she and 5 other kids entered Midrealm. It starts out as a normal day at school, Sarah has been running for student body president and is nervous about the election results. Part way through the day She is called into the principals office because Miles, a guy she tutors, was caught cheating on a biology test. She assures the principal that Miles would not cheat in that class considering it is his best subject. Nevertheless, Miles ends up in detention for the day so Sarah offers to do their tutoring session in the detention room.

After school, and finding out that she won the election, Sarah goes to detention to tutor Miles. Raven (goth girl), Blade (bad boy), Tess (shy quiet girl) and Calvin (Sarah's cousin, the mad scientist kid) are also in detention for various reasons. Several minutes in they all pass out and wake up in Midrealm. In Midrealm an old man tells them that they are Realm Keepers, the fate of both worlds rests on their shoulders and they need to run because Chaos is hunting them.

Each episode is told by a different character and it's rather interesting to see how they view the life they've been forced into. While the story started out a little slow, by the time I started reading episode two I was hooked. The book has quite a bit of high school drama in it but it also deals with some darker topics which made the whole thing a little more gripping than the first few chapters suggest.

The most interesting part for me was that they don't get to sleep anymore. Well not really, their consciousness travels between the two worlds so while one body is resting the other is wide awake. This causes a ton of problems back on "True Earth" when their parents literally can't wake them up.

Even though it took me a while to really get into the story I have to say I'm really looking forward to the next book in the Realm Keepers saga. The authors definitely ended this one on a cliff hanger.

I got to read a copy of this for free compliments of StoryCartel

To view this title on Amazon go to Midrealm (A YA Fantasy) (Realm Keepers)