The Silk Roads

This week’s read is another nonfiction aimed at children packed chock-full of entertaining facts and figures to entertain. Curious kids and adults alike will enjoy this fascinating book, The Silk Roads: An Illustrated New History of the World, which tells the story of one of the most influential trade routes in history.

Summary: The Silk Road is renowned for being the connector the ancient world, but it’s not often you will find a book aimed at children discussing all the different roads that can claim the title of being one of the “Silk Roads”. The story of their birth and use is a look at not only commerce, but also the ancient world. For the first time in history, peoples from around the world could trade freely and interact, leading to a greater market than ever before. But the path to the Silk Road was not always an easy one and its existence was fraught with many battles. The Silk Road tells a story of shifting political climates, the very first marketers, the evolution of capitalism, and a world coming into its own as much as the road itself was.

My Thoughts: I recall learning and reading about the Silk Road from China multiple times in my youth. Marco Polo made the trade route especially famous during his travels. Neil Packer takes the basic knowledge that most readers will know and manages to tell a riveting story about ancient and even more recent history with it. Fans of history will be thrilled with this book and I highly recommend homeschool educators pick this read up; it will not disappoint. The art within is quirky and intriguing, sure to make readers keep turning the pages to see more.

Parental Advisories: None! The book does describe some of the wars fought and there are some mildly violent images in the book, but nothing excessively gory or gratuitous.

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Estranged

If you’re anything like me, you might have grown up watching cult classics like Labyrinth, clutching worn copies of Spiderwick to your chest, and searching for fairies around every tree trunk in the park. While we may not discover any secret world of the fay anytime soon, Ethan M. Aldridge’s new book definitely takes one back to a magical world that feels both familiar and new at the same time.

The Story: There are two worlds on this Earth. In one of them lives the Childe. Once upon a time he was a normal human like any other, with a family that loved him and a home above ground. But now he is the property of the king and queen of the fay, their “son” to the court, but a mere collector’s item to show off in reality. In his place is Edmund, the changeling who has fooled everyone into thinking he belongs in the human world. When a mysterious villain named Hawthorne appears, the Childe and his companion Wick the golem must go find the only person who can help them – the changeling himself. Together with their big sister Alexis, a few magical friends, and what little power they have, the Childe and Edmund will have to put aside their differences and help each other if they want to save the world and maybe find their true homes along the way.

My Thoughts: From the first moment I saw this book advertised on Instagram, I was in love. The artwork definitely reminds me of Brian Froud or Tony Diterlizzi with the character design, hooking me when I read a sample. The characters are vivid and entertaining and the themes are sweet. Who wouldn’t want to be as awesome an older sister as Alexis or have a friend like Wick? Seriously, this is a read I highly recommend.

Parental Advisories: The worst language in this book is the term “c**p.” Language rules vary from household to household, as do restrictions on fantasy entertainment, so give this a read and decide what you’re comfortable with. As far as I’m concerned, this is a pretty clean read that is worth a look through even as an adult.

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Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Sticky-Fingers Cure

Missy Piggle-Wiggle strikes gold a third time in this sequel series to the beloved Miss Piggle-Wiggle books. Once again, humor, childhood magic, and simply life lessons abound in this entertaining children’s series.

The Story:  Winter has come to Little Spring Valley and with it strikes the Effluvia, an incurable virus that makes the upside-down house do the unthinkable by turning right-side-up! Though Missy is unsure how to fix it, that won’t stop her from curing the children. No matter the problem, she knows how to solve it. Whether it’s fixing Louie’s sticky-fingers habit or Rosie’s forgetfulness, Missy knows just what to do. If only she could say the same for the house. Will she ever be able to find a cure?

My Thoughts: Ann M. Martin’s follow-up series is a delightful tribute that I enjoy paging through when each subsequent novel comes out and Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Sticky-Fingers Cure is no exception. The book is written in a format that makes it ideal for bedtime reading or easy storytimes, with each chapter containing a single story that wraps itself up before the next chapter begins. This book is perfect for middle grade readers and parents reading to their children.

Parental Advisories: While an adversity to this does rely on your worldview, Ann M. Martin has included a family that includes two moms in this book. Families should be aware of this when picking the book up. Other than than the obvious politicizing sneaking its way in, this is a clean and fun read.

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Confusion is Nothing New

This week we’re reading a recent release about loss and finding oneself called Confusion is Nothing New.

The Story: Ellie just wants life to be normal, but that’s sort of hard when your dad’s just told you that the mom you never knew is dead. While she’s dealing with the consequences of a conflict with her former music teacher, Ellie must discover the truth of who her mother was. Why didn’t she ever reach out? Who was she really? Most importantly, Ellie must choose how she wants to remember the woman who not only left her, but the only parent she’s ever known. Even if her father would like to completely forget about the past, she’s got to discover the truth for herself. With her friends by her side, a good soundtrack, and perhaps a little luck, Ellie might just be able to find the truth – even if it is a little confusing.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this read for its streamlined plot and memorable characters. Paul Acampora is a talented author, deftly weaving a story that is relatable for both adults and kids.

Parental Advisories: There are a lot of…interesting messages going on in this book. One character claims that one shouldn’t judge a female character for leaving her husband and child because their audience doesn’t judge the man who does the same. Another scene has kids explaining why the Go-Go’s were the first all-girl band in only 1982 by explaining, “Boys”. There is one swear word, though it is on the milder end of the spectrum. I’d advise reading this one yourself if you are truly concerned, though Paul Acampora never gives parents a real need to.

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Robin Hood: The One Who Looked Good in Green

Classic retellings are rather prevalent these days, especially when it comes to fairytales. What I find a little less often is retellings of classic literature amongst new children’s books. Recently, however, I found a retelling of the classic Robin Hood story by Wendy Mass that I thought was worth a review.

The Story: Before he was ever a hero to the universe of AD 2336, Robin Hood was just Robin and before she ever met him and became a heroine of her own story, Marian was just a lady of earth. When Robin finds a clue hinting at the truth of where his missing parents vanished to, he decides to follow with the help of his uncle Kent and cousin Will. Meanwhile, Marian is being sent away from Earth and all of her family to Delta-Z. There Marian and Robin might both discover the truth that lies behind their government and their entire universe as they know it. In the process, Robin and Marian might find that they are stronger than they think and have the capability to be the heroes of their own stories.

My Thoughts: This is definitely a different take on the classic tale of Robin of Loxley. Having read the original novel by Howard Pyle, it’s not often I’ve seen retellings of this story. I’ve read prequels and sequels to the medieval Robin Hood story, but this is a retelling in which the characters live in a futuristic world and the plot has less to do with the original “rob-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor” (which is actually misrepresented in every version of Robin Hood I’ve seen/read, with perhaps the slight exception of the 1938 film). That having been said, this was a really entertaining read that you definitely cannot read passively. I will say Robin and Marian don’t meet up until a little more than halfway through the book so there is a weird disconnect for a little while when switching between POVs. Still, it’s a read that’s really fun.

Parental Advisories: The worst this book contains is some mild teen romance (think looking at each other and thinking the other has “bejeweled eyes”) and some slight boy humor.

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Easter Reads

On this holiest of holiday weeks, we’re reading through three different reads about Easter. While one of them is secular, the other two are based on the Biblical story of Jesus Christ and the miracle of his resurrection. Lets take a look!

Book 1: We’re starting off with the first book, a sweet little read from Little Golden Books called The Golden Egg Book. When a little bunny comes across an egg one day, he is unsure what lies within. Could it be a human? Could it be another bunny? Maybe it’s an elephant! Whatever it is, Bunny soon grows very sleepy and curls up next to the egg for a little nap. What comes out of the egg is a new friend for bunny and a chance to enjoy Easter day together. Little Golden Books does an excellent job with their illustrations by Leonard Weisgard and the simple text by Margaret Wise Brown. The painterly pictures are perfect for the book and will be a joy to page through with children.

Book 2: The next book on the list is That Grand Easter Day and is written by Jill Roman Lord, with illustrations by Alessia Trunfio. This story covers the events of Easter Sunday from the hours before Jesus’ resurrection to His appearance to the disciples and women at the tomb. This book is written in rhyme, which helps to create a rhythm and flow that helps make this book fun. In addition, Alessia Trunfio’s color and light-based illustrations, while simple in design, suit the writing well. She excels in creating a mood with her art and this book is no exception. This is definitely a fun read that children and parents will enjoy reading together.

Book 3: The last book (and my personal favorite) is Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus. Written and illustrated by John Hendrix, this book is a tribute to the grandeur of the Christ story and the majesty of His resurrection. Every page is colorful and bright, with unique text that jumps out at the reader, exaggerating the might of Jesus’ words. Using words from the Bible and stories carefully chosen to show the power of the Easter story, the author/illustrator tries to show in a simple picture book form just how different and amazing the Biblical story of Christ really is. This book pops out at you and grabs your attention from the first few pages. Not only will children love looking through this book, but parents will enjoy reading it on their own and to their kids.

My Thoughts: Easter is one of my favorite holidays just for the meaning and these manage to capture some of the wonder and joy that encapsulates Easter Sunday. Even the Big Little Golden Book is a read that I would highly recommend just for the story focused on new life. All of these reads are well written and illustrated and definitely worth a read this year.

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24 Hours in Nowhere

Middle grade reads always surprise me with their ability to be both humorous and also touching, discussing deeper topics through the lens of harmless adventures. 24 Hours in Nowhere manages to entertain as well as touch the deeper parts of hard life that many kids face despite their childhood.

The Story: Gus lives in nowhere. Literally. There is nothing to do in his town but race, even if he is not particularly good at it, and be bullied by local jerk, Bo. This is how one of the best bikers in town, Rossi, loses her bike, by standing up to Bo. Gus can’t let her lose her one shot at getting out of Nowhere. He himself has big dreams of leaving their small town. Instead, he devises a plan to get the bike back by trekking to the abandoned gold mine with former best friend Jessie, Bo’s minion Matthew, and Rossi herself. Together, this ragtag group of kids might discover that no matter how small their town may be, sometimes the greatest friends can come out of nowhere.

My Thoughts: I’ll be honest, I’m not always a fan of slower contemporary fiction, but 24 Hours in Nowhere surprised me with its depth. Small towns are hard; broken families even harder. Dusti Bowling manages to weave a story that is entertaining, but also is touching with its character-driven plot.

Parental Advisory: There is a little bit of middle-school violence, bullying, and crudity, but nothing majorly bad. Honestly, this is a pretty clean read, but if parents are super concerned, read through first. You might find yourself getting a little bit emotional.

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Grenade

If you’re looking for a more serious middle grade take on war that deals with the issue of death, life, and violence, I’d recommend Grenade. This WWII read is excellent.

The Story: Hideki is not a boy anymore. Sure, he may still be subject to the taunting of his fellow schoolmates, but he’s leaving his childhood behind fast, especially when he is handed a grenade and told to kill any American soldiers he comes across. His orders aren’t that different from those given to Ray, a young American marine who is helping to sweep the island in preparation for the atomic bomb. He’s never killed anyone, but he’s about to find out that in war, it’s kill or be killed. Together, Hideki and Ray make up both sides of the conflict and they’re working their way across the island to each other. One way or another, this grenade is about to go off.

My Thoughts: This is a much more serious look at the fallout of war than some of the other books I’ve reviewed. Death is not hidden, glossed over, or treated with a padded glove. That having been said, this is an excellently crafted book. Alan Gratz tells a story full of characters that I both deeply sympathize with and also find myself in adversity to. The story is complex and makes the reader question the ethics of war on both sides. I highly recommend it.

Parental Advisory: This is a book that shows what happens in the fallout of war, especially a war like WWII where it seemed as if the whole world was falling down around the youth. The fact that children and young adults were so involved in the fight is also not stuffed under the rug. My advice? Read this either before or with your middle grader so that you can have deeper discussions with your child.

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Winnie’s Great War

If you’re a fan of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh or just enjoy a good historical yarn, chances are you’ll enjoy the new book Winnie’s Great War. This charming read, based on a true story, is a sure to entertain.

The Story: Bear is very happy with Mama, living in the forest and exploring the world around her, that is, until her world is upset by Mama’s sudden absence. Suddenly, Bear must find her way alone in the world, even if that means that she has to rely on the temporary generosity of a human boy in the woods and his grandparents. And then one day she’ll never forget, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn appears and falls as ardently in love with her as she with him. With his condensed milk, stable full of friendly horses, and troop of soldiers, Bear is not just a little cub anymore – now she is Winnie, the mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade. Her humble life has changed quite a bit; after all, she’s the first bear to go to war and face danger right in the eye! The forest is a long way away now…

My Thoughts: I am a huge fan of books based on historical events and this was no exception Lindsay Mattick, Josh Greenhut, and Sophie Blackall do an incredible job of bringing this story to life. Winnie is a likable character as are all of the men who surround her. I feel particularly sorry for those who were lost in the Great War, as it was known back then. It is rather interesting to take a look at World War I, especially given the fact that I don’t know as much about the war preceding WWII.

Parental Advisory: None! This is a clean read that is also super educational (guess I’m just starting a new trend in my weekly reads!).

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Lulu the Broadway Mouse

If you’re something of a secret musical geek like me or just a plain diva, you might want to check out this new book by Broadway sweetheart Jenna Gavigan.

The Story: Lulu loves working at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, where her mom and dad help with the backstage portions of the shows. It’s great to help, don’t get her wrong, but Lulu has greater ambitions to not just help the stars, but to be a star. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly easy when you’re a mouse. That’s right: Lulu and her family are mice, thus making any chance the talented mousling has pretty much nil. However, when a new understudy for mean girl Amanda arrives, Lulu thinks that she might actually have a shot at the limelight. Now she just needs to make sure she’s prepared.

My Thoughts: I really like this book. I mean, I really, really, like the way this book presents the theater and manages to capture the fun, the thrill, and all the magic that encompasses the stage. Being a Broadway performer isn’t just song and dance; it’s also blood, sweat, and tears, a fact that Jenny Gavigan manages to portray rather well without losing how tantalizing the lure of the stage really is.

Parental Advisory: Language is implied without really being said, so I’d leave that up to the imagination of your kids. Otherwise, this book is super clean and fun!

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