The Button War

There are a few authors who manage to write books that are intriguing and of a consistent quality again and again. Author AVI manages to do both with his  children’s book The Button War.

The Story: This is a time before any world wars. While political tension rises in Russia-occupied Poland, the truth of human nature is revealed in village boys Patryk and Jurek. While the roots of World War I are built upon and the flames of war lick at the borders of the country, the village children are caught in their own war – for the buttons off of uniforms. At first, it is a mere game, Patryk humoring the vain and puffed up Jurek. But soon it has turned into a vicious race to become known as the king, a race that could endanger not only the boys’ collections but their entire future.

My Thoughts: This book reminded me of Lord of the Flies. With its eerie psychological underpinnings and characters that are very adult, AVI weaves a tale that is worth reading and having discussions about. I highly recommend this for readers who are of a more mature intellectual level and who can really think about what this book is telling us.

Parental Advisories: This book is fairly clean, though it does hold hefty depictions of violence and showcase the brutal nature of mankind. This book has kids killing adults, stripping buttons off of the jackets of dead men, and even kids threatening death on each other. That having been said, this is still a very good read. The brutality is part of the point of this book. It is worth reading and discussing.

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And the Ocean Was Our Sky

In this twisted parody of Herman Melville’s epic Moby Dick, esteemed author Patrick Ness of A Monster Calls fame weaves a fascinating new tale. And the Ocean Was Our Sky is the perfect read to curl up with on these nippy evenings if you’re in the mood for a dark adventure.

The Story: Bathsheba may have once enjoyed the hunt of her whale pod into the Abyss Above, but life has tired her and reduced her to merely relating the sorrows of her youth. For the truth is, it was her fault that her pod died. When the whales heard tell of the devil himself, Toby Wick, their Captain led them on a hunt to find the enemy. Bathsheba and her pod find a young man with no desire to hunt and even less desire to be killed in the pursuit of Toby Wick. The prophecy that surrounds their trail may be clear to their Captain, but she is hardly certain about the path that they are taking. Death is in their future and Bathsheba is uncertain of whether she wants to join her pod in their fate or turn tail – before she’s too far gone.

My Thoughts: Patrick Ness wrote a thought-provoking beauty with A Monster Calls, and he continues writing in the same vein with And the Ocean Was Our Sky. Bathsheba is a main character whose world weariness is haunting. I really found this weird parody of Moby Dick to be an interesting novel that made me look at the original in a completely different way. The illustrations, with their smoky not quite concrete quality, lent themselves perfectly to the text. I highly recommend this picking up, regardless of whether you’ve read Herman Melville’s classic.

Parental Advisories: Though this may be a YA read, it’s surprisingly clean!

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The World War II Invasion That Changed History

It’s a sad thing, but I find more and more kids don’t know much about America’s history. This week we’re reading another nonfiction book which tells the story of one of the most iconic military invasions in recent history with D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History.

Summary: June 6, 1944 is a date that should and indeed did, go down in history as one of the most important moments in not just US, but also world history. But what the history books merely take a glance at, Deborah Hopkinson explores with breathtaking candor and research. This book discusses how crucial all of the players are, from the highest military officials to the men who made it happen, to those who spread the word about it. World War II’s shining example of American patriotism, ingenuity, and perseverance is encapsulated in this read which discusses the events and people that led to the landing on the beaches of Normandy.

My Thoughts: I am a huge fan of US history. Having had a lot of family members in the military, books regarding military history and/or service have a lot of importance and significance to me. Deborah Hopkinson does an incredible job of telling the story of D-Day, pulling from witness accounts to newspaper reports and more. Her work is a stunning tribute to the lives of the men and women involved in making sure that liberty triumphed.

Parental Advisories: There are few uses of mild swearing by military officials and violence is discussed (though not at length or in gory detail). If you have any serious concerns, read through the book first. I definitely think this is a comprehensive read that deserves attention from adults as well as children. It definitely crosses demographics successfully.

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Her Story

Once again we’re going through a nonfiction read. This time it is a colorful book of biographies entitled Her Story: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World.

Summary: Designed like a scrapbook or collage, Her Story tells the story of women who are truly inspiring. These are women who are not just renowned for being women, but for women who did things that no one had done before or for doing great good for their people, their country, and the world. The book is separated into sections for those who were pioneers in different fields. For example, while you may find women like Joan of Arc or Harriet Tubman in the “Believe and Lead” section, you’ll find artists like Beatrix Potter and Billie Holiday in the “Imagine and Create” section. The book does its best to give an impartial view of the lives of these woman, discussing their triumphs as well as their failures. No one is a perfect leader and the book does its best to show that many of the women in the books were as human as the rest of us.

My Thoughts: While this book is aimed at girls, I recommend this read to anyone. Heroes are not relegated to being models for just members of their own gender. Those who do good can be an inspiration for anyone. That having been said, I don’t necessarily think every single woman featured in this book is a role model for children or adults. Their stories are not particularly inspiring in any manner; personally I don’t find someone living as they liked cause to prop a historical figure up as a hero. That is not to say the majority of the women in this book don’t deserve their spot – most do! I still highly recommend this book as it is one of the few on the market that manages to shine a light on some of the women in history without spending a lot of time putting their male counterparts down.

Parental Advisories: I’d recommend researching the lives of the women you don’t know too much about and discussing their lives with your children. Letting your child get only a brief exposure and then thinking that the policies and ideas they advocated for were great because “a book said so” is one of the surest ways to do your child a disservice. Other than that, this book is ready to hand to your kids.

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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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