Dear Sister

I usually enjoy a uniquely formatted book and one with a big heart is to be even more appreciated. Today we’re looking at a children’s book that will touch your heart whether or not you are an older sibling or a little sibling: Alisen McGhee and Joe Bluhm’s Dear Sister.

The Story: A new addition to the household has arrived and the newly dubbed “brother” is not happy. Not one bit. His sister takes over everything in the house and she whines all the time. Plus, despite the fact that he clearly has as many dietary objections to lima beans as she, he’s the only one forced to eat the disgusting green vegetables. So here’s his plan. He’s going to write letters to his sister (even if she’s so stupid she can’t read yet). No matter the length of the years or the time that passes, this brother is not going to stop writing until his dear little sister knows just what he thinks of her.

My Thoughts: I got a little sentimental and emotional at the end of this book, I’ll admit it. Being an oldest siblings myself, I remember the excitement of waiting for a little sibling to arrive and how many adventures I thought I was going to have with them. Since I myself am getting ready to step into a new part of my life soon, the story of their relationship changing as the brother graduates and heads off to college is sweet. The author and illustrators do an excellent job depicting this sibling relationship through the letters the brother figure has written and the illustrations that capture wonderful character moments.

Parental Advisories: If you are opposed to tattoos, the main character (the brother) does get a tattoo at the end of the book and the idea of getting a tattoo is discussed throughout the read.

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A Drop of Hope

Contemporary novels for younger readers are getting better and better these days. With focus on character, Keith Calbrese writes a tender novel of belief in magic, family, and finding oneself.

The Story: The last thing Ernest Wilmette wants to do is organize his grandpa’s attic. Especially now that his grandpa is dead. Still, a promise is a promise. As Ernest quickly discovers, his grandpa’s attic is not quite what it seems. When local boy Ryan accompanies Ernest to Thompkins Well, both boys discover that the objects from the attic have power – and that Ernest’s grandpa has been hiding big secrets from him. With the help of Ryan’s childhood friend Lizzy, a girl abused by her relatives and raised by her single mom, the three kids will discover that Ernest’s grandpa not only knew the magical truth of Thompkins Well, but also was hiding one of the most important secrets that the small town of Cliffs Donnelly, Ohio could never imagine.

My Thoughts: This book was rather uniquely formatted. The POVs are somewhat messy and it can be disarming to find oneself reading about a character that we might (if lucky) come back to reading about. Still, the characters we are reading about are delightful. They feel like real characters with real problems; they are complex and lovable. The main trio is particularly endearing as there is so much in them that readers can relate to.

Parental Advisories: The book is fairly clean. It deals in damaged family relationships, death, and crime, but it does so in a family-friendly manner.

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Dutch Girl

For movie fans, Audrey Hepburn is one of the most stunningly beautiful and iconic film stars, but very few know the truth about the darkest years of her life, while the war raged on in Europe. This week we’re taking a look at a release that sheds some light on Audrey Hepburn’s early years from childhood to her escape to the bright lights of Hollywood in Robert Matzen’s new book Dutch Girl: Audrey and World War II.

The Story: The time is Great Depression Era Europe. In a world torn by poverty, a rising Adolf Hitler promised peace and prosperity. Like many of the German people attracted to the promises of fascism, Baroness Ella van Heemstra is drawn to the Fuhrer’s ideas of grandeur – especially if it means a better life for her and her small family. Little Adriaantje is completely unaware of her mother’s Nazi ties when she is sent away to live with her grandparents to avoid the madness of the city, though as her parents become embroiled in the fascist network and times grow darker, it is hard for any of the children to avoid this truth. Even the Baroness realizes that the allure of the Nazi party may hide something much darker, leading the family to escape to the country. What follows during the next few years will change little Adriaantje into a survivor and a young woman that Audrey Hepburn will never leave behind.

My Thoughts: I am personally a big fan of old Hollywood. While I usually am not fascinated by the lives of those who populate the silver screen, the retro era of classic films contained a whole host of ladies and gentlemen who survived historic events, served in wars, and experienced a turmoil completely separate from the giddy temptations of LA’s movie business. Audrey Hepburn, as previously stated, is one of Hollywood’s best remembered actresses and the story of where she came from is just as fascinating as her filmography. It was intriguing to learn more about the family that Audrey came from, especially as I was completely unaware of the fact that she was German and/or connected with the Nazi party in any way. Her performances in order to raise money for the Dutch Resistance only barely skim the surface of the events that made a little girl into a generous woman.

Parental Advisories: This book is fairly clean, although there is an occasional quote in which a historical figure will cuss. Overall, this is clean and well written read that any parent should feel confident handing off to a competent reader.

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I enjoy a good nonfiction read, no matter the demographic or age range. Historical nonfiction is some of my favorite, which is why this week we’re taking a look at Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America.

Summary: Orson Welles’ famous 1938 dramatization of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is reintroduced to a whole new generation in this fascinating read. Author Gail Jarrow delves deeper into the political tensions of the late 1930s and the economic fears that kept many Americans on edge. This book collects witness testimony, radio excerpts, photos, and clippings that weave together to create a colorful narrative that will keep readers wondering, what next? With candor and an astonishing array of sleuthing work, Spooked! elaborates on the intense radio broadcast which shook America out of its stupor and made people listen a little bit closer to what they were hearing.

My Thoughts: I am a huge fan of H. G. Wells’ work and – having read War of the Worlds multiple times – find the story of the 1938 radio dramatization absolutely fascinating. Kids will get a kick out of learning about the hoaxes, rumors, and ludicrous reactions that swept through the public like wildfire. Radio serials and adaptations bloomed thanks to this monumental show, which managed to prove to the world the power of effective acting, storytelling, and medium.

Parental Advisories: None! This is a squeaky clean read that I not only recommend to kids, but also to adults. It’s worth a read; trust me.

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Howl’s Moving Castle

We’re getting into more YA this week with the book that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s popular fantasy film.

The Story: Sophie is one of three sisters who live with their mother. Together they operate a hat shop with dying business, only separated when Fanny decides to send off the girls to find their fortunes and hopefully make it easier for all of them. Sophie works day and night with a patient fervor until the day when the mysterious Witch of the Waste steps into the shop and curses her. Suddenly Sophie is an old woman whose bones ache and creak. In order to fix her curse, she flees into the wilderness where she encounters the monstrous edifice known to belong to the wicked wizard Howl. Here she meets the fire demon Calcifer, who promises to help break her curse if she will break his. Sophie agrees, not knowing that such a bargain will lead her into a deeper world of magic, mystery, and duplicity then she could ever imagine.

My Thoughts: I’d never seen any material about Howl’s Moving Castle before I saw the film recently with some friends. While I enjoyed the film, I was left with multiple questions and thought the book would possibly answer them. While Diana Wynne Jones does offer up some quality entertainment in her novel, the book hardly answers all the questions the movie presents. The book is definitely superior in certain ways, but if you don’t intend on ever reading it, take a look at the spoiler thoughts below.

Spoiler Thoughts: In the book, Howl courts many girls with wild abandon and is described as leaving them as soon as he’s caught them. This is a facet of his personality that is rather absent in the films, but makes much more sense when it comes to the contract between him and Calcifer. In order to save Calcifer (who was originally a dying star), Howl gives him his heart. This apparently seems to be what a fire demon is in the book, a star who was saved from extinction by being given a wizard or witch’s heart. In addition, the world that Sophie inhabits appears to be an alternate reality to our own, as Howl comes from the normal world. There is so much more that I could go over, but it seems that both book and film struggle to deal with explaining everything that they contain.

Parental Advisories: I believe Howl swears once in the book (“hell”) and for parents who try to avoid fantasy stories for their children, this is a definite no-no. The book also mentions demons, dark magic, and spirits, but never really gets deep into this side of the story.

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Escape From the Isle of the Lost

Recently, I was blessed to receive a copy of the newest Melissa de la Cruz Descendants novel through a giveaway generously hosted by Leslie Kay from The Disneybound. Today we’re going to be reviewing the fourth and possibly last novel in the Descendants series.

The Story: Mal and her friends have fought hard for the peace they’re enjoying now. She loves her amazing boyfriend, King Ben, the wonderful friends who make up her family, and Auradon Prep. Unfortunately, not everyone is content to let Mal live her life in peace. Uma, daughter of Ursula, is still lurking around in the waters between Auradon and the Isle of the Lost, searching for a way to escape. It seems she’s not alone however. Hades, former god of the underworld, has been trapped in the bowels of the Isle for as long as both girls can remember and he’s even more desperate to get away from this prison to get back to the paradise he once knew as an all powerful being. With Uma’s help, Hades might be able to get off the island and wreak havoc for the innocent citizens in Auradon. He and Uma might even (dare they think it?) be able to kick back and enjoy life – if they can just escape.

My Thoughts: I’ve enjoyed this series since I picked up the first book in 2015. Melissa de la Cruz is an excellent authoress who is a credit to the Descendants brand by writing novels that flesh out the world of the films and manages to write what feels like a tangible world. These books are fun ways to escape into another dimension and the perfect treat on a hot summer’s day.

Parental Advisories: None! Melissa de la Cruz does an excellent job of keeping these books appropriate for any age group.

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Cats vs Robots

In this week’s delightful tale, whimsy and reality collide with all the villainy that felines and artificial intelligence have to offer in Cats vs Robots!

The Story: For cats, there’s only one thing that can rouse them from their plushy lives up in space away from all troubles and interference: gaining the technology needed to give them more than nine lives. Though it may seem impossible, Earth, as insignificant as it is to Chairman Meow, may actually have something special to offer. Unfortunately, the Feline Confederation isn’t the only one interested in this treasure. They’ll have to get to the blue planet before the robots if they want the tech. Of course, that’s provided they can get through Min and Max, two siblings who are determined to keep their life going just as it should be. Clever Min is determined to make her newest invention a winner while soft-hearted Max just wants to take care of the new kittens he’s rescued. But what happens when the siblings realize they may have to choose not only between helping the two intergalactic groups invading Earth – and each other?

My Thoughts: I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but ya’ll, it was hard not to with this read. I mean, how adorable does this read look? The story inside did not disappoint either. For fans of the Cats vs Dogs films or just the wacky mashup genre as a whole, Margaret Stohl and Lewis Peterson have written a book that you’ll be remembering for years to come.

Parental Advisories: There is some crude humor because this book does involve animals, so bathroom humor is thrown in here and there unfortunately. For the most part though, this book is pretty clean of anything parents need worry about. I recommend this weird and wonderful read!

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Timelines of Everything

We’re reading another nonfiction read as the beginning of school comes closer. For history buffs, parents, or just educators looking to review some fun material before the school year starts, Smithsonian and DK’s new book Timelines of Everything is an excellent read.

The Summary: History is ever changing and there is never a loss of things to talk about. From the beginning of ancient history to the reformations and revolutions that changed the modern world as we know it, this comprehensive read does its best to cover a lot in a little bit of space. With its unique layout, this book is a feast for the eyes. The read is crafted with different time periods in mind as it uses “newspaper clippings”, infograph-like spreads, and notable art/photography pieces to set the proper mood for each time period. Whether this book ends up being a centerpiece for your educational purposes, this is still a read worth handing to your child just for a read through.

My Thoughts: As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’m a history buff and am always interested to see what kind of reads being provided for children these days. Smithsonian and DK do an admirable job with this excellently designed book which manages to cover some of the most impactful events in all of history. This is not the most detailed read; you won’t find any astounding historical facts that you haven’t heard of here, but it’s a great introduction for readers just getting to higher levels of reading.

Parental Advisories: The book does cover the theory of Big Bang and present it as fact so for parents who believe in a Creationist worldview, this book may be a great starting point for some meaningful conversations with children. There is also made mention of different kinds of social change, some of which may not always be considered good by parents of all different kinds. I think this is a book that could spark some great conversation with your kids. Otherwise, I highly recommend this read!

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Seeing Stars

This week we’re going over a nonfiction read perfect for the summertime. Before star-gazing on the roof, why not pick up this book on constellations for your kids?

Summary: For the budding astronomists and mythology nerds among your children, Sara Gillingham has written a book that is sure to make any curious student delighted. Chock-full of graphic designs and entertaining stories, this book is sure to answer all the questions your kids have (and haven’t) asked. Ever wondered who gave the Southern Cross its name? Curious as to why Canis Major and Minor were named after dogs? Seeing Stars: A Seeing Guide to the 88 Constellation is the perfect book to quench a learner’s thirst and spark a deeper love for astronomy.

My Thoughts: As a fan of mythology and also just a student who loves learning, this is a read that I definitely would consider owning. Sara Gillingham manages to convey the information in a concise form, compiling interesting facts that kids will eat up. Her simple designs will also be loved by younger readers.

Parental Advisories: None!

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The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare

I’ve become a pretty big fan of sci-fi over the past few years. While the genre selections for children can be hit or miss, The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare is a read worth checking out.

The Story: In a futuristic world filled with all sorts of neat gadgets, drones, and a war between groups who seek control over the natural resources. Yet even in this universe with its advanced technology, eleven year old Auden Dare can not see color. Not even a little. When Auden’s uncle dies and leaves him and his mom a place to stay, Auden hopes that Uncle Jonah’s genius might help him see as everyone else does, especially when he finds something mysterious entitled Project Rainbow on the property. When one of his new classmates, Vivi, gets involved in a hunt for the truth about Uncle Jonah’s robot Paragon and his secret project. Together, the two kids must discover the truth before anyone else does if Auden is to ever, just once, see extraordinary colors.

My Thoughts: Zillah Bethell weaves a tale that is at times familiar and at others completely fresh. Auden, Vivi, and Paragon are endearing characters and Auden’s struggle will be relatable for any kid who was born a little differently from the rest. I really enjoyed paging through this novel. With its entertaining mystery and attention focused on characters, this is a book that kids will find worth reading.

Parental Advisories: None! This is a clean read that is highly enjoyable.

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