The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth

This year has brought us some excellent nonfiction books and this next one is no exception. With beautiful illustrations and chapters broken down easily for reading, The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth is a book worth checking out.

Summary: Rachel Ignotofsky does a remarkable job with this book. The introduction breaks down the definitions of ecosystems and classification of animals before diving right into each section showcasing the wonders of different living conditions all around the world. From the hot savanna plains of Africa to the icy Arctic caps, the book is a comprehensive guide to the beauties of the world. Each chapter has a lovely illustration and a description of the environment. At the end of the book is a brief look at how the different cycles of the weather and elements work.

My Thoughts: This book is worth a read for the pictures alone. The graphic designs are colorful and wondrous to look at. I think parents and children alike will enjoy flipping through this. Given the nature of the book, this is also a great introductory read for educators to hand off to their students.

Parental Advisories: This book does have a strong bias towards the evolutionary theory of life and writes from a point of view that believes in global warming as a viable threat to the state of humanity. Otherwise, this is a clean read that is highly enjoyable.

Posted in Kid's Lit, Kids Nonfic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Showtime at the Apollo

Sometimes the most interesting stories surround places and the people who fill them. There’s nothing quite like music to bring people together, as proved by the Apollo in Harlem, as brought to life once more by author Ted Fox and illustrator James Otis Smith.

The Story: In 1933, a theater started with a singular dream: to be a haven for people of color, a place where thy could hone, share, and take pleasure in their considerable talents. From performers like Jay-Z in 2007, Bo Didley in 1955, to Paul McCartney 2010, this is a place that has hosted the best of the best – those whom modern audiences may have forgotten, those whom history has revered and will likely to revere for ages to come – but it came from humble origins. Though it may not have started as a location of rebellion, it quickly grew into a haven for performers of color. Here music evolved as dancers and singers took the stage, turning the place from a place of questionable nature to a well reputed establishment. It’s story doesn’t end in the past though – the story continues as the theater continues to evolve and grow even today.

Entertaining, well documented, and cleverly packed with photos of real documents, performers, and more, this is the nonfiction read that readers deserve. You’ll find yourself fully immersed in this tale of what it takes to do more than just survive – but thrive.

Parental Advisories: This book is definitely marketed towards an adult audience, but is pleasantly clean, with only the occasional mild cuss (though there are scattered cuss words and topics throughout that parents may want to keep kids from). I definitely think young adult audiences could enjoy this book depending on their maturity and parents’ comfort level. Read at your own disclosure.

Posted in Adult Reads, Nonfiction, YA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ask Emma: Frenemies

A few months back we reviewed a fun new take on the classic Jane Austen novel Emma with the middle grade read Ask Emma. Today we’re taking a look at the followup by Sheryl Berk and Carrie Berk.

The Story: Emma could not be happier. Her blog “Ask Emma” is doing better than ever and summer is coming up soon. Everything is going great – until it’s not. When Emma realizes that one of her best friends and crush, Jackson Knight, is going to DC on a conference that helps kids out, she’s livid. Helping people out is her specialty and instead shy Jackson Knight gets to go? In order to be allowed, Emma makes a deal with one of her teachers: she will be impartial for forty-eight hours. Easy, right? Except Emma, as opinionated as she is, is finding it a lot harder to keep silent, especially when it’s her friends that need help. And as the DC trip grows closer, she realizes that giving impartial advice might be harder than she thought.

My Thoughts: The first Ask Emma resembled Austen’s original novel much more than this one, but nevertheless this was an enjoyable read. Sheryl and Carrie Berk are a lovely mother/daughter writing duo and this book does not disappoint.

Parental Advisories: I am always pleased to find a middle grade read that I can certify as 100% squeaky clean and Ask Emma: Frenemies definitely passes the test.

Posted in Kid's Lit, Kids' Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

One of my favorite heroines is explored in this new novel by David Elliott. Written in a lyrical prose that manages to capture the sweeping epic of her life, Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc is worth a read. This book was released within the last few months, making this the perfect time to give this new book a review.

The Story: Ever since the flame has seen Joan’s bright spirit and mighty courage, it has known that she will succumb to the fire. Ever since Joan has heard the Voice, she knows that she cannot be a normal girl. And ever since the many voices, the many souls intertwined in this grand narrative have met, they know that France and its history will never be the same. This is the tale of Joan of Arc, as told by the dress she discarded, the sword she carried, the horse she rode, and the people she shared her life with. These are the Voices that write the truth.

My Thoughts: Of all the books I’ve read this year, this has definitely got to be one of the most uniquely formatted. All of the voices in the book are well written poetic verses that draw the reader closer into the intriguing depths of Joan’s life. Though this is much more of a fictitious than factual read, David Elliot does an excellent job of weaving in historical fact and fiction in this unique novel.

Parental Advisories: I recommend holding off on handing this book to your younger readers as the book discusses virginity, lust, and what it means to be a witch, themes that might be better off discussed with teens.

Posted in YA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brightest Star in the North

For young fans of pirates and swashbuckling tales, this novel centered around the new character of Carina Smith from Dead Men Tell No Tales is the perfect read to introduce children to the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.

The Story: Carina may be an orphan, but she knows that she has a special destiny. The father that she never knew may have left her behind, but she’s sure that he meant for her to do great things – even if it means she has to bend the rules a little bit and get into trouble to discover the truth. From the orphanage where she is kept to a position at a grand lady’s home to the Caribbean where the truth of her heritage might finally be uncovered, Carina Smyth is willing to do whatever it takes and prove that she is worth her namesake.

My Thoughts: I remember the first Pirates of the Caribbean film I ever watched and the inevitable clamor for swashbuckling reads that followed. While children’s fiction has a generous supply, recently this genre of books has not been in as much demand so this new addition based off of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is definitely entertaining. Carina is an engaging heroine and her adventures prior to the film’s timeline are really fun to read. I recommend picking this up at some point.

Parental Advisories: If you’ve seen Dead Men Tell No Tales, this is even more tame. With the exception of some slight romantic elements (as well as an awkward interaction for parents to explain if they so choose between the characters of Henry and Carina), this book is squeaky clean.


Posted in Kid's Lit, Kids' Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

100 Dresses: The Starlight Slippers

This week we’re reviewing the third in a fun middle grade fantasy series by Susan Maupin Schmid. We’ve already viewed the first two books in this poster HERE, and today we’re looking at the newest novel in the series.

The Story: Princess Mariposa is getting married (for real this time) and the castle is all in a tizzy, including the princess herself. She’s determined to get her hands on the Starlight Slippers that once belonged belonged to Queen Candace, years before the dragons came to the palace. Darling is excited about the slippers too, for an altogether different reason. She knows the truth about the magic of the castle and she hopes that these slippers might be the key to discovering more about the secrets of the magic. And speaking of keys, she’s still not figured out where the secret key she has leads to. Roger and Gillian have been helping, but Darling can’t seem to find the right keyhole. To make matters worse, something mysterious is disrupting the wedding plans and the dragons that lurk on the castle roof are growing restless. She knows it might be any day now that they get loose and it’s becoming more and more important that she discover the truth about her legacy as one of the last Wrays. Time is running out for Darling – can she solve this mystery too?

My Thoughts: From the first book in the series, I enjoyed Susan Maupin Schmid’s entertaining voice and well-paced narratives, each reminiscent of other successful fantasy authors whom I’ve enjoyed. My younger sister was something of a vetting audience for the first book and highly enjoyed it as well. The characters are as engaging as ever, though I’d definitely give the previous two books a reread so you’re not lost picking this book up.

Parental Advisories: As usual, this is a clean and entertaining read with no reason to give parents worry.

Posted in Kid's Lit, Kids' Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

August Isle

Though summer is long gone, Ali Standish’s novel August Isle is sure to transport you to a summer beach with a fresh slice of tangy pie on your lap.

The Story: All Miranda wants to do is relax and enjoy this summer. Is that too much to ask? Finally she might be able to bake. Maybe she might even be able to share her summer with her mom for once. Unfortunately, her family has other plans. With her father taking on a big case and her mom leaving for what feels like the millionth time, Miranda is going to the one place she’s always wanted to go, the one time she doesn’t want to go there: August Isle. She doesn’t know much about the place where her mother grew up, but she’s hoping that by being there maybe she can discover the truth of why her mom no longer loves her as she used to. After Miranda breaks into a supposedly abandoned shack across the harbor, she, her cousins Sammy, and new friend Caleb are stuck helping out old Mr. Taylor, whose secrets may have more to do with her than she thinks. From sailing lessons that terrify her to the baking contest that she’s ashamed she can’t actually bake for, this is going to be a summer that she’ll never forget.

My Thoughts: Ali Standish outdoes herself with this excellent novel. Miranda is a likeable and relatable main character and the supporting cast is just as enjoyable to read about. The plot, pacing, and prose are well-written; this is easily one of the most engaging reads I’ve picked up within the month. The emotional points of this book are touching and you may even find yourself a little choked up at the end.

Parental Advisories: Cussing is made mention of during the book, but is never actually written out.

Posted in Kid's Lit, Kids' Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Next Great Paulie Fink

Psychological twists and cultural myths are explored, albeit through the small medium of rurual Mitchell School. Don’t underestimate Ali Benjamin though – The Next Great Paulie Fink brings character, wit, and thoughtful perusal of an intellectual topic that goes beyond a simple children’s story.

The Story: How does one go from being a nobody to being a legend? Simple: have many stories. For Paulie Fink, it doesn’t matter that he’s missing. The entirety of his school knows who he is and they’ve all got opinions on the boy they thought they knew. But is Paulie Fink really the class clown, who always had a quippy comeback? Is he the evil genius, who always had a trick up his sleeve? No matter who he was, Caitlyn now has to find a replacement, an individual who can live up to the name. The only problem? Caitlyn doesn’t really know who Paulie Fink was, which means she has no idea who she’s looking for now. Through the stories and interviews from across Mitchell School and a couple of rather intriguing philosophy classes (plus some, um, interesting goat shenanigans), Caitlyn is discovering more about Paulie, her school, and even herself than she ever thought possible.

My Thoughts: I genuinely enjoyed the concept and reading of this book. Paulie Fink was an interesting enigma and the unique format of the book (told via Caitlyn’s point of view, interviews, written entries, etc) made this fun to page through. I actually really recommend this book for reader anywhere from early elementary to junior high or the beginning of high school just for the kind of philosophical topics discussed.

Parental Advisories: Typical juvenile humor sprinkled liberally throughout, but clean in the ways that most parents would be concerned with.

Posted in Kid's Lit, Kids' Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lizzie Flying Solo

For animal fans and middle grade readers who are looking for stories with lots of heart and hope, I would recommend checking out this week’s read Lizzie Flying Solo written by Nanci Turner Stevenson.

The Story: Once upon a time Lizzie had a home and a complete family with her dad, who was not a criminal. Now she has neither of those things and instead she’s living with her mom in an inbetween home. Waiting for her father’s trial and life to land back in normal-town is hardly easy. Still, she has Bryce, an equally new student at her school, as a friend and even better, she has the stables nearby where she can watch Fire. Lizzie has never been able to forget about the difficulty of her life like she can when she watches this horse. If only she could ride him; better yet, Lizzie really wants to own Fire. But with the financial situation her family is in, there’s no way she’s going to be able to pay for a pony. Still, Lizzie’s fortunes may worsen, but her spirit is not beaten. She knows that she and Fire are destined to ride together and if she can’t fix the broken things then she will rise above them.

My Thoughts: This is a quaint and straightforward story that is what it claims to be. Lizzie is an engaging main character surrounded by genuine characters who have lives of their own, engaging backstories and complicated stories of their own. The plucky spirit of ambition and drive that Lizzie has to get her goals is actually a pretty great example for middle graders. This is definitely a middle grade book, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t well written or interesting. I’d definitely recommend this for younger readers.

Parental Advisories: Child abuse is made mention of and divorce is a heavily explored topic in this book, so this is definitely a book that you want to discuss if you’re handing this off to younger readers.

Posted in Kid's Lit, Kids' Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Camelot Code

King Arthur is revived in this middle-grade novel that brings urban fantasy to the modern century. Mari Mancusi brings this innovative new story to life in her newest novel The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek.

The Story: Sophie is not exactly the most popular girl. Stuart is not exactly the most athletic boy. Guinevere is not exactly the most normal girl. Arthur is not exactly the most powerful boy. The only difference? The two pairs of kids live centuries apart and one pair of kids are destined to be some of the most important in English legend. Together, though, this unlikely crew might have to be something more. When Arthur finds himself in a present without his best friend, where his tragic story is well known, and where he’s disheartened. The world as Stuart and Sophie know it is getting a whole lot stranger, but luckily they’re something of experts in this field. Well, more or less. Surely years of fantasy video gaming has to count for something, right? Either way, Stuart and Sophie have been tasked by Merlin to help Arthur get back to his own time before England collapses. Worse, Arthur’s enemies have come to the future as well and they’re not going to stop until they have taken control of both the past and present.

My Thoughts: Mari Mancusi does an excellent job of playing with the psychological aspects of the King Arthur story. What would have happened had Arthur known about his legend? For middle grade and younger readers, this is an exciting adventure/fantasy story with a good emotional backbone and relatable characters. The plot is well woven and the pacing is great.

Parental Advisories: This is a clean read, though there is a bit of romance intertwined (but one can expect that in a story about King Arthur).

Posted in Kid's Lit, Kids' Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment