Monday, September 29, 2014

A Dash of Magic: A Bliss Novel by Kathryn Littlewood

To the horror of the Bliss family, Aunt Lily has used the mystical recipes from the stolen Bliss Cookery Booke to launch herself towards international stardom. To expose Lily's evil plans, Rose challenges her to an acclaimed baking competition in Paris: the Gala des Gâteaux Grands. If Rose wins, Lily must return the Cookery Booke to the Bliss family. As the competition unfolds, Rose sees that Lily is cheating by using Bliss recipes to win in each baking category. So Rose and her family work together to find the purest magical ingredients to combat Lily's maniacal baked goods.

In Littlewood’s sequel of Bliss, readers are whisked away from comforts of Calamity Falls to visit the exotic locations of Mexico and Paris. While in Paris, Littlewood creates a magical “tour” of the French capital by going to such places as the top of the Eiffel Tower to collect “unspoiled raindrops”, the Catacombs to gather a “ghostly gust”, or to Notre Dame Cathedral to capture the “midnight chime” of a the Emmanuel bell. But besides the adventurous story, the heart of the book is about the strength and power that comes from a loving family. A family’s love and legacy are the key ingredients that help Rose conquer her fears. The next book in the Bliss series is called Bite-sized Magic.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

Rosemary Bliss’s family owns a magical bakery and all the baked goods come from recipes in the secret Bliss Cookery Booke--a cookbook that has been in the family for many generations. When her parents go on a trip, Rose is given the responsibility to protect the sacred cookbook. Because she is in charge, Rose believes she’s mature enough to try out some of the recipes without parental supervision. Then an unplanned guest comes to visit: the motorcycle riding, fabulous baker “Aunt” Lily. Soon after meeting Aunt Lily, Rose feels like Lily may have ulterior motives for coming to the Bliss Bakery.

Littlewood has concocted an addictive and delicious new series mixing food, fantasy, and fun. But aside from the magic and humor, Rose’s growth as a character showcases what many successful coming-of-age stories include: doubting her abilities, yearning for parental love and respect, defying parental guidance, gaining confidence in her talents, failing at responsibilities, and paying the price for negative actions. Readers will see that because of experiencing all those positive and negative situations, Rose learns that the love her family is more important the fabulous life Aunt Lily seems to have. All this background to Rose’s character sets up a solid storyline for the rest of Littlewood’s debut series.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

In the songs by the bards, Prince Charming charmed Cinderella, kissed Snow White, awakened Sleeping Beauty, and rescued Rapunzel. In reality, four very different and individual princes accomplished these fairy tale feats: Prince Frederic, Prince Duncan, Prince Liam, and Prince Gustav. Feeling cheated by the vague press, the princes leave their kingdoms in pursuit of heroic deeds and better recognition. But right under their noses, the evil witch, Zaubera, is capturing all the kingdoms’ bards to lure royalty away from their kingdoms and into her clutches.

Healy’s interpretation of Grimm’s fairy tales is incredibly humorous and imaginative. The book does answer some realistic questions for readers about the Grimm stories: Would Snow White be socially awkward if she did talk only to animals and dwarfs? Would the prince who “rescued” Rapunzel feel jilted because he really did not rescue her? What kind of prince would let other people discover his Cinderella? This would be a great read-aloud book for children and even adults. Readers can look forward to more books to come as this the first book in Healy’s debut series.

(Full review found on The Children's Book and Play Review:

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Because of his extraordinary intelligence and his narcolepsy, Nicholas Benedict feels like an outsider, especially at his new orphanage called ’Child’s End—once the manor of millionaires Mr. and Mrs. Rothschild. Soon after his arrival, Nicholas hears rumors about an unclaimed treasure left behind by Mrs. Rothschild. By working with his two new friends, John—a fellow orphan—and Violet—a neighboring farmer’s daughter—the three children uncover several clues about the Rothschild treasure. When Nicholas loses John to adoption and the treasure clues stagnate, Nicholas runs away.

Stewart does it again with this masterfully written prequel to his Mysterious Benedict Society series. Stewart explores two themes in the story: adults and friendship. First, because of his life in orphanages, Nicholas lost his faith in adults. When Nicholas decides that adults can be good, the treasure clues finally fall into place to reveal the Rothschild's unselfish charity. Secondly, Nicholas learns that friendship cannot be a one-sided relationship. At first, Nicholas only wants the treasure to escape his life at the orphanage. Once he put others needs before his own, Nicholas finds true happiness and purpose to his life. A beautifully written story that is sure to become a classic in children’s literature. 

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart

After returning home with the Whisperer, Reynie's adopted mother and grandmother, Kate's father, Sticky's parents, and Constance all move into Mr. Benedict's home. But the happy household is disrupted by several government officials who demand the Whisperer be surrendered into their hands. Mr. Benedict ignores their forceful pleas until he can fully examine the Whisperer's power and operation. While the children's families are out of the house, Mr. Curtain's gang steals the Whisperer. Later, the children are kidnapped by Mr. Curtain's men and taken to be subjected to his Whisperer again.

Stewart brings his spectacular series to a fulfilling conclusion as Reynie, Kate, Sticky, Constance, and Mr. Benedict work together to finally thwart Mr. Curtain's plans. In all the books, there is a reoccurring theme of not misjudging others. For example, Constance can be very uncooperative and negative. Her attitude sometimes makes it difficult for the other kids to work with her. But once Reynie, Kate, and Sticky give her a chance to explain her past, they are able to better understand and respect her amazing capabilities. This is the final book showcasing the four children as the main characters, but there is a prequel called, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

Several months after thwarting Mr. Curtain's evil plans, Mr. Benedict creates a world-wide "scavenger hunt" for Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance to test their knowledge, courage, and teamwork. Soon after the children receive his assignment, Mr. Benedict is kidnapped by Mr. Curtain's gang. The children decide to complete Mr. Benedict's mission when they see that the scavenger hunt riddles and Mr. Benedict's kidnapping clues converge.

Stewart's second book in the Benedict series matches the first in wit, suspense, and heart. Readers are privileged to see the bonds of friendship grow even deeper between Reynie, Kate, Sticky, Constance, and Mr. Benedict as each one gains a better understanding of their background. Along with friendship, readers also see that a family bond is not created by blood alone. Together they have created a unique, loving family that supports their intellectual endeavors.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Reynie Muldoon is an orphan and a kid genius. When he sees a newspaper advertisement needing gifted children for a special study, he decides to answer it. After completing several odd mental and physical tests, four children remain: Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance. The man behind the strange study is Mr. Benedict. He created the odd tests to find extraordinary children who could successfully infiltrate a secret boarding school run by the evil Mr. Curtain. Mr. Benedict has information that Mr. Curtain created a mind-controlling machine—the Whisperer—that can wipe away any person’s memories. After rigorous training with Mr. Benedict, the four children form a strong friendship and are soon enrolled into Mr. Curtain’s school. It’s up to their combined mental and physical efforts to sabotage the Whisperer and Mr. Curtain’s evil plans without revealing their connection with Mr. Benedict.

Stewart’s book is a refreshing read that has an intriguing plot, page-turning suspense, and consistent character development. The characters of Reynie, Kate, Sticky, Constance, and Mr. Benedict are lovable, intelligent, and identifiable to any reader. Through Reynie’s reflections, many wonderful life lessons are realized like the meaning of friendship, the importance of family, and the truth behind enemies. Readers will be put to the test, as they solve complex riddles and Morse code messages along with Reynie and his friends. This is the first book of a four part series. The second book in the series is The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.

Reading Challenge #1: Read-Aloud Chapter Books

A reading challenge I have run into lately is finding good read-aloud chapter books for children--ages 6 and up. After talking with my librarian mother and looking over the books I have reviewed in the past, I have compiled a list of wholesome read-alouds that are good for any age group.

Remember, a book might be an incredible read, but it may not be a good read-aloud. In my opinion, there are four characteristics of a top quality read-aloud: 1) a strong sense of voice in the text; 2) an attention-grabbing beginning; 3) a consistently captivating plot; 4) a fun, positive storyline. 

For example, The Dark is Rising is a superior series, but it isn’t a great read-aloud. It doesn’t have an attention grabbing beginning and it can get too ethereal. Little kids won’t sit still for those types of details. For those searching for a good read-aloud book, you want a story that makes you and your listeners want to come back for more. 

I hope these books will be successful read-alouds that you and your family will enjoy. 

  • The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • The Storm Runners’ series or Sasquatch by Rolland Smith
  • The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper by Jean Van Leeuwen (a great read during Christmas time)
  • The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull
  • A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
  • The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
  • A Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
  • Theodosia Throckmorton series by R. L. LaFevers
  • The Slate Stephan’s Mysteries by Sneed B. Collard III
  • Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kaye Umansky
  • The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell
  • The Bliss Bakery series by Kathryn Littlewood
  • Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans
  • Kidnapped, Everest, or Island series by Gordon Korman
  • The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  • Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
  • Trapped in Death Cave by Bill Wallace
  • Winny Has Wings by Janet Lee Carey
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
  • The False Prince series by Jennifer A. Nielsen
  • The Man Who Loved Clowns by June Rae Wood

Let me know what YOU think. What chapter books have been great read-alouds for your families?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cartwheel: A Sequel to Double Eagle by Sneed B. Collard III

In the summer of 1975, two years after their Confederacy gold discovery, Mike and Kyle reunite to rescue Annie, Kyle’s sister, from her abusive uncle. The three runaway teens head to Denver to not only avoid the police but to pursue clues for a rare coin--the 1964 Peace Dollar. As the clues unfold about the coin, Annie reveals that she was never abused by her uncle. She only made up the story to get Kyle to take her away so they could be together again. When their uncle shows up in Denver, Mike frantically puts the clues together to find the missing silver dollar.

In this story, Collard takes readers along the back roads of the United States, visiting such places as Oneonta, Alabama; Warrensburg, Missouri; and Dodge City, Kansas. During this road-trip, Mike makes two important realizations about his life: first, his family situation is not ideal, but it is better than what Kyle and Annie face; second, his step-father and Annie's uncle are both bullies. Mike saw that bullies only go against someone emotionally weaker than themselves. When Mike realizes he is emotionally stronger than Annie's uncle, he confidently faces her uncle's threats head-on and leaves the victor. Fans of Double Eagle will enjoy this diverting sequel as they travel cross-country with Mike, Kyle, and Annie in a 1957 Bel Air.

Double Eagle by Sneed B. Collard III

Mike is dreading the summer with his marine biologist dad in Florida. But plans change when Mike’s dad decides to teach a summer course on an island off Alabama’s coast. Soon after his arrival, Mike makes friends with Kyle, a charismatic southern boy who is familiar with the island. While hanging out at an old Civil War fort, Mike happens upon a gold Confederate coin. When the boys look for more coins, they can’t. They find help in a local man whose ancestry goes back to the time the coins arrived at the fort.

Collard creates an unpredictable story by expertly weaving together Civil War history, rare coins, a disastrous hurricane, and an unlikely friendship. In many young adult stories involving the discovery of a missing artifact, it usually seems far-fetched that the teen characters are the only ones who find the lost item, even after experts have tried and failed. But in Double Eagle, Collard sets up a realistic premise where it’s plausible that Mike and Kyle are the only ones who find the Confederate gold. They had a crucial piece of Civil War history that other experts didn’t have. If readers enjoyed the friendship of Mike and Kyle and their search for rare coins, readers will be happy to know that Collard published a sequel called Cartwheel.

Dog 4491 by Sneed B. Collard III

Sam and his grandfather find a stray dog, Sophie, with a collar dating back to the 1920s. Sophie’s background leads them to an abandoned Victorian house on the wrong side of the dangerous Expressway. They discover that the house is in the middle of a debate to expand the Expressway and tear down the historic neighborhood. While Sam is exploring the house, he and Sophie are transported back in time to Sophie’s original owner in 1926—an 11-year-old boy named Rollie. The two boys become instant friends and together they expose the corrupt Cheesebro brothers who are bribing city officials to push the Expressway expansion.

Collard creates a fun and fast-paced time-travel tale with a strong friendship foundation. Readers will enjoy seeing how two boys from different eras become friends. At first, Sam and Rollie show the other the best of their time period—graphic novels, coin collecting, and great ice cream. When their friendship is solidified, the two boys find common ground in saving the future of their city. Besides the themes of friendship and time-travel, Collard also outlines the cons with over-expansion and the pros with restoring cities back to their original condition. Collard showcases the idea that things really were better in “the good old days” and that people can learn from the past to improve their future. A great read for boys of any age.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Introducing Sneed B. Collard III

I met Sneed B. Collard III at the 2008 Allen County Young Authors program in Iola, Kansas. Sneed has written a variety of books ranging from non-fiction picture books to fictional young adult novels. Here are more insights into Sneed's life from his biography:

"Before beginning his writing career, Sneed graduated with honors in marine biology from the University of California at Berkeley. Afterward, he worked as a field biologist before earning a master’s degree in scientific instrumentation from U.C. Santa Barbara. While honing his writing skills, he spent several years working as a computer consultant for biologists at U.C.S.B. This experience gave him a wealth of writing ideas...

"In the past decade, Sneed has focused more attention on fiction. His popular novels include Dog Sense, Flash Point (winner of the Green Earth Book Award), Double Eagle, Cartwheel—A Sequel to Double Eagle, and the Slate Stephens Mysteries titles, The Governor’s Dog is Missing and Hangman’s Gold. His newest book, the tween time-travel mystery Dog 4491, was a finalist for the Green Earth Book Award and is currently on the Keystone to Reading Middle School Book Award List for 2014-15."

In August, 2010, Sneed started his own publishing house, Bucking Horse Books, in Missoula, Montana. Several of the books I have reviewed have been published from this press.


I recently interviewed Sneed about his life as a writer:

1. What inspired you to write?
Several things conspired to make me want to write. I grew up an avid reader, so books ran through my bloodstream from an early age. During my first overseas trip--to Asia as a fifteen-year-old--I also began keeping a journal, something that would become a lifelong habit. From early childhood, I also always cared deeply about the environment, and thought that perhaps through my writing I could inspire people to take better care of the planet. Last, I just have a compulsion to tell stories! All of these factors really didn't give me any choice but to become a writer!

2. Why did you start your own publishing business?
When the recession hit, publishing pretty much ground to a halt. Even after the recovery began, however, major publishers largely switched to wanting to publish only "sure-fire bestsellers". That left a lot of great books with no place to go. Starting my own company allowed my work to keep coming out, but also in the modern publishing environment, provide a place for regional or "quieter" books that readers enjoy.

3. What books have inspired you and your writing?
Oh, so many it's hard to even begin. In fact, it's easier to name inspiring authors than individual titles. Among my most inspirational adult authors are Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, Raymond Chandler, Jon Krakauer, and Richard Bradford. For children's writers, gotta include Lois Lowry, Richard Peck, Laurence Pringle, Louis Sachar, Gary Schmidt, Roland Smith, Larry Dane Brimner, and Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

4. Any advice about writing or finding good books to read?
As far as finding good books to read, I rely heavily on my friends and on employees of local independent bookstores to make recommendations. As far as writing advice, the main thing is to just write and write and write some more. I've heard--and I believe this--it takes about ten years of sustained effort to start to understand what you're doing as a writer. I was fortunate in that I got much of this accomplished as a young person writing in journals and writing hundreds of letters back and forth to my father and to friends. You can't "get there" without putting in the work, however. One more hint is to write the kinds of books you love to read. If you love nonfiction, that's what you should be writing. Ditto for fantasy or mysteries, etc...

Sneed will soon be publishing a non-fiction book called Fire Birds.

Welcome to Children's Compass Chronicle

Welcome to Children's Compass Chronicle!

The reading world can be a hard place to navigate in finding a "safe harbor" for readers to explore. But from my years as a book reviewer for The Children's Book and Play Review, I can give you insights for a smooth and enjoyable trip through our literary world.

In most cases, I plan to showcase books not known to most of the public. Just because a book gets a lot of hype and attention, doesn't mean its an amazing read. Some of the best books I have read were books that I discovered on my own, without seeing any advertisements for them.

But along with showcasing great books, I want to acknowledge the authors who created them. Its amazing how these authors think! I'll delve into their writing process to help you see what makes these amazing authors tick! So on a monthly basis, I will showcase a different author and their books that I have reviewed.

If you want to see any of my past book reviews, check out the CBPR. But I will re-post many of them on this blog for you to discover the books that have inspired me.

I hope you enjoy the literary destinations ahead!

Hangman's Gold by Sneed B. Collard III

While out on a geological assignment with their fathers, Slate and Daphne explore the Wild West ghost town of Bannack, Montana. During their exploration, the two friends find a list of riddles leading to an unclaimed vigilantes’ treasure. As they figure out the riddles, a second mystery diverts them. In a nearby town, several priceless paintings have been stolen and the clues are leading back to Bannack. Slate and Daphne work together to find the missing paintings, but they are kidnapped by the art thief and his boss.

The second book in the Slate Stephens mysteries does not disappoint. Hangman’s Gold flawlessly transitions from the first book to showcase how finding the governor’s dog has affected the lives of Slate, Daphne, and their families. Like the first book, Collard creates an engrossing story that weaves together historical facts, geological know-how, preteen wit, and budding romance into a colorful whodunit. Again, Collard sets the stage in Montana, this time using the real ghost town of Bannack and its history as the heart of the story. A fun read, and an enjoyable read-aloud, for boys and girls, ages 10 and up. Collard plans to continue writing more Slate Stephens mysteries in the near future.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Governor's Dog Is Missing! by Sneed B. Collard III

10375470When Slate and his friend, Daphne, find out that the governor’s Border collie, Cat, has gone missing, the two friends decide to take on the case. Their investigation begins at the Capital building in Helena, Montana, as they question the governor, his staff, and a suspicious Minority Leader. Then the clues to Cat’s whereabouts take them through several of Helena’s historical sites. However, several false leads, arguments, a stray dog, and an awkward kiss threaten to derail the case and their friendship.

Collard has created an engaging, clean mystery series that both entertains and educates readers. Inside the page-turning whodunit, Collard has woven in important facts about Montana like what are Helena’s sites, how does Montana’s government work, and what rock formations are found in Glacier National Park, to name a few. Along with the amazing backdrop of Montana, Slate and Daphne are fun and true-to-life characters that successfully carry the whole story to the end. Slate’s narrative is witty, insightful, impulsive, and realistic, especially with his twelve-year-old beginning crush on Daphne. A great read for both boys and girls ages 10 and up. The next book in the Slate Stephens series is Hangman’s Gold.