Friday, November 28, 2014

The Shadow Throne (Ascendance Trilogy #3) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The countries of Avenia, Gelyn, and Mendenwal have joined forces to invade Carthya. Soon after the invasion, King Vargan of Avenia kidnaps Jaron's closest friend, Imogen. When Jaron tries to rescue Imogen, he is captured and Imogen is shot down. Thinking he has lost Imogen forever, Jaron sinks into a deep depression while Vargan's soliders torture him into surrendering his land. Only Carthya's plight and his unconquerable spirit can help Jaron pull through his despair to fight for his country's future.

Nielsen beautifully completes her trilogy with The Shadow Throne. In this book, Jaron deals with some of his greatest conflicts: the possible defeat of his kingdom,  the deaths of his subjects, and the loss of his love, Imogen. In previous trials, Jaron's body was badly wounded, but his reckless spirit endured. When Jaron believes he has lost Imogen, his spirit is defeated and his future seems purposeless without her. However, when great sorrow occurs, great joy follows. A rousing series for readers ages 10 and up.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Runaway King (Ascendance Trilogy #2) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

During his family’s funeral, King Jaron is threatened by Roden, one of the boys also trained by Conner. Roden—now in league with the pirates who failed to murder Jaron four years earlier—warns Jaron that the pirates will destroy Carthya if Jaron doesn't surrender himself to them. Jaron secretly runs away, disguised again as Sage, to the pirate’s camp. With a reckless plan in his head, Jaron will do anything to save his country, his friends, and his throne.

Nielsen continues on flawlessly with Jaron’s story in The Runaway King. As the book begins, Jaron has fully accepted his duty as king, in some ways: his curt tongue and impetuous attitude cannot be curbed. Once he flees the castle, Jaron easily assumes to his "Sage-persona" as he makes his way to the pirates' camp. Yet his mission at the camp isn't only about stopping the pirate conflict. As he investigates the pirates’ threats, Jaron sees war brewing between his kingdom of Carthya and King Vargan’s kingdom of Avenia. Along with a future war, Jaron also uncovers a high ranking traitor in his court who is the true murderer of his family. The final book in the trilogy is The Shadow Throne.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The False Prince (Ascendance Trilogy #1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Fifteen-year-old Sage and three other orphan boys are bought by the regent, Bevin Conner. Conner’s purpose for buying the boys is to pass one of them off as the lost prince of Carthya, since the remaining royal family was recently murdered. But Conner's plan to put one of them on the throne is not for patriotic reasons and Sage knows this. But when one of the boys is murdered on Conner's orders, Sage and the two boys must fight for their lives as they compete for the throne.

Nielsen’s story mimics such classic tales as Anastasia, The Prince and the Pauper, and The Prisoner of Zenda. But what makes Nielsen's story standout is Sage’s character. Sage has a gift of seeing the truth behind people’s words and actions. Even though Conner claims that putting a false prince on the throne is “righteous”, Sage can see that Conner wants to rule the kingdom himself. But Sage does not keep this information to himself. He openly states the truth, even at the cost of his life. Nielsen beautifully showcases Sage’s grown from his time at the orphanage to accepting his royal destiny. This is the first book in the Ascendance Trilogy. The next book in the trilogy is called The Runaway King.

Friday, November 21, 2014

One-Dog Sleigh by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt

The characters from One-Dog Canoe return, but this time the little girl and her dog go out for a sleigh ride in the woods. As she and her dog drive through the snowy forest, all the creatures they come across want to hitch a ride. The girl reluctantly lets them board, but the sleigh gets stuck in the snow from too many passengers. With a possible blizzard coming, she and her new woodland friends must work together to get her, her dog, and her sleigh safely home by nightfall.

One-Dog Sleigh is another successful picture book that showcases the best of Casanova’s and Hoyt’s literary teamwork. Casanova’s text and Hoyt’s illustrations create a rhythmically and visually cohesive picture book. Unlike most rhyming picture books, Casanova expertly rhymes the whole story without any part feeling awkward or disjointed. Hoyt’s watercolor illustrations not only bring whimsy to Casanova’s story, but they also bring added flow, emotion, and depth to the plot. One-Dog Sleigh is a fun read-aloud for any age group.

(Full Review Found on Children's Book and Play Review:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reading Challenge #3: Picture Books

The Power of Picture Books: Strengthening Reading Skills and Family Relationships

A few years ago I read an online article from The New York Times by Julie Bosman called, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children” (Oct. 7, 2010). What I read saddened and disturbed me.

The article stated that bookstores, publishers, and authors all saw a steady decline of picture books sales in recent years. From Bosman’s research, this decline seems to be caused by parents who are pressuring their young children—kindergarteners or first graders—into leaving behind picture books for chapter books. These parents have the false notion that this early switch towards chapter books will better prepare their children for school standardized testing.

But literacy experts have shown that picture books can help “develop a child’s critical thinking skills” better than many chapter books.

“To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking,” said Karen Lotz, the publisher of Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass. “From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.”

Many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex.

“Some of the vocabulary in a picture book is much more challenging than in a chapter book,” said Kris Vreeland, a book buyer for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, California…. “The words themselves, and the concepts, can be very sophisticated in a picture book.”

But I felt that the article didn’t address another element causing the picture book decline: less parents are taking the time to read to their children.

When told the word “picture book”, the image most people think of is an adult reading a short, illustrated book aloud to a child. When “chapter book” is said, most people immediately envision a solitary activity. What is this saying to children?

But I get that life can be incredibly busy. Parents today have to juggle jobs, finances, community and church responsibilities, even their own education along with all their children’s school and extracurricular activities. But when parents push aside personal time reading to their children for other activities, they lose out on helping their children feel loved and aiding them in developing their critical thinking skills as mentioned above.

Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a talk entitled “Of Things That Matter Most” (Oct. 2010). In it he discusses the importance of parents taking time out for their children.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks…taught, “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they…strengthen our families.”

Since “no other success can compensate for failure in the home”, we must place high priority on our families. We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home.

So realize it’s not just about choosing picture books over chapter books. It’s about choosing time with your children.

Want to start developing that time together? Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Pick a time with your children as your special “reading time”. Do it at a certain time every day, like bedtime, or several times a week.

2. If things get in the way, see what activities can moved around or eliminated so you can keep up your scheduled reading time together.

3. Pick a special reading spot. Create a “reading corner” in your home with comfy chairs, blankets, and pillows. Or pick a special library or park you frequent often with your families.

4. Get books! Raid the libraries and find any picture books that interest you and your children.

To help you complete one of these tips, I have listed below some of the best picture books for children.

Let the power of picture books help your children not only improve their reading and comprehension skills, but also to improve your relationships with them. Good luck and good reading!

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
Babushka Baba Yaga by Patricia Polacco
The Berenstein Bears and the Spooky Old Tree by Stan & Jan Berenstein
Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese, illustrated by John O’Brien
The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarian by Carla Morris, illustrated by Brad Sneed
Bubba and Trixie by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Chicken Soup With Rice by Maurice Sendak
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
The Day Dirk Yeller Came to Town by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt
The Empty Pot by Demi
Epossumondas series by Coleen Salley, illustrated by Janet Stevens
Escape of Marvin the Ape by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner
Fanny's Dream by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner
Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
Genghis Khan by Demi
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by Mark Buehner
Hershal and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Hyman
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight series by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson
Johnny Kaw: A Tall Tale by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Brad Sneed
The Jolly Postman series by Allen Ahlberg, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg
Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood
The Legend of the Blue Bonnet by Tomie DePaola
The Legend of the Indian Paint Brush by Tomie DePaola
Library Mouse series by Daniel Kirk
Little Red Riding Hood: Newfangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Livingstone Mouse by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole
Marco Polo by Demi
The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff, illustrated by Michael Dooling
The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie by Chris Van Allsburg
Miss Nelson is Missing series by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall
Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook series by Michael Garland
No Such Thing! by Jackie French Koller, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole
One Dog Canoe; One-Dog Sleigh by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
Pirates, Ho! by Sarah Thomson, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
The Quiet Book by Deborah Enderwood
Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon
Santa Calls by William Joyce
Saying Good-bye to Lulu by Corinne Demas, illustated by Ard Hoyt
Share With Brother; Stay With Sister by Steve Layne, illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by Brad Sneed
Snowmen and Night by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner
Some Dog!; Some Cat! by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Strega Nona's Harvest by Tomie DePaola
The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg
The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Ten Things I Can Do to Help My World: Fun and Easy Eco-Tips by Melanie Walsh
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
The Three Cabritos by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
Tree of Cranes by Allen Say
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Jane Smith
Tutankhamen by Demi
'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey
Uncle Jed's Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell, illustrated by James Ransome
Unspoken by Henry Cole
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Widow's Broom by Chris Van Allsburg
A Wish for Wings that Work: An Opus Christmas Story by Berkeley Breathed
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling Louie, illustrated by Ed Young
You are Special by Max Lucado
The Z was Zapped: A Play in Twenty-six Acts by Chris Van Allsburg

Monday, November 17, 2014

Johnny Kaw: A Tall Tale by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Brad Sneed

Johnny Kaw is a six-foot-two-inch newborn who gains a pound every hour. Realizing their son is too big for their small-town lifestyle, Johnny’s parents hitch up their wagon and head west to Kansas. Once in Kansas, they settle down on a large farm that is spacious enough for their giant son to grow and accomplish amazing feats.

Devin Scillian and Brad Sneed have created a delightful picture book that showcases the beauties and legends of Kansas. Not only is Johnny Kaw a humorous tall tale, but it is also a heartfelt story that exhibits a son’s love for his mother. Along with the playfulness of Scillian’s story, Sneed offers his own whimsical additions to the plot. Within the illustrations, Sneed depicts the animals and plants of Kansas, even showcasing the mascots from two of Kansas’s major universities. This book makes a great resource for teachers and librarians doing units on tall tales or even teaching about Kansas.

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Princess of the Silver Woods (Twelve Dancing Princesses #3) by Jessica Day George

While traveling to the Grand Duchess’s estate, Petunia’s coach is held-up by the Westfalin Wolves and she is abducted by their leader, Oliver. He regrets abducting Petunia and returns her to the Duchess. But Oliver secretly watches over Petunia and he witnesses shadowy spirits terrorizing her at night. Oliver leaves to meet with Petunia's father, King Gregor, to turn himself in and report about the spirits. Once Petunia’s sisters and brothers-in-law hear Oliver’s news, they rush to Petunia's side, but a trap is waiting for them.

The final installment of the Twelve Dancing Princesses series is a great finish to George's retelling of the classic fairy tale. This time, more back-story is included on why Kingdom Under Stone was created and how the dark princes came into being. Besides the added back-story, George has weaved in the common features found in the little red-riding-hood tale. This time the “wolf” is the hero and “red-riding-hood” is a not-so-easily-deceived princess. From this series, George has proven that she is an expert at re-crafting fairy tales into cohesive and inventive stories with heightened adventure, like-able characters, and lovely romances.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Princess of Glass (Twelve Dancing Princesses #2) by Jessica Day George

For three years the princesses of Westfalin have tried to mend relations with the surrounding kingdoms. Ever since their curse caused the death of several princes, tempers have run high against their kingdom. By letting the princesses participate in an “exchange program,” Westfalin hopes to mend the damage caused by their curse. Poppy, now sixteen, is sent to Breton. While staying with her cousins there, she sees the similar signs of a curse laid on a young maid named Eleanora. When Poppy investigates Elenora’s curse, Poppy must face her own demonic nightmares with courage and ingenuity.

George’s story is a unique twist on the Cinderella fairy tale. George portrays the fairy godmother as a vengeful creature and “Cinderella”, or Eleanora, as a bitter and disappointed girl. The only criticism of the book is that sections detailing the godmother’s past and breaking her curse seems rushed and unexplained, as if the story was hurriedly written. Otherwise, it is a great read for those who enjoy fairy tales written from a new angle. The final book in George’s Twelve Dancing Princesses series is Princess of the Silver Woods.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Princess of the Midnight Ball (Twelve Dancing Princesses #1) by Jessica Day George

Galen—a poor soldier—meets an old woman along the road to the palace. Because of his kindness, she gives him an invisibility cloak and two balls of magic yarn. Galen continues on to the palace and gains employment as a gardener there. As he works in the gardens, Galen becomes acquainted with the king's twelve daughters, especially the eldest princess. Soon Galen sees firsthand the king’s dilemma of the princesses’ ruined shoes and their ailing health. The king proclaims that the man who can solve the princesses’ mystery can marry one of his daughters and co-rule the kingdom. Galen uses his magical gifts to discover not only the cause of princesses’ ruined shoes, but to also find out who is behind the princesses nightly disappearance.

George takes the well-known fairy tale a step further by adding complex aspects to the story, like a demon underworld. But George stresses how dancing each night, with no sleep, would threaten the princesses’ well-being. The princesses’ health becomes the driving reason the king is desperate for a resolution to the mystery, not the cost of repairing shoes. Along with the engaging read, George adds a knitting twist to the story, with knitting patterns included at the end of the book. Readers who enjoy such books as the Books of Bayern series or Ella Enchanted will also enjoy this series. The next book, which follows a different sister, is Princess of Glass.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova

Marit Gundersen thought Norway would be safe from the Nazis. But when the Nazis invade her country, Marit’s parents send Marit and her brother, Lars, to live with their fisherman grandfather and aunt on God√ły Island. Even though the island is somewhat secluded, Nazis still patrol the island and take away such necessities as blankets, food, and radios from the villagers. In Marit’s eyes, she thinks her grandfather is too willing to go along with the Nazis even after her aunt is sent away for refusing to teach Nazi propaganda in her classroom. Marit wants desperately to fight the Nazis in some way. But when her chance comes in the form of a wounded resistance soldier, it will put her and her family in grave danger.

Casanova’s story is brilliantly crafted and her characters are rich and vibrant. Readers follow along with Marit as she deals with the emptiness caused by being separated from her family. But Marit fills that emptiness with the needed courage to fight the Nazis on her own terms. The theme of this story is that even in a world being torn apart by war, many individuals still find inner strength to fight insurmountable odds in their own small and simple ways. Many of the experiences described in the book are based on true events. The Klipfish Code can be an excellent resource in the home or classroom for lessons on World War II.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fire Birds by Sneed B. Collard III

For years Smokey the Bear warned people about the problems associated with forest fires. But what if Smokey’s message was not quite correct? Collard researches the truth by interviewing scientists on how fires in wild areas are actually healthy happenings. Burned forests are the only home for many bird species, like the Black-backed Woodpecker. When natural forest fires are suppressed or burned areas are unwisely logged, these birds lose their homes, food, and protection. But birds are not the only species benefiting from a burned forest: certain shrubs only sprout after a fire, the fire’s ash fertilizes the ground, and smaller trees gain more sunshine when dead trees are burned away. Today, these positive findings are finally gaining national attention.

Fire Birds is an insightful resource to spread the word about healthy forest fires. Collard defines the two fire types: one that can threaten people—which must be suppressed, and the other in wild forests that need fire to progress. Collard’s beautifully detailed photographs promote his message and highlight the birds and plants benefitting from a burned forest. The chapters are short, easy to understand, and wonderfully narrative. The book has a glossary in the back to help young readers with unfamiliar terms related to this subject. Collard also challenges readers to visit burned forests to see all the animals and plants living in their new environment. A great non-fiction read for ages 8 and up.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood

Harry Fogg, son to the famous Phileas Fogg, has caught automotive fever. With his friend, Johnny, they have constructed a steam-powered motorcar they call the Flash. After several unfortunate accidents with the car, Harry impulsively agrees to a wager to drive the Flash around the world in 100 days. Besides Harry and Johnny, two other passengers come along for the trip: Charles Hardiman—son to one of the men who set up the wager—and Elizabeth—an independent but mysterious journalist. Travelling together they may either make or break the Harry's wager.

Blackwood acknowledges that this is a sequel to Jules Verne’s 1873 story, Around the World in 80 Days. This trip takes longer than his father’s because Harry can only use his motorcar’s power to get him to his destination, except on water. Besides Harry’s adventurous trip, Blackwood addresses more sobering topics such as racism and rebellion against technology. Blackwood even adds extra background on the closed life of Phileas Fogg by explaining how Phileas gained his wealth and what happened to his parents. Overall, the story is a fun, fast-paced read that will have readers cheering on Harry and his gang as they circumnavigate the globe.

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