Saturday, May 30, 2015

Marco Polo by Demi

At the tender age of seventeen, Marco Polo travels across the world with his father and uncle to serve the emperor of China. Through many hardships and adventures, Marco gains the emperor's favor and becomes his ambassador. Even though Marco is very successful, he still yearns for his home in Venice. After seventeen years of waiting, the emperor finally grants Marco's wish. However, once Marco returns home, he is entangled by the Genoa war.

Demi writes and illustrates an engaging depiction of Marco Polo's life in his stunning biographical picture book. The world is familiar with Marco Polo's life because of his imprisonment during the Genoa war. While in prison, he entertained his inmates with tales of his adventures in China. His stories lead to the creation of The Travels of Marco Polo. To extend the exotic element of Marco's life, Demi uses Chinese inks and gold overlays for the main illustrations, along with intricately patterned embroidery on silk. A fascinating introduction for children to the life and influence of Marco Polo.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun (Adventures with the Parkers) by Mike Graf, illustrated by Marjorie Leggitt

Mom, Dad, Morgan, and James are spending their vacation at Glacier National Park in Montana. Through keen planning, the family goes on several hikes inside the park to experience the glory of the vanishing glaciers and the views of the spectacular wild mountains and lakes. Near the end of their trip, a natural wildfire causes problems for the Parkers when it separates Dad from his wife and kids.

Graf's book is a quick, fun read with stunning photographs showcasing the beauties of Glacier National Park. Through the Parkers, readers get to experience what a visit to Glacier would be like. But alongside the Parkers' story, Graf adds in adventures with the park's wildlife. These nature snapshots can teach young readers what life is like for wolves, bears, moose, and eagles living in the park boundaries. Graf's National Parks series is a great resource for kids to get them interested in visiting these national wonders and appreciating the parks' value. Great for ages eight to twelve.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by By Joseph D’Agnese, illustrated by John O’Brien

Leonardo Fibonacci loves numbers in a way that his Pisa countrymen do not understand. His mathematical obsession causes his peers to nickname him "blockhead" because digits often distract Fibonacci from getting things done. As he grows up, Fibonacci leaves Pisa to travel the world as a merchant.  But during his travels, Fibonacci uncovers the mathematical pattern in nature, later called the Fibonacci sequence.

In the author's note, D'Agnese acknowledges that there isn't much information on Fibonacci's life. Scholars know Fibonacci was negatively nicknamed, discovered his sequence in observing rabbits, and introduced the numbers we use today from Hindu-Arabic numerals. Outside of these facts, D'Agnese uses his imagination to fill in the historical gaps by adding a "friendly ghost" element to the tale. At the end of the book, there are mathematical activities for kids to discover the Fibonacci sequence in nature and to search for the sequence in O'Brien's illustrations.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

Bob Barnhart is not happy moving to a new town. He has three strikes against him: he's the new kid, the preacher's son, and a short twelve-year-old. But one thing that counts towards Bob is his neighbor, Mrs. Dowdel. At first he is caught off-guard by the feisty and tremendously busy ninety-year-old. Bob and his family soon learn to appreciate Mrs. Dowdel's hard work, wisdom, and secret charity.

Peck does it again, by resurrecting the character of Mrs. Dowdel from A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Like the books before it, this is another touching episodic narrative showcasing the dignity, endurance, and wit of Mrs. Dowdel's character. Through her actions, she teaches Bob important life-lessons about love, charity, and family. From these lessons, Bob develops the confidence he desperately needs in facing the challenges of adolescence. Peck's well-crafted writing is humorous and heart-warming as he describes the people and experiences Mrs. Dowdel thrusts into Bob's new world. A feel-good story great as a read-aloud to all ages.     

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Silence of Murder by Dandi Dayley Mackall

Hope Long is truly feeling hopeless. She knows her brother, Jeremy, did not murder Coach Johnson. Yet everyone accuses Jeremy because he is mentally disabled and a selective mute. Because of his silence, Hope is the only person who will defend and protect her brother. With the help of her friend T.J. and the sheriff’s son, Chase, Hope searches for clues to prove Jeremy’s innocence.

Mackall has created an enthralling, realistic, and captivating mystery that will have readers up all night wanting to know the end. Mackall’s description of Jeremy is beautifully depicted in showcasing the innocence and intelligence of children with mental disabilities, while Mackell’s character of Hope is completely and refreshingly grounded in reality. Hope doesn’t develop into a world-class detective. She is just a sister wanting to free her brother and makes realistic mistakes along the way. This book reveals that a moment of stupidity can create everlasting consequences, but goes further than most YA mystery books to exhibit the full results of those consequences. The Silence of Murder is a ground-breaking achievement that will make readers anxiously anticipate what Mackall will write next.

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell

On the outskirts of a forest, in a heavily guarded mansion lives Christina and her paranoid scientist father. His paranoia began after the tragic loss of Christina’s mother. So to protect his daughter, Christina is lovingly imprisoned at home. But Christina can’t help but wonder about the outside world, especially when the orphan boy, Taft, risks talking to her through the mansion’s fence. Taft tells Christina of his problems at the orphanage and his need to escape through a rumored secret tunnel. Christina’s curiosity is piqued and the two work together to leave behind their predicaments. But the tunnel holds more than just freedom. It also holds the truth behind Christina’s mother.

In many middle-grade books, the plots seem randomly woven together with strange characters, settings, or dilemmas because authors are attempting to write an "original" story to keep a tween's attention. Often authors fail and nothing is keeping the storyline together except the book's binding. However, Jonell's novel is an entirely different matter. In the case of The Secret of Zoom, Jonell's plot is completely original, but it reads like a classic piece of children's literature. These classic elements are the foreboding old mansion, oppressed orphans, and the loss of a parent. But Jonell's originality comes by adding several science-fiction twists like secret laboratories, mini-planes, and an energy powder activated by singing. No reader should skip out on experiencing The Secret of Zoom. Great for ages 10 and up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sividious Stark and the Stadium Between Worlds by Greg Park

While hiding in the bushes from bullies, Sividious slams into a wounded winged creature, Aya, who gives him a high-tech lanyard before she is captured by aliens called Agents. The lanyard is an All Access Pass that transports the wearer to a special stadium deep within space. Sividious tells his best friend, Jackie, about his encounter with Aya and together they travel to the stadium to find her.

Park mixes the best elements of The Hunger Games with the complexity of Star Wars in his new YA science fiction series. Through his story, Park addresses important themes such as a children’s reaction to losing a parent, bullying, courage, and friendship. Sividious seems to not care what the consequences of his actions are with the bullies at school. But once he becomes involved with saving Aya, protecting Jackie, and seeing the corruption of the ruling aliens, purpose and drive come back into his life. He is then able to use his abilities of logic, and later magic, in positive and productive ways. Sividious Stark and the Stadium Between Worlds is a wildly creative, detailed, and fun read.

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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Pharaoh's Secret by Marissa Moss

Talibah, and her little brother, Adom, come to Egypt with their father to explore the land of their ancestors. While their father is doing academic research, Talibah and Adom go see the sites of ancient Egypt. But strange things start occurring to Talibah. Strangers give her odd gifts for no reason. She sees visions of the past. Unexplainable accidents happen while visiting several temple and burial sites. From these experiences, Talibah realizes that the "ka" or departed spirits of pharaohs and priests are calling for her to finally resolve several ancient mysteries. However, an old family friend threatens to stop Talibah's investigation by any means necessary.

Moss creates an enthralling story where the present and past come to life in a fast-paced Egyptian adventure. Talibah is the only one who can connect these ancient clues to help rewrite the history of a forgotten female pharaoh. But this story has a greater depth of feeling than most middle-grade books because of Talibah's grief in recently losing her mother. Her feelings are still raw and fresh. Then when the "ka" connect with Talibah, wonders about her own mother come immediately to mind. The only criticism with the story is that it is repetitive at times. However, the strong characters help push this book to be a worthwhile read. Fans of such series as The Red Pyramid or Theodosia Throckmorten will enjoy Moss's book.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Livingstone Mouse by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole

Livingstone is an adventurous mouse. So when he is told to seek his own nest, Livingstone wants to pick the greatest place on earth to establish his new life. He asks his mother where he should go. She tells Livingstone to go find China. With his destination in place, Livingstone sets out on an unpredictable journey seeking a place to call home.

Livingstone Mouse is a  fun, surprising read with a great twist. At it's core, the story is about what to do when dealing with a major decision or change. For Livingstone, his courageous attitude helps him complete his life's journey because he takes chances, works hard, makes mistakes, keeps positive, seeks advice, and looks in unpredictable places for answers. Supporting the story, Cole's lively illustrations transform small, ordinary spaces into a vast, earthy, and unexplored world. If readers enjoyed reading about Livingstone's adventures in this book then check out the sequel, Bravo, Livingstone Mouse!, also created by Edwards and Cole.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Introducing Henry Cole

Image result for henry cole authorFor the past month, I have been enjoying the fruits of Henry Cole's labor! Wow, what an amazing collection that exhibits Henry's talents of writing and illustration.

I met Henry at the Warrensburg Children Literature Festival in 2011. But he's been a family friend since 2006, when he came to Iola's Young Authors' Celebration with Pamela Duncan Edwards.

Here's a little bit about Henry and his life:

Henry Cole was born in Virginia and lived on a diary farm. There were four things Henry loved when he was a child: his family, drawing, nature/wildlife, and school. His gift of drawing was nurtured by his mother, who was herself a fashion illustrator. He had many amazing misadventures on the farm, thanks to his brother, Jimmy. Somehow he survived and left home to go into Forestry at Virginia Polytechnic and State University.

His love of nature led him to become an elementary science teacher. But he kept up his artistic skills by illustrating many of his teaching aids for himself and other teachers.

When authors or illustrators would come visit his school, he thought seriously about changing careers to become an illustrator. Working together with the school librarian, Pamela Duncan Edwards, they created the book Some Smug Slug that was published in 1996.

Since this time, Henry has taken off in his career to both illustrate and write his own books like Trudy, Unspoken, and his first chapter book, Nest for Celeste.

Check out Henry's books at your local library!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Littlest Evergreen by Henry Cole

An evergreen tree recounts its long, surprising life. This evergreen started as the smallest sprout. Its determination to live helps the evergreen's roots spread deep and flourish on a peaceful hillside. But when autumn comes, the littlest evergreen is uprooted and sent to be sold as a Christmas tree. But when a family sees the evergreen, it's up to them whether to give this little tree a second chance at life.

Even though this book is packaged like a Christmas tale, it's far from a holiday story. The Littlest Evergreen is a sentimental book about finding second chances in the most unlikely of places. Even though the littlest evergreen is taken away from its home, it doesn't mean the evergreen's life is at an end. Only through a considerate family is the littlest evergreen given a second chance at a new life in a new home. A sweet, heartfelt book great for all ages.