Heartstrings by Marilyn Boone

Posted October 27, 2016 By Molly

Young AdultHeartstrings by Marilyn BooneReview by Molly

Writer Marilyn Boone’s Heartstrings begins as High School Senior, Anna Holmes is astonished to come face to face with fellow senior, E. C. Coleman, Madison High School’s star football player who will be volunteering a few hours at the Samaritan Center; Anna helps dish up the food to be served to the hungry who come to eat at the Samaritan Center where she has been volunteering for several years.

The pair begin a rather wary relationship. E. C. is, Anna believes, quite as she expected; arrogant, narcissistic and only there for a grade.  Mr. Jenkins, teacher during last hour government class, encourages his students to do some volunteering at various charitable venues in town.  While E. C. is a child of wealthy influential parents; Anna and her asthmatic little brother live upstairs over the family restaurant.

One high spot for Anna is the weekly violin lessons she receives from Louisa, the center’s resident housekeeper.  Louisa is a quiet woman who says little.  Over time Anna learns more of Louisa’s life and the sorrow she bears, both her husband and son died in Hungary during the 1956 uprising.

Anna is dedicated to her dream of perfecting her musical prowess and receiving a violin scholarship to university while keeping her grades up, volunteering at the center and helping with the family café where she helps with whatever needs the most attention.  When Louisa dies of illness just after Anna has taken part in a music competition; Anna is bereft.

Anna has had a hard time believing in herself; with Louisa’s encouragement Anna has grown as a musician and Anna had been coming to grips with her hopes, dreams, and the world in general.  Louisa’s death leaves Anna feeling unsure what she should do.

Heartstrings is a nice, positive, coming of age tale in which characters are well developed, conversations are plausible, situations, are somewhat predictable and realizations that foregone conclusions developed before actually getting to know others around themselves may not be wholly accurate.

Anna is a girl filled with many of the angst producing self-doubts as countless young people her age often feel.  Anna’s gentle, understanding, manner with the folks who come to the center to eat does not carry over to her relationships with fellow students.    As she comes to know more of the students at her school, Anna begins to realize that what she has thought to be self-importance or arrogance may not be that at all.   Dialogue between characters is believable, vocabulary is always acceptable, settings are nicely detailed, I enjoyed reading the narrative and watching as Anna grew in serenity, perception and wider understanding toward others peopling the tale.

Watching the misunderstanding falling away as E. C. and Anna reveal more of their true selves to each other and to themselves as well, has produced a highly readable, gently romantic, account sure to please those who enjoy a little romance intertwined in a down to earth, slice of life story.

No coarse language, no sexual innuendo.  Enjoyed Marilyn Boone’s Heartstrings .  Highly Recommended for the Young Adult audience.

Link to Amazon.com Books

The Ghosts of Malhado by H.J. Ralles

Posted August 29, 2016 By Jandy

The Ghosts of MalhadoChildrenReview by Molly

H.J.  Ralles’ The Ghosts of Malhado begins as Alex scours the sands for a sand dollars to add to his collection.  He is a tad baffled as he hears a mournful whisper, “Malhado”.

The sun was sinking over Christmas Bay, the sky filled with the beauty of sunset, and Alex knew he was alone on the beach.  So, who was uttering that mournful cry?

Setting aside his curiosity Alex knew he had better head back to the beach house where his family was enjoying their vacation, Mom had allowed him to stay on the beach a little longer as she left to ready dinner, but, she sure didn’t mean he could stay so long.  Alex raced town the lights showing from windows in the houses in Treasure Island.

As he neared the little bridge protecting the dunes Alex was astonished to see a bright flash of red light and then blue.  The sand dollar fell from his hand.

Alex apprehensively stared at the face of a man in strange dress standing on the bridge, the odd metal hat he wore above his face, wait no face, sunken eyes, a hole for a nose, his teeth bore a blue tinge… the light from Jolly Roger Road behind him seemed to pass right through the stranger’s body.

Thus begins Alex’ summer adventure in which he falls and is not allowed to go back to beach until his mother is sure he is okay; he becomes aware of local lore concerning the area he has been visiting each summer; begins to doubt what is real and what is not following that fall in which he bumps his head; sees, more than once  what he believes to be a ghost; relies on neighbor friend Juliann to help him uncover the mystery; has several close calls, in part in trying to not let his mom learn that he has ventured out on the sand when he is supposed to be convalescing, visits the local library and learns some of the history of the area, meets a local real estate vendor who knows much of the story of the, and at last begins to realize that what we know for certain may or not be as it really is.

The ‘adventure’ portion of the book culminates on page 161, and is followed with a pictorial introduction to the setting of the mystery.  Color photos of Treasure Island San Luis Pass, the bridge-board walk over the dune, and various of the sites and buildings mentioned in the adventure provide good clarity for the reader.

Part 2 includes a short biography with addition of color illustration showing Cabeza de Vaca himself begins on page 166 and culminates on page 174.  Page 175 begins a short narrative regarding the next 300 years following the anecdote regarding de Vaca, again photographs are added including a plat of the city of San Luis, photos of personages who play a part in the story itself, and enough narrative to whet the appetite of those who enjoy history.

Pages 189 and 190 offer a ‘San Luis Island Timeline.’   Part 3 asks the question, “Where was San Luis Island, Texas, offers an outline map of Texas, a depiction of the 1853 survey done of the area, and a map showing the area as it appears today.

Pages 196 -202 consider ‘The Malhado Debate’, a poem pinned in 2010 by David Devancy who has spent many years traveling the pirates’ route from Galveston, to Treasure Island and beyond.

Author Ralles offers sources including books, maps, plats and photos, articles and websites she used before she began writing this tale.

Page 202 is the author page upon which this teacher turn writer reveals something of motivation, and includes a web address for those who want to continue their journey with her and many works written for middle grades and young adult readers.

True this is book with middle grades and young adults as the target audience,  however, I too am a teacher, and enjoy reading books meant for the Kindergarten and on through High School crowd.

The Ghosts of Malhado is a work I have shared with readers 4th grade and beyond, and have yet to find a ‘kid’ reader who is not drawn into the tale as it is read, my copy shows nice ‘loving’…. Books that remain pristine, I find, are the ones kids do not read.   A book in the classroom or library showing wear IS a book that is read, I want my students to read the books I bring to share with them.

The book sent for review is a hard cover binding, I think a paperback might be less cumbersome for carrying in a back pack

The few instances that I see of Spanish, perhaps misspoke, I explain and we go on, it is good for children to realize that word by word translation of a language not our own allows the reader to grasp the intent of the words.  I also mention what the phrase may be when spoken by actual native speakers.

I enjoyed meeting Alex, Julieann and their friends and acquaintances, formed nice mental pictures of the situations and settings as I read, and thoroughly enjoyed the fast paced narrative woven around an old story regarding the particular setting of San Luis Treasure Island, Texas.

I see use for this book in middle grades as students work to understand some of the geography of our country, maps help put narrative and locations in perspective.

Enjoyed the Read, happy to recommend.

More books by H.J. Ralles

Link to Amazon.com Books

Muddy Paws by Moira Butterfield

Posted August 29, 2016 By Jandy

Muddy Paws by Moira ButterfieldRChildreneview by Molly

Moira Butterfield’s Muddy Paws has often been an Osage County First Grade choice for DEAR and free time reading.

It is a special day for Ben and his new puppy. Ben has plans to teach his puppy all the things that a puppy needs to know.

First though, the puppy needs a name. Maybe the name will be cuddles because Ben gets lots of cuddles from his new puppy.

Ben and his puppy look in a storybook for name suggestions; soon the puppy gets tired of the book and begins to explore, Ben’s bedroom. Oops, he didn’t mean to knock the flowerpot over, but that is just what he did. And, he made muddy little footprints all over the place.

Away the pair go to the park, where the puppy jumps in the mud and makes muddy footprints all over the place.

The story continues as the puppy falls into the neighbor’s goldfish pond, digs in the back yard, and of course makes muddy footprints all over the place.

Illustrations by Simon Mendez are perfect for the text produced by Moira Butterfield. When I noticed the cover of a large, 11.3 x 9.8 x 0.6 inch work featuring a cover by Simon Mendez sitting on the shelf in the work room at school my interest was piqued immediately. A bright eyed puppy stares at the reader, his buddy little paws are evident. This is going to be one fun book.

And, it is. I like the format featuring double page spreads with well crafted graphics, muted colors showing the puppy and his Little Boy as they spend their day trying to decide the perfect name.

Anyone who has had contact with a puppy, a little boy or a combination thereof can identify immediately with this tale. Vocabulary used for producing the story is a little more advanced than beginning Emergent Readers. It is within the grasp of most Primary readers.

Osage County First Grade often chooses Muddy Paws for our on the rug teacher read to class time, for DEAR and for free time reading.

I too like Muddy Paws, the work is a gentle, quiet down read for after lunch recess as Osage County First Grade settles to begin afternoon work, it provides opportunity for good class discussion as Little Learners talk about the puppy, their own pets, the dilemma for trying to decide upon a name, how they themselves may have faced a similar situation, and the result.

As the school year has progressed Emergent Readers are now reading the book with little or no help, and Muddy Paws has now been read by more than one Little Reader as their selection for star punches in order to receive our State Education Superintendent’s Reading Certificate.

Trying to find books to interest both little boys and little girls is not always easy. Because little girls often begin to read more fluently at a faster rate than do little boys, boys in the classroom often begin to feel less sure of themselves as they continue to struggle with those mysterious marks the teacher insists form hunks and chunks and even whole words. Books featuring girls and –girl stuff- may be pretty to view, however, for little boys they go all but ignored in the classroom. This book featuring a dog and a boy, even if he is a little younger than the boys in the classroom is a popular choice for boys and girls in Osage County First Grade.

Happy to recommend Muddy Paws for the target audience of Emergent Readers, for the home, classroom and school library shelf as well as for the public library collection.

Link to Amazon.com Books

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

Posted August 24, 2016 By Jandy
Science FictionZoe's Tale by John Scalzi Zoe’s Tale John Scalzi; Tor Science Fiction 2009

New colonists come from many places. Zoe lived on Huckleberry with her adopted parents and two alien bodyguards. (Her birth father gave their race a special gift and now Zoe is their hero.) The Colonial Defense Force sought out her parents to help start a new colony. Any new human colony is under threat from an alien race that prohibits any new planet’s human colony.

Now teen-aged Zoe and her parents, John and Jane, are joining a new colony that is under threat of destruction. The other colonists come from other colonies rather than from Earth. When the colony ship emerges into normal space, they discover they aren’t where they expected to be. No one knows where they are and they don’t have any protection provided by the Colonial Defense Force. To hide from the aliens, the colonists have to give up all their electronics or anything.

Zoe’s Tale is a light story about alien encounters, people readjusting to their situation, prejudice, bravery,  consciousness. and hero worship. John Scalzi wrote Zoe’s Tale as a counterpoint to his previous novel in the Old Man’s War series, The Last Colony. It is written from Zoe’s point of view, and fills in a couple holes from the earlier book.

This young adult book isn’t deep but is fun. Zoe is a normal teen who loves her family but it trying to kick her bonds and her history. Zoe’s Tale is in her voice with the frustrations and joys of new life and love, growing up, and large world politics.

More books by John Scalzi

Link to Amazon.com Books

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel

Posted June 23, 2016 By Jandy

Bad Kitty by Nick BruelChildrenBad kitty
Nick Bruel; Scholastic 2005

Review by Molly

Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty is an additional favorite of Osage County First Grade’s cat themed books.

She wasn’t always a bad kitty. She used to be a good kitty-

Accordingly it happened; one day, there was no food in the house for the kitty.  There was only nourishing, delicious, STUFF.  And beginning with asparagus we began moving through those yummies including eggplant and leeks and parsnips, watercress and zucchini we read our way, A to Z, through the alphabet.

That was when Kitty made up her mind that she would become a bad kitty, mind you, not just any old bad kitty but Kitty would become a very bad one.    Consequently commencing with Ate my homework, Osage County First Grade and Kitty went right through the alphabet again hurling hairballs, loitering under the no loitering sign, writing on the walls, and,  you get the idea  …

Bad Kitty embraces 4 dissimilar alphabet sequences including food and non-food items, inappropriate behavior, and once more, when kitty friendly kitty food is purchased, reverting to earlier excellent behavior ensues.

Osage County First Grade classroom resounds with peals of merriment from the earliest reading during the first days of the new school term; lasting on to the end of the school year.

Bad Kitty is one of the Alphabet books we have in our ABC book basket for Little Learners to use during alphabet work.  It is one of the first removed and used as Little Learners work, it is often chosen for DEAR reading time and for take home to share with family too.

I enjoy the ludicrousness author Bruel presents.  Idiosyncratic artworks and kitty treats comprising chicken cheese cake, goose goulash, an order of opossum, turtle turnovers, an eXcess of Tyrannosaurus ReX and baked Zebra Ziti all work to pique Little Learner attentiveness and accelerate the giggles of those hard working Osage County First Grade Learners.

As the school term progresses it is a pleasure to observe the comprehension of the humor inaugurate and mature as Little Learners not only appreciate but truly follow the merriment and glee the writer is conveying.

Bruel has a whole series of Kitty themed works, Osage County First Grade adores them all, however Bad Kitty remains the hands down number one favorite.

Happy to recommend Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty.

Link to Amazon.com Books


ChildrenAdios Oscar!  A Butterfly Fable by Peter Elwell Adios, Oscar!
Peter Elwell; The Blue Sky Press 2009

Reviewed by Molly

Peter Elwell’s Adios Oscar!  A Butterfly Fable begins with the picture of a house in the upper level window is a flowerpot with a flower and on a leaf was a wee caterpillar.  He was Oscar. One day Oscar was excited to meet Bob a butterfly from Detroit who was on his way to Mexico.

Bob is a Monarch butterfly.  Oscar admired Bob’s wings and was delighted to learn that he too would have wings one day.  As Bob disappeared on a passing breeze he invited Oscar to look him up in Mexico if Oscar made the trip.

Oscar was a little discomfited when his caterpillar friends were not at all impressed with the news that Oscar planned to visit Mexico and find his friend Bob.  Edna the bookworm encouraged Oscar to just ignore the taunts.

Edna took Oscar into a library where Oscar saw many bookworms and lots of bugs.

In preparation for his jaunt to Mexico; Edna helped Oscar learn some Spanish, and how to read a map.  Oscar even learned that butterflies who look like Bob really do fly to Mexico when he found books about caterpillars.

Soon it was time for Oscar to take the long caterpillar nap he and Edna had read about, Edna taught him one last thing in Spanish, Buenas Noches, whispering good night in Spanish Oscar fell asleep with dreams of far away mountains and all the new friends he would meet on his journey from Cleveland, south to Mexico.

Oscar was very excited when he awoke to discover his wings were indeed on his back.  He found his friends too had wings and were happily flying around lightbulbs and eating a designer sweater.

What disappointment!  Oscar did have wings, but they were not beautiful Monarch wings, for the rest of his life he knew he would fly around light bulbs and munch on socks.  He would never see Mexico.

One night when Oscar went to visit his old flowerpot he found a note from Edna.  Oscar decided he should not let his dream just disappear because he didn’t look or think exactly as he thought he would.

Osage County First Grade has always delighted in tales well told.  As do most young learners they love science and stories with a science theme.

Adios Oscar presents a delightful fun filled tale of a spirited caterpillar who does not let limitations mean an end to his vision.  Oscar WAS overjoyed when he thought he would become a Monarch.  After emerging from his cocoon Oscar did first he think his dreams could never be.

With encouragement from his friend Edna a bookworm Oscar decides that while he is not a lovely butterfly he CAN put his education learning Spanish and reading maps to good use and fly south anyway.

Osage County First Grade enjoys this appealing saga regarding feeling self-awareness, self-worth and continuing to work toward achieving goals set by each one.  The narrative presents an essential understanding to children without becoming tedious or arcane.

Adios Oscar is a book often chosen by our child of the day for listening to story at the end of day, and is often taken by little readers as their choice for free time, DEAR, and take home reading time.

Little Learners enjoy the opportunity for adding to their Spanish language vocabulary, as presented in this child friendly work filled with delightful illustration, child pleasing colors and Science!

Osage County enjoys listening to and reading about caterpillars, and watching them as cocoons and watching the moth or butterfly emerge.

Happy to recommend Adios Oscar as a must have for gifting children Pre School to Primary Grades, for the school library, classroom bookshelf, and child’s own book box.

Link to Amazon.com Books

The Wish Cat by Ragnhild Scammell

Posted May 18, 2016 By Jandy

The Wish Cat by Ragnhild ScammellChildrenIllustrated by Gaby Hansen

Review by Molly

Ragnhild Scammell’s The Wish Cat with illustrations by Gaby Hansen begins with Holly sitting on the doorstep right in front of the cat flap.  Holly’s house had a cat flap, but Holly did not have a cat.  One night Holly saw a falling star and she made a wish.  She wished for a kitten; a tiny cuddly kitten who could jump in and out of the cat flap.

Suddenly something landed on the windowsill CRASH.  It was Tom.  Tom was not a tiny cuddly kitten.  He was the scruffiest, most raggedy cat Holly had ever seen.

Holly could not believe her eyes, but there he sat smiling a crooked smile.

Holly tried to make Tom understand he was not what she had wished for.  She told him, she hid under her covers.  Nothing worked, next morning there was Tom with a present for Holly.  He brought a piece of smelly old fish, Holly put it in the garbage can and told Tom to go home.

Tom did not give up he sat on Holly’s swing, at lunchtime he sat on the windowsill and watched Holly eat.  She gave him a piece of her sandwich.  He followed Holly, he chased leaves and balanced on top of the fence.

That evening when Holly had to go into the house Tom lay down on the step by the cat flap. That night is snowed.  It snowed all over Tom, Holly head him meowing and ran to open the cat flap.

Holly brought him a big plate of food and some warm milk, and, she dried him with a towel.  That night as Holly and Tom sat on Holly’s bed Holly stroked his scruffy fur and they watched the stars.

Suddenly another star fell.  Holly could not think of anything to wish for, she had everything she wanted and so did Tom.

The yearly Book Fair held in the library of our Osage County school is always a fun time for students and myself.  We look over the book offering and find ones we think we will like.  I think the year Tom’s crooked smile met out eyes each child in the class immediately shouted “Mrs Martin, here is a book you will love.”  It is well known with staff and children at my school; Mrs Martin takes in homeless cats and Mrs Martin does love cats.

The Wish Cat has been one of the all-time favorites for Osage County First Grade.  My resident book critics adore the story, the pictures and the outcome.  I like the storyline, Gaby Hansen illustrations are kid friendly and fit the tale very well, and, vocabulary used is child centered and has nice flow.  Tom is a cat we all love.

Osage County First grade students do believe there is magic in falling stars, they share a common bond of caring and liking critters and expect they will always have pets as children and on into their adult years.  They understand the longing Holly has for a kitten, and they understand her sympathy for Tom when he is covered in snow.

In the classroom the narrative provides lots of opportunity for discussion as the whole class becomes involved in talking, answering questions and asking some too; why do you think Tom came to Holly’s house, why does the door have a cat flap if no cat, what would you do if a cat like Tom came to your house and the like.

I like the book and have used it in my classroom for several years.    Thought-provoking read, happy to recommend as a read to for the 3 -4 age group, read with emergent readers, read to self, siblings and family strong primary readers.  The Wish Cat is a good addition for the public and school library, child’s bedroom book shelf, classroom library and as a gift for children in the kindergarten – primary grades. 

Link to Amazon.com Books

Too Tall Alice by Barbara Worton

Posted May 16, 2016 By Molly

ChildrenToo Tall Alice by Barbara WortonReviewed by Molly

Barbara Worton’s Too Tall Alice with whimsical illustrations by Dom Rodi is a dandy book for classroom usage.

Alice is TALL, not T-Rex or Empire State Building tall and not even as tall as her Dad.  Actually Alice is maybe four inches tall than the other eight year old girls at her school.  She is tall enough to cause her to be the only girl to stand in the back row with the boys during their school photo.

Alice wished she was four inches shorter.

Friday at Alice’s house is always neighbors come over for parent card games night and the kids’ kid games night and pizza and chocolates, and chips and run all over the place and when the kids got tired parents marched them home and put them to bed.  Alice marched up the stairs to her room and into her super fluffy Ariel the mermaid bed. Friday was the night when parents made sure their kids were safe asleep and they came back to Alice’s house to play cards until late, late, late.

It was one such night when Alice who was trying hard to be a princess suddenly sat up very straight in her soft fluffy bed and leaned toward the door to listen : don’t worry, don’t worry,  and her father’s voice said she’s going to be tall and thin, a string bean … and a whole bunch more.  And her neighbor said, nothing wrong being tall and thin, look at those supermodels.

Alice cried, she did not want to be a string bean, and she cried and cried and cried.

Too Tall Alice might have been another in appealing “you are special” book offerings. Inspiring text, encouraging storyline, imaginative comicality and delightful, child pleasing graphics send it to a very different place. I like that there were neither platitudes nor stereotypes. Alice is much as any child, concerned about the future, wanting to fit in and worried about being different.

Author Barbara Worton introduces possibilities for Alice, and all readers, to consider; possibilities centered on the taller persons in our society and on others who may or may not need height. Basketball players, Olympic winners and supermodels are often tall while chums and teachers, doctors, movie actors, class presidents, everyday heroes, good friends, run the gamut of tall to short.

Alice cried herself to sleep in the book and began to dream of a place where all the girls were tall, ceilings were tall and doors were tall. Some of the girls were basketball superstars and some were super models and one was even a show girl.  These tall girls called Alice short stuff and helped her see about ten years into the future.  And they helped Alice understand that she would have to find herself but there were so many different wonderful things ahead for a nice willowy girl.  She might be an Olympic gold medalist or a doctor or a teacher or …. And the list went on and on.

When she woke up Alice was ready; she could see herself having a very beautiful day.

Most of the children in my first grade classrooms tend to be about the same size, now and then I found a very petite child, usually a little girl sitting on the rug before me.  Those persons were easier for me to reassure regarding what the future might hold.  I am one of those some people consider height challenged.

But the too tall child, especially if a girl, was the one I had less awareness for how to ease the worry they harbored that they actually were too tall.

When I saw Too Tall Alice on the shelf at the Book Fair held in our school library I knew I had found a useful tool.  Holding up the book for the class to see our TALL first grader read the title and said, “that is a book for me.   I am too tall”.

I read that tale many times that year, and our Alice borrowed it often to take home for evening reading.  I do think it helped her overcome some of the hurdles she was experiencing.  She has grown into a super young lady, still tall, but happy and accepting that we are as we are and while nothing we do is really going to change how tall or short or whatever our physical self may be; we can expect life to hold many opportunities and joy for us all.

Too Tall Alice got lots of reading and lots of going home that first year and during the years following my having a sweet Too Tall in my classroom.

Happy to recommend for the target audience of primary to lower middle grade children, parents of children tall or not, therapists who may have a too tall, or too short child patient.

Link to Amazon.com Books


ChildrenThe Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless by Ahmet ZappaFantasyReviewed by Molly

I first read Ahmet Zappa’s The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless while teaching 4th grade back in the mid 2000s.  It had great popularity among both girl and boy readers.  That is a good thing; the middle grades are a time when many kids do not want to read much of anything.  And, boys especially seem to lose much interest in reading.  Not so with books featuring action, gross and fun available.  Ahmet Zappa’s The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless never lay on the classroom library for more than a day before being checked out again.  The class rule was everyone had to have a turn to read it once…. And that soon became twice, or …. Before anyone could check it out again.

When I moved to First Grade the book continued to be popular among those who were no longer in my classroom.

I recently came upon a copy of The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless while strolling through the aisles of the local jumble shop; I picked it up immediately.  And find reading it again today; the book holds as much allure as ever it did.  Hence, I’ll review it now, despite it being published over a decade ago, in hopes that more middle grade readers will have the fun, quirky tale brought to their attention by another middle grade teacher who may not as yet have noticed it.

Zappa’s The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless narrative launches with eleven year old Minerva McFearless, her younger brother Max, and their battered and bleeding father locked in bird cages, dangling over a never-ending pit of molten lava.  Close by, a plump, dozing, Snargleflougasaurus polluted the air with his gaping, reeking, feted, razor-toothed mouth.  The trio are held deep within the demonic depths of Castle Doominstinkinfart where The Zarmaglorg – sovereign of evil, has been busy tormenting Mr. McFearless in a fruitless, to date, effort to wrest control of the wicked magic held within the Enotslived Diamond.

From that initial circumstance the reader is hurried along on an exhilarating trip jam-packed with a clarification of just how not normal the McFearless family actually is, as well as, arriving at the recognition that eight is the number of forever, as they are made aware that Minerva and Max can, will and do seem to locate misfortune whenever they are left alone, and will move into a mysterious chamber where the fireplace used to be with the kids.

Wandering along a clandestine passageway Minerva and Max arrive to a door leading into a museum like room.  It was a chamber precisely intended for and devoted to the systematic training of malicious monsters.   As soon as Minerva sees a cryptic tome, the Monstranomicon, she is in for a revelation.

And the anecdote continues; The Legend of Maximillius McFearless clarifying a bit of the family history, Father McFearless’ staggering admission, the kids sneaking into their father’s private den as often as they can where they study to be monsterminators, a Bewilder Box appearing on the doorstep without warning and a recipe for Lizard Lozenge Ten are included in the chronicle to keep the reader turning the page.

Before the conclusion of the tale is reached the reader will read a narrative regarding The Grumplemiser, will see a formula for preparing Fool’s golend Friend Chicken Surprise Attack as well as one for The Cat Hand of Doom, which guards the user from Krunkadillions for 300 days. Exhilaration, more escapades, more recipes and imageries fill the pages of The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless.

On the pages of his introductory book; Ahmet Zappa has created a refreshingly child friendly tome certain to tempt the middle grade target audience.  Characters and situations including Guide Mr. Devilstone, the egomaniac one-eyed coyote who wears a monster alarm, the Enotslived Diamond, around his neck, Ms. Monstranomicon a live monster manual who is more kindhearted than horrific, and the McFearless clan itself are appealing, engaging and likeable.

I especially appreciated viewing the numerous graphics, photo works, monster images and the monster deterring instructions formulas and recipes.  Writer Zappa has fashioned a book for kids who may not much enjoy reading, dyslectic Zappa; knows well the struggle many kids face trying to make sense of letters and words.  As the parent of a dyslectic child; I appreciate that writers are today presenting works with dyslectic, and others having reading problems, in mind.

Minerva and her love hate relationship with her sibling is something young readers will identify, appreciate and giggle over.  Zappa’s command of language is a pleasure, he presents terminology to tickle the tongue, lend joy to the eye and pull children into the reading.  Humor abounds, as it smooths out the monsterish bits of the work in a sui generis and delightful manner.

Mighty McFearless is a quirky book holding much appeal for the middle grade reading audience.  I expected much from the son of Frank Zappa, who is my generation while Ahmet is my children’s.  I was not at all dissatisfied during my reading for review of this carefree, keep ‘em turning the page work.  I tend to enjoy quirky too.  While Mighty McFearless is a book I read without hesitation to my 4th grade classes, it was a little beyond the scope for my First Grade students.

The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless works well as a read-to for parents to use for reading to their 8 – 10s, remember, even ‘older’ kids enjoy sitting and having parents read to them, it is as well, as a read for enjoyment for the grades 4, 5 and 6 and perhaps even older.

Some parental guidance will be necessary for younger listeners, parents will do well to read first to make themselves aware of the places in the narrative where younger, or especially sensitive kids may express actual concern as opposed to the anticipated shrieks of delight kids in the target audience can be expected to express at the unrefined, or sensational or unusual.

Text used may be challenging for the youngest readers, not a bad thing, but be ready to explain a word here and there as your 8 year old attempts to read Mighty McFearless alone.

Pleasing Read. Well Recommended especially for target audience.

Link to Amazon.com Books

Small Pig by Arnold Lobel

Posted March 23, 2016 By Jandy

Small Pig by Arnold LobelChildren Small Pig
Arnold Lobel; Tandem Library 1999

Reviewed by Molly

Arnold Lobel’s Small Pig an I can read book is one of my favorites of his works for children in the Kindergarten Primary level, the level where I spent the most of my nearly forty years in the public school classroom.

Diminutive porker, Small Pig, likes to do all the things other pigs like to do; he eats, he sleeps, and HE sinks down in nice soft mud. Not only does Small Pig like to roll in mud, but he really likes to sink deep, deep down in it and just enjoy nice squishiness. The farmer and his wife do love their little pig.

One day the farmer’s wife determines that she needs to some cleaning.  With her giant vacuum cleaner she cleans the farm house.   Once started she simply cannot stop. Oh My. Out of the house she goes to clean the barn, and the stable, and the chicken coop.  She keeps cleaning until finally, she comes to the pigpen where Small Pig is a happy little porker. And, she begins to clean it up. First she cleans the pigpen.  Next she puts Small Pig into a soapy pail, where she CLEANS Small Pig.

The Farmer’s Wife is happy; everything is spick-and-span and shiny. Small Pig is not happy. Small Pig is unhappy, and, he is an angry small porker.

Small Pig decides to run away.

Before long; Small Pig comes to a swamp. And he comes to a junkyard.  He even comes to a big city. At last he finds some good soft mud.  Small Pig sinks down into that good soft mud, then, too late Small Pig recognizes he has made a terrible, horrible mistake. Small Pig is held in the mud; mud that is getting hard and harder because it is not mud, it is cement! People stop to watch as Small Pig struggles to get free.

At length, The Farmer and his wife locate their Small Pig.   Ultimately Small Pig is freed from the cement.  Home go The Farmer, his Wife and Small Pig.   The Farmer’s wife promises Small Pig she will do no more cleaning of his pigpen.

A very happy Small Pig has his supper before he sits down, and sinks down into his nice, soft mud.

Jam-packed with easy-to-read vocabulary and child pleasing, characteristic Lobel illustrations Small Pig has proven to be a long time, much loved, favorite in my K-1 classrooms. Ludicrousness, exhilarating action, and short, simple, child friendly sentences afford a tangible delight for emergent readers, as well as those who enjoy reading Lobel’s books to them. Little Readers, adults and student aide readers, and, I particularly enjoy the low key, Lobel illustrations.

I find children nowadays often seem so overawed with clamor and pizzazz, fancy and glimmer, noise, TV and game machines and bombast from their youngest days; that they habitually come to Kindergarten or First Grade expecting to be entertained, cannot amuse themselves without ongoing activity and/or cannot be alone and happy with themselves.

It is not a constructive or healthy thing, considers this long time teacher, for children to be unable to just sit quietly and appreciate the sunshine, or watch a butterfly just for the joy of sitting in the sunshine and watching a butterfly, or to miss laying on their back watching soundless clouds moving overhead, or to use their mind’s eye to fill in the blanks as they read.

Small Pig proffers many prospects for children to discuss feelings, and what they see, in addition to building vocabulary using creative descriptions for what else the illustrator might have put into the pictures on the page.

Arnold Lobel was one of the key providers to the I Can Read sequence. Copyrighted in 1969, Small Pig was Lobel’s first contribution to the series. Both, authoring and illustrating a diversity of stories regarding an assortment of creatures; Lobel has been a continuing favorite of children, parents and teachers for decades.

In general; for the extent of a career spanning nearly thirty years and producing nearly 100 books for children; illustrator/writer Lobel’s works target four- to eight-year-olds. To his honor, Lobel was recipient with the prestigious Caldecott Medal more than once for exceptional illustrations on top of his receiving a Newbery Honor for his writing.  The earth lost a marvelous creative mind when Arnold Lobel died in 1987.

Small Pig is the book selected often by my students for their free choice reading, or is brought to me as their selection for reading on ‘their special day to choose the book … one of the perks because they are the leader of the day.

Each of Lobel’s books has a place on the reading shelf in the children’s library, and, I believe none more so than Small Pig.   This child pleasing work is a must have for the classroom book shelf, as well as the school, home and public library list.

I like the hard cover edition for the classroom library and the paperback for the take home to read to parents and family activity.

Small Pig is a read-to for the 2-5 set, a read with help for beginning readers K-2, and a read alone grades 2-3. Small Pig is a book chosen by grades 4 – 5 readers to take and read to ‘the little kids.’   I’m not sure who enjoys the book more, the children listening or the teacher or student aide or other Reader reading to the children.

Over the years each class has offered two thumbs up each when asked for an opinion of Arnold Lobel’s Small Pig.   Delighted to recommend.

Link to Amazon.com Books

Bernie and the Putty by Steve LeBel

Posted January 30, 2016 By Jandy

Young AdultFantasyBernie and the Putty by Steve LeBelWho creates the universes? Gods called Builders do, out of putty and power. Bernie has just graduated from school and applies to become a Builder. He almost doesn’t get the job, but the Personnel manager’s assistant, Suzie, sees potential in Bernie and convinces her boss to hire him. Bernie gets placed under the strictest Builder Final Assembly manager, Shemal.

Bernie’s cubicle is next to his high school nemesis, Billy. Billy had already been working a year and he has always hated Bernie. It got worse after Bernie left a scar on Billy’s face. It wasn’t Bernie’s fault, exactly, but Billy still blames him. So when Bernie starts his first project, Billy gets meaner and starts sabotaging Bernie’s work.

With his friends Ezra and Suzie’s advice, Bernie gets a world started. But every time he gets it growing the way he wants, he comes in the next morning and discovers something wrong. He is on probation and Shemal is NOT impressed. Billy’s after hours treachery is well hidden, even from Bernie.

Steve LeBel uses a clever idea for Bernie and the Putty and the Universe Builders. It reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s Strata. Gods are people like everyone else. They just also have the power to build living worlds and universes. They have some handy gadget to help the work, such as a time telescope to view the world in it’s potential future to see how the last change the Builder made pans out over the next centuries and millennia of the new universe. LeBel has his world well conceived with many open spaces for expansion in future books.

Bernie, Suzie, and Billy are obvious stereotypes. Bernie is the nerd who happens to have a chaos cloud attached to him. Suzie is the girl who loved him in school and still does, but Bernie doesn’t see it. Billy is a manipulating bully. He is Shemal’s nephew and uses that relationship to terrorize all the low level Builders in the department.

Bernie and the Putty won or was a finalist for numerous awards in 2014-5, including winning the Writer’s Digest award and the Independent Author’s Network top awards. (Check out the Amazon page linked below for a full list.)

I find Bernie and the Putty to be an average read. It is predictable from the beginning although the details have to work out throughout the book. There’s an extra, hidden civilization on Bernie’s world that doesn’t play an important enough role to make it necessary. It’s a side story that doesn’t help the book. Bernie and the Putty is a fun young adult fantasy with a different twist. The only dragons are the ones Builders create to populate their worlds.

Link to Amazon.com Books


ChildrenEscape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
Chris Grabenstein; Random House 2013

Games – video games, board games, logic games, racing games, scavenger hunts , any type of games – Kyle Keeley and his family love games. He especially likes the games from Mr. Lemoncello’s company. Mr. Lemoncello lived in Kyle’s town before he started his game company. He grew up in the library. Now Mr. Lemoncello has funded a new, state-of-art library after the old one had been closed for twelve years.

Kyle and his friend Akimi are two of twelve 12-year-olds who wins an overnight stay before the library opens. The next morning the children are locked in. They are offered an chance to win a larger prize if they follow the clues to a mystery and get to the end first before the library opens the next day. Some of the kids leave for different reasons – responsibilities, commitments, or lack of interest. But Kyle and Akimi stay, along with some others, including Haley the popular cheerleader and Charles, the rich snob kid who will do anything to win, including cheat.

The library has books – and computers – and video games – and holograms – and a replica of Mr. Lemoncello’s bedroom from when he was a child – and movies – and a cafeteria – and more. The children use all the marvels available to follow the clues for them to solve to escape from this fantastic library.

As a librarian, I know the value of a library. As a reader, I know the joy of a library. Fortunately I was able to pass that appreciation to my daughters and now my granddaughters. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library shows children the fun and importance of the library. It’s not just a place of  homework study, but a community center that includes books and programs.

Chris Grabenstein writes a wonderful book that pulls the chapter book reader in and shows a world of real magic. My 10-year-old granddaughter was immediately caught into Kyle’s trouble when he is grounded at the beginning of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

Grabenstein uses all the modern technology available in this library, from hard copy books to a virtual information desk. The kids in the story come to life as they run around figuring out the clues without letting their opponents know what they figured out.

If you know a child in this age group who will enjoy the fun, give them Grabenstein’s book. But the adult will also be glad to read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

(The most unexpected program I’ve seen at my library? A flamenco dancing demonstration.)

Link to Amazon.com Books