Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: How To Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied by Jess Keating

18509680I've followed Jess Keating's Creature newsletter and her books release via Tweeter.  Keating has a degree in Zoology and her passion for animals and science really shows.  So, this was one of those books that I knew I wanted to read just from hearing the title and seeing the cover.  Plus, it has some cool animal science facts.  

The story begins with Ana on the verge of celebrating her 12 and a half birthday with her best friend Liv.  Liv has moved away to the land of Hobbits, and Ana is left wondering how she will ever make it in middle school without her.  Ana thinks she has the answer to all of their problems, they just both need to wish her back home, when they've wished the same thing together before it has always worked.  Yet, Liv has other plans and Ana is left to fend for herself in school.  On top of that, her grandfather is in town with a film crew in tow and her parents plan to move into the zoo.  How is Ana going to survive without her best friend?  Middle school just got so complicated.  

How to Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied met and exceeded all of my expectations.  What really stood out to me was how Keating gave the feeling of middle school back to me all over again.   Ana's voice rings so true and all the experiences she has (aside from living in the zoo) are things that someone in middle school could possibly experience.  Be it friends moving away, first crushes, bullying, bothersome brothers and finding new friends.  Keating even nailed the relationship between Ana and her twin brother Daz, so much so that I giggled and laughed at their playful bantering throughout the book.  I am really looking forward to getting my hands on How To Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel and definitely feel this will be equally enjoyed by boys or girls.    

My review copy was purchased. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Classic Middle Grade Review: Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy readalong

September's pick for the Classic Middle Grade Read along with the Midnight Garden was Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.  You can follow along or join in the discussion at or #tmgreadalong.  

I can't remember exactly how old I was when I first read Harriet The Spy.  I recall liking how Harriet spoke her mind, even to her parents, and her observations seemed very amusing to me at the time. I'm happy this was chosen this month, I find that I learn so much on these re-reads, well even the new to me books that have been chosen too.  It's always fun to look at things through an older or even parental set of eyes.  

There is so much that I love about Harriet The Spy.  I loved how Harriet was always questioning everything she see's, with her insatiable curiosity and need to catalog her observations in her beloved notebook.  Harriet struck me as such a creature of routine, for lunch she has her tomato sandwiches, at three forty she has milk and cake, and each day she routinely "spies" on her neighbors the Dei Santi family, Robinson's, Harrison Wither and Mrs. Plumber recording her observations as she went along.  It's funny, but I thought of this kind of like Harriet was watching a soap opera, watching these peoples lives seem to fill the gap for what was missing in her home life. 

Harriet's parents during the early chapters weren't involved in her life.  Her mom was off playing bridge or attending a party with her father.  Disciplining was even left to Harriet's nurse Ole'Golly, even going so far as to call her to wash out Harriet's mouth with soap. Her parents bothered me to no end.  I was so happy that they finally took a more active role, especially in the chapter where Harriet's mom is sitting with her trying to figure out what she is so upset about.  

I so loved the character of Ole Golly, she was so wonderful and you can see how much Harriet loved her, especially when she no longer worked for the family. Harriet says "..even if she didn't say anything, you were aware of her.  She made herself felt in the House."  Throughout the story, Ole' Golly's presence is always there in the pearls of wisdom that she shares with Harriet.  Be it the quotes from Aesop, Dostoevsky or Henry James.  Harriet always takes these things in and reflects on them in some way.  Like following a disagreement with her parents Harriet questions "Why don't they say what they feel?  Ole'Golly always said "Always say exactly what you feel people are hurt more by misunderstanding than anything else."   It's even Ole Golly who gives Harriet her first notebook when she was eight years old, telling her that if she wanted to be a good writer then she needs to write everything down.  I'm sure Ole' Golly never anticipated how Harriet would take these words.  Harriet is brutally honest in the observations that she writes down, and she only does this because she believes that her notebook will never be read, that it is secret.  What she writes can be seen as mean but I see her writing as a way for her to question and process the things that she see's.  Harriet asks some wonderful questions, "What's it like to have brothers or sisters?, "What's too old to have fun?" 

I also loved how creative Harriet was in the games that she invented.  "The Town," where she sets up a whole list of people in a fictional town, and I especially loved how she would sit in the luncheonette with her back to people having conversations and she would listen in until just from listening to them speak, she could figure out what she thought they looked like.  Isn't this what writers do?  Use their observational skills and weave things into a story?  Such a wonderful people watcher.  

Harriet the Spy is defiantly one of those books that I will be adding to my favorites list and I can see myself reading again someday, maybe even with a flashlight under the covers to feel more nostalgic.  

Favorite line:  "I wonder if when you dream about somebody they dream about you."     

After reading the book, I explored some online hoping to find out more information about the author and her inspiration for Harriet.  I found this fascinating piece featured in The Horn Book  On Spies and Purple Socks and Such.   

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Still Life (The Books of Elsewhere #5) by Jacqueline West


Winter has arrived and Olive fears that Aldous McMartin is still out there, watching, waiting and biding his time. What his plans are, she really doesn't know.    Olive and the cats are still protecting the house but there are questions that have been left unanswered.  Olive is determined to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, but with Morton behaving strangely and hiding secrets of his own things just got more difficult. Rutherford, his grandmother and Walter are still ever present and are helping Olive try to find Morton's missing parents.  As secrets begin to become revealed, Olive learns that sometimes it might best to "let some secrets lie."  

 I'd held off from reading Still Life for sometime.  I hated to see one of my favorite series ending.  So, I decided to wait for colder weather, curl up on the couch with my furry companion and a warm cup of coffee and then read Olive's final story.    I've always loved how West portrays Olive as a normal girl living with these two mathematical geniuses. This somewhat shy girl who is brave, trustworthy and  a steadfast loyal friend. Olive has come a long way across the five books.  This girl who is also inquisitive and wants to know the truth wherever it may lead.   Throughout she has been there for Morton, her neighbors, her cat companions and even for her home. This beautiful old Victorian house, a setting filled with mystery.  There is such charm inside  the Dunwoody house with its creaks and long stairwells.  So much history.  Still Life takes all this history of the home and the mysteries surrounding the McMartin family and delivers a satisfying conclusion.   I loved how each book in the series covered a new season and seamlessly felt like a transition from one to the next.  The story felt slightly creepy and dark, but not too scary, especially when Aldous McMartin's true intentions came to light.  Oh and the ending, what a wonderful way to wrap things up. Overall, I have adored this captivating series.  Mrs. West pairs the right amount of creepiness, with beautifully descriptive, poetic words that I hope to revisit again and again.   

"The art teacher beamed around the classroom.  Today, a blue silk scarf was wrapped around her head, making her frizzy red hair shoot up like strawberry pop exploding from a bottle."

My review copy was purchased. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz


Sir Charles has become fearful that his granddaughter Jocelyn will never become a proper lady, so he chooses to send her off to Miss Eliza Crumb Biddlecomb's Finishing School for Young Ladies.  But, twelve-year-old Jocelyn has always dreamed of one day becoming a pirate and sailing with her father Captain Hook on an adventure.   Life at finishing school is not what Jocelyn had in mind because everyone seems to detest her, her roommate has an affinity for pink, she's been assigned a maid servant to dress and bathe her, and all she hears day in and day out is "don't slump" and "sit up."  The only upside is when she meets Roger in the carriage house and the two quickly become friends, but Miss Eliza decides that Roger isn't a good influence on Jocelyn and sends him away.   Jocelyn feels it's time she left the finishing school too, but when a letter from her father arrives asking her to "avenge my death.  Come to Neverland, hunt the beast and destroy it..."  this may just be the adventure that Jocelyn has been waiting for.
I absolutely adored Hooks Revenge.  It is a very sweet story about a girl that longs for her mother, father and a little adventure in her life.  I loved Jocelyn's seemingly look of "wide-eyed innocence," while at the same time she is brandishing swords, carrying spiders in her pocket, and coming to the dinner table with "twigs in her unruly dark curls, muddy knees, and grass stains on the seat of her pants."  Jocelyn was such an endearing character she speaks to you with her willfulness and tomboyish ways.  She is also very resourceful when put in a bind.  Yet, there was also this softer side to Jocelyn, that was filled with self doubts and a desire to live up to the Hook family name.  Jocelyn seemed to struggle over wanting to do what she felt her father expected of her, but also not wanting to fail.  Jocelyn really grew throughout the story, she became more confident in herself and started to see what really mattered to her.    

While at the finishing school Jocelyn meets Roger.  It's like kismet, they both want to be pirates, have adventures, and they spend time together reading books and looking at maps. Roger is the one who helps Jocelyn figure out how to fit in with the expectations at her school by saying "the way I see it is this: When it comes to your lessons.  Miss Eliza pipes and you have to dance - but who is to say you can't choose your own steps?"  They make for a great team and their friendship shines throughout the story.  Plus, the bantering is quite humorous.

Schulz defiantly plays homage to Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie in Hooks Revenge. There are plenty of mermaids, Peter Pan, fairies, pirates, and even the dreaded crocodile with his tick-toking clock. But for me, it's the wonderful voice of the unknown narrator who provides the laugh out loud dialogue.  There is something comforting in that voice that I just can't put my finger on.  Don't get me wrong though, the narrator is kind of cantankerous too, but oh so funny, like this line:  "There is no use putting it off any longer; it is time to tell what I know, lest the girl's story die with me.  Settle in, I suppose.  Do be sure not to touch anything, and for heaven's sake, please don't breathe so loudly.  If you're comfortable, I'll pour myself a little drink and begin.  If you are not comfortable, I'll begin anyway. Your comfort is of little concern to me."   Hook's Revenge is a wonderful story that will easily appeal to boys or girls who are looking for swashbuckling pirates and a little adventure of their own.             

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Cybils 2014-Judges Annoucned

I'm thrilled to share the exciting news that I was selected as a round 1 judge for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction category.  This is my first year as a Cybils judge and I am so excited to be involved.  Here is the rest of the Middle Grade Fiction panel of judges:  


First Round

Mark Buxton

Buxton’s Blog O’ Books

Earl Dizon

The Chronicles of a Children’s Book Writer


Rosemary Kiladitis

Mom Read It


Kyle Kimmal

The Boy Reader


Deb Marshall

Read Write Tell


Brenda Tjaden

Log Cabin Library


Karen Yingling

Ms. Yingling Reads


Second Round

Alex Baugh

Randomly Reading


Terry Doherty

Family Bookshelf


Jennifer Donovan

5 Minutes For Books


Heidi Grange

Geo Librarian


Holly Mueller

Reading, Teaching, Learning


Cybils are awarded each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles.  To see who's judging in the rest of the categories, or to get more information on nominating go HERE

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hullabaloo, a very cool 2D Animation Project

Image from

I heard of this project somewhere online and felt compelled to share.  I'm not soliciting anyone to fund it or anything, well cause its already exceeded its original goal of $80,000 and with twenty some days left it is up into $260,000. I just thought that it sounded pretty cool.  

From their website  
" 'Hullabaloo' is a 2D (hand-drawn) animated steampunk film that hopes to help preserve the dying art of 2D animation; and by supporting this project, you get to help save 2D animation from an untimely demise. We want you to join us in making a short film that will showcase the world of Hullabaloo, which we can show to investors to fund a full length 2D feature. 2D animation is a beautiful but dying art form that the animation studios have all but abandoned. 

In addition to helping save 2D animation, Hullabaloo aims to encourage girls to explore science and adventure. The film's two protagonists are both young women and both scientists who use their intellect, wits, and courage to fight greed and corruption. We hope that Veronica Daring and her friend Jules will serve as positive role models for girls of all ages and encourage them to get excited about science, engineering, and sci-fi."

I bolded the the parts that I especially thought were most interesting.  It seems that 2D is facing some of the same challenges that traditional books are with the movement to electronic books and 3D effects.  I for one am saddened by that. I found it especially intersting to read the list of Disney veteran animators, cg modelers, acclaimed artists, musicians and voice talents that are involved in this project.     Plus, how cool is that to have a film that hopes to inspire girls in such a fun exciting way.  

I tried to embed the video for you, but they aren't showing up to well.  So here's some links: Youtube Steampunk animation Clip1  and My favorite  Hullabaloo Steampunk Animation Campaign.  If you want more information on the whole project, it's here.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Loki's Wolves (The Blackwell Pages #1) by K.L. Armstrong, M.A. Marr

From Goodreads:   "In Viking times, Norse myths predicted the end of the world, an event called Ragnarok, that only the gods can stop. When this apocalypse happens, the gods must battle the monsters--wolves the size of the sun, serpents that span the seabeds, all bent on destroying the world.

The gods died a long time ago.

Matt Thorsen knows every Norse myth, saga, and god as if it was family history--because it is family history. Most people in the modern-day town of Blackwell, South Dakota, in fact, are direct descendants of either Thor or Loki, including Matt's classmates Fen and Laurie Brekke.

However, knowing the legends and completely believing them are two different things. When the rune readers reveal that Ragnarok is coming and kids--led by Matt--will stand in for the gods in the final battle, he can hardly believe it. Matt, Laurie, and Fen's lives will never be the same as they race to put together an unstoppable team to prevent the end of the world."

I really enjoy reading books about mythology, be it Greek, Norse or Egyptian. I must confess though despite having read through The Percy Jackson Series, some of The Kane Chronicles and loving East of the Sun and West of the Moon, I really don't know as much as I would like to.   So it is very important to me that when reading mythology that I have some reference to the myth the story is based on.   Loki's Wolves is a nice example of this for me,  I learned a lot of details about Ragnarok, how the main characters are the descendants of the Norse gods Thor, and Loki and somewhat as to why they are to stop the end of the world by becoming their gods champion.   

There is so much to enjoy about this story.  I loved how it was set in modern day South Dakota in a town called Blackwell that seemed to have some Norwegian influences.  The characters all seemed unique each with their own powers handed down to them.  The team jumps from three to seven rather rapidly, so I didn't get a great sense of the last four but the main characters were Matt, Fen and Laurie.  I kind of felt bad for Matt, he was so full of self doubt.  He really struggled for much of the book between wanting to live up to the family name, while trying to learn how to control his temper and the power he receives from his amulet.  Fen and Laurie seemed like brother and sister to me instead of cousins.  They have such a strong bond, so it was frustrating when Fen was portrayed as being overly protective of Laurie, but came off as him thinking she was physically weak.  Laurie's character was very strong willed and Fen's comments about her being a girl and not being able to defend herself, well they were very contradictory to the bond that they shared.  Laurie did use her powers several times to get them out of sticky situations after all. Fen and Matt struck me as natural enemies, I had this strong Edward/Jacob (Twilight) vibe at first so, I was so relieved when they finally aligned themselves and had each others backs.    I wish there had been more time to learn more about twins Ray and Reyna (Frey and Freya's descendant), there are some mysteries yet to learn about them.  Baldwin (Balder's descendant) was very cool and I liked how Fen identified with him so quickly.  It seems he might play an important role in the next book, so I hope to learn more about him as well.  Overall, I thought Loki's Wolves was a wonderful introduction to a series based in Norse mythology that was filled with plenty of action, adventure and humor, leaving room to learn more about these champions before they go to battle.  

My copy of the book was purchased.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Picture Book Review: Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J.L. Powers, paintings by George Mendoza

21892530Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza  by J.L. Powers and paintings by George Mendoza 
Published:  September 1, 2014 by Purple House Press
Format: Hardcover 32 pages
Source: In exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the author for free.  

From Goodreads:  "George was one of those kids. You know, the kind that never stays still. Then one day, the doctor said he was going blind. Did that slow George down? Not for a single second. In fact, he was so fast, he went on to break a world record for blind runners. And now he's breaking more barriers--because ironically, George Mendoza, blind painter, paints what he sees. George started going blind at age 15 from a degenerative eye disease. It wasn't the sudden onset of blindness that many people experience. George lost his central vision and started seeing things that weren't there--eyes floating in the air, extraordinary colors, objects multiplied and reflected back. He describes this condition as having "kaleidoscope eyes."

He triumphed over his blindness by setting the world record in the mile for blind runners, and later competing in both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics for the Disabled. Now a full-time artist, Mendoza's paintings are a National Smithsonian Affiliates traveling exhibit."

I haven't read or reviewed picture books in awhile, having stopped reading them after my child and I stopped reading them together, but I've always appreciated their beauty.  I've always been up for that picture book that tugs at me.  I guess you could say, I also have a soft spot for artists and all the hard work and creativity that go into their craft (which for me includes authors, painters, illustrators etc.).  So, when I was contacted by J.L. Powers regarding Colors of the Wind, I jumped at the chance.  Look at that front cover (the painting is titled "In Memory of Ray Charles"), the colors are so pleasing to the eye, with its swirling patterns and I loved the idea that the book was based on the painters true story combined with his own artwork. The full page illustrations in Colors of the Wind are stunning, bright, vibrant colors of orange, reds, yellows and blues and really help to illustrate how George Mendoza views the world around him. There are seventeen full page paintings and a small tribute to five others on the last page.  The story is written with a few sentences on one page that detail George Mendoza's story with an occasional drawing by Hayley Morgan-Sanders that depict the author as a young child, running, and the various places discussed in the book. This is alternated with a full page painting from the author on the other side of the page with titles that include "Flaming Rose, Blazing Tree, and Butterfly Eyes".   

One of the only things I noticed while reading the book was that the two styles of the artists (Mendoza and Morgan-Sanders) didn't seem to blend with each other as much as I would have liked.  Yet, I could see where an attempt at balancing the two was made by incorporating Mendoza's artwork on one side of the page into the clothing in the black and white drawing on the other side of the page. Again, this is my personal observation and I don't think it would deter from children enjoying this book at all. The real driving force of this book after all for me where defiantly Mendoza's paintings.  I loved the bold bright colors and I can see some instant kid appeal. I've even seen on the internet where Mendoza has gone on school visits and used his artwork to have children paint their own version of what they think the colors of the wind would look like.  I really enjoyed the inclusion of more detailed information on George Mendoza that J.L. Powers included at the end of the book to further elaborate on his life too.  

Overall, Colors of the Wind is a wonderful book stocked full of beautiful paintings and information about George Mendoza's life as a blind artist and athlete.  When I think of diversity in literature, a book like Colors of the Wind seems to provide a great example for children.  It illustrates the things that one person can accomplish.  Not only does it present the story of an individual with a visual impairment going on to win two Olympic marathons, it also portrays that Mendoza wasn't deterred by his impairment, instead he persevered and modified his original dream of becoming a basketball star into that of an accomplished athlete and painter. Colors of Wind also makes for a great book for Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th-October 15th. I know that I was inspired to learn more about the author/painter and even found out that his artwork has been made into cotton fabric that people now use to make quilts out of. Thus, creating more pieces of art.  More information about George Mendoza can be found here and samples of some of his artwork are here.  

My review copy of Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza was donated to my local Elementary School to play things forward.  Thank you once again to the author for the opportunity to read/review the book.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne

18332010From Goodreads  "Ten-year-old Jack Foster has stepped through a doorway and into quite a different London.

Londinium is a smoky, dark, and dangerous place, home to mischievous metal fairies and fearsome clockwork dragons that breathe scalding steam. The people wear goggles to protect their eyes, brass grill insets in their nostrils to filter air, or mechanical limbs to replace missing ones.

Over it all rules the Lady, and the Lady has demanded a new son—a perfect flesh-and-blood child. She has chosen Jack.

Jack’s wonder at the magic and steam-powered marvels in Londinium lasts until he learns he is the pawn in a very dangerous game. The consequences are deadly, and his only hope of escape, of returning home, lies with a legendary clockwork bird.

The Gearwing grants wishes. Or it did, before it was broken. Before it was killed.    But some things don’t stay dead forever."

Steampunk is not a genre that I've read a lot of, but I love the idea of alternate worlds, technological creatures, and flying machines.  Two books that I have read and really enjoyed were The Peculiar by Stefan Bachman and The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski.  I've always loved the cover of Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, it was the first thing that drew me to this book.  It incorporates so many aspects of the setting of the story into that one image.  There's the mysterious doorway, the alternate version of London with its clockwork devices, airships and at the same time maintains its Victorian charm.  

Overall, I liked this darker version of London filled with soot, and people wearing goggles to protect their eyes and metal grills to help with breathing. Even the magical faeries were mysterious.  The world seemed to fit well with Jack's interests.  He liked to explore, and Londinium fit his passion for taking things apart and working with his hands. I half expected him to spend his entire time in the story building things with Dr. Snailwater and was surprised when he chose to live with The Lady.  Maybe it was because he also aspired to do magic and he wanted to be around people who wanted him.  The Lady wasn't going to send him away to school and certainly loved him more then his mother apparently did.  All The Lady wanted in return was a child who would love her back.  I really liked the premise, the Gearwing, mechanical dragons and the character of Beth.  However, I felt The Lady was a total mystery to me.  Where did she come from, who was she really, why was she so in search of a son?   So many unanswered questions about her and how this world came about.   I think it's why I enjoyed Sir Lorcan the most.  His story seemed to be the most fleshed out.  His motives were clear, how he came to this world and Trevayne even gave us his point of view at times.  I especially enjoyed the very beginning of the book where Lorcan is following Jack and his mother through the train station, the creepy way that he was lurking and plotting.  Lorcan's character brought the darkness to the story for me and his actions were truly villainous.  

My review copy was purchased.