Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Great Weather Diviner: The Untold Origin of Punxsutawney Phil by Rob Long & Andrew Dolberg

 The Great Weather Diviner:  The Untold Origin of Punxsutawney Phil by Rob Long & Andrew Dolberg
Publisher:  Morgan James Kids
Format:  Paperback
Number of pages:   270 pages
Published:   November 7th, 2022
Source:  Books Forward

Opening Line:  "Chaos surrounded them."

With Groundhog's Day quickly approaching, what better way to celebrate than reading a retelling or reinterpretation of the famous weather prognosticator, Punxsutawney Phil.

The opening chapter of The Great Weather Diviner provides the historical context of the Halwe War (a legendary war in which seven animal guardians came to the aid of Erda saving the realm from the White Demon and his Revenants) in the way of a bedtime story told by Lord Phillip Rodington to his young groundhog son Junior.  Junior has always loved this story because his grandfather was the hero responsible for the ultimate demise of the White Demon by using the Sacred Gnomon, the families divining staff to pulverize him into ash.  Ever since that time, the Rodington's have held a place of prestige in Erda, with each elder becoming the mayor, responsible for the mine, and control over the weather.  One day Junior is to inherit it all.  

Then one day Erda experiences a torrential rainfall that causes serious flooding, chaos and destruction within the town.  Many villagers are displaced from their homes, with the mine being hit the worst, as many of the workers are trapped below.  Junior's father ventures out to comfort the town and miners, leading to Junior overhearing him telling two very different stories to the townies and delvers, attempting to placate them both.  Unhappy with the whole situation, Junior argues with his father, even calling him a liar.  Confused by why his father's skills as a diviner couldn't predict the oncoming storm, Junior becomes even more upset.  Later his mom explains that his father could've been safe at home but that he chose to go out and make sure people had food and shelter.  She emphasizes that all his father is doing is to protect the town.  Feeling remorseful and that maybe he jumped to conclusions, Junior begins to ponder what his grandfather would have done, and whether or not this is a time for the guardians to reappear and save their town again.  Hoping for answers, Junior ultimately decides to embark on a journey in search of the legendary guardians.  Along the way, Junior learns some hard truths about his family's weather divining abilities, his ancestors and that many of the legends he's been told are not as they seem.  

The Great Weather Diviner was pitched as a Redwall-inspired conservation fantasy.  Come on who could pass up on that description?  I do see twinges of Redwall and found it to be a really interesting fantasy that draws from nature, the art of storytelling, questioning what we've been told and the premise of whether someone can be a hero and a villain?  The perils of climate change, over resilience on coal mining and fossil fuels are emphasized, and the need for nature conservation and mechanisms for its protection are highlighted in the story.  There is even a list of animals that are extinct or near extinction, and the reasons why included at the back of the book, which really drives in the point that saving these animals is important.  It's a fast read and an interesting spin on the legendary tale of Groundhog Day.  It's thought provoking and would make an excellent read-aloud leading to discussions about living in harmony with nature.  The authors are even donating a portion of the proceeds toward Habitat for Humanity in the Greater Palm Beach area. 

**A huge thank you to Books Forward for the paperback book in exchange for an honest review.**                

Monday, January 29, 2024

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Mansa Musa: The Richest Man In History from Our Story Media (Non-Fiction, Biography)

Mansa Musa:  The Richest Man in History, illustrated by Emanuel Colban
Publisher:  Our Story Media
Format:  Softcover
Number of pages:   26 pages
Published:   June 2023
Source:  Books Forward

 Our Story is a new book series that is working in partnership with  CAMFED (The Campaign for Female Education) to introduce young readers to "influential historical figures, many of whom are overlooked in Western curriculums."  Each story is written for children ages 8-12, focusing on historical role models such as Mansa Musa, Fatima Al-Fihri, and Shen Kuo.  The stories are designed to "inspire kids to reach their full potential" while learning about these significant role models.  Each book comes with a pronunciation guide, glossary, engaging activities like how to make an African fabric collage, and supplementary resources for further exploration.  For each physical copy purchased the publisher, Our Story will fund a full day's education for a girl in need through CAMFED.

My Review:
In the first book in the series, the reader is introduced to Mansa Musa, who was the emperor of the Mali Empire from 1312 to 1337.  He acquired his title as the richest man after having embarked on a pilgrimage to Makkah, the holy city of the Islamic faith.  The story covers how his wealth was acquired and provides details of his journey, or Hajj pilgrimage, to include a diplomatic stop in Egypt to meet with the Sultan.  Mana Musa was responsible for bringing many architects back to Mali and commissioning the construction of the world famous Djinguereber Mosque and the University of Timbuktu.  He used his wealth to further his people's lives by providing many schools and libraries.   

Each page of Mansa Musa includes a few paragraphs of text, with one to two vocabulary words presented in bold font.  Some of the words included caravan, dinars, Hajj, plummeted, etc.  With a quick flip to the back of the book to the glossary there you'll find the definition.  I really like how the story part of each page is a different color, moving from orange, to blue to pink, etc.  And that the other side of the page, with the illustrations, has this vibrant, textured looking illustration that matches the colorful palate of colors from the text.  There's just a wonderful balance in how the page color matches the hues of color in the illustrations and I can see reader's really engaging with the story.   I also really enjoyed the style of the illustrations, I'm no expert but there are a few that look like watercolors and they so beautifully reflect the scene in the accompanying text.  I get the feel of looking at a tapestry in a museum with a few of the illustrations.  Written with short paragraphs and delightful illustrations, I can see this piquing a child's interest to learn more about these historical figures.

A recent BBC interview with the Our Story co-founder Fahad Siddiqui, in which he discusses the need for more global education resources.  

Our Story Media Group can be found at:

Facebook: @OurStory | YouTube: @OurStoryMedia 

Instagram: | TikTok: 


 I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE      

 **And a huge thank you to Books Forward for the review copy, which I will be donating to my local Little Free Library**

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Blog tour for City Spies: Mission Manhattan by James Ponti with Excerpt and Giveaway

Today I am very excited to be hosting a spot on the CITY SPIES: MISSION MANHATTAN by James Ponti Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


                                                                            About The Book:

Author: James Ponti
Pub. Date: February 6, 2024
Publisher: Aladdin
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
Pages: 430

Find it: Goodreads

In this fifth installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies take on New York City in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

The City Spies head to the Big Apple when a credible threat is made to a young climate activist who is scheduled to speak in front of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly. With Rio acting as alpha and a new member in their ranks, the team’s mission to protect a fellow teen takes them on an exciting adventure in, around, and even under the greatest city in the world as they follow leads to the outer boroughs, the UN Headquarters, and even the usually off-limits stacks that extend deep under the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Excerpt from City Spies:  Mission Manhattan by James Ponti:


The Swarm 

Spy missions were nothing like spy movies. All Cairo had to do was look in a mirror to see that. He was about to go undercover for the first time, and rather than a tuxedo or finely tailored suit, he was wearing a bumblebee costume. It was a padded onesie over a pair of black tights and was very much not tailored. 

“This thing’s giving me a wedgie,” he complained, tugging at the seat of his costume. 

“It was the best we could do on such short notice,” replied Paris, who wore a matching outfit and was smearing black and yellow greasepaint on his face. “When it comes to spycraft, the bottom line is that comfort takes a backseat to blending in.” 

“Maybe so,” Cairo replied. “But right now, my backseat and bottom line are blending in with my underwear.” 

Paris laughed. It was a good sign that Cairo was able to joke right before his first official mission. Most people would’ve been too nervous. “Welcome to MI6,” he said. “It’s oh so glamorous.” 

They were in Venice, Italy, because the Secret Intelligence Service had gotten word of a potential threat at a global warming demonstration scheduled for St. Mark’s Square. The event was organized by a group of teenage environmental activists known as the Swarm, whose members dressed accordingly at protest rallies. 

“You ready?” Paris asked once he’d finished putting on his makeup. 

Cairo nodded, gave his costume one final tug, and said, “Let’s get buzzing.” 

This was their first time in Venice, and it would’ve been easy for them to get lost because the city was spread across more than one hundred small islands, but they had help navigating its baffling blend of bridges and alleyways. As they stepped out of their safe house, they heard a loud buzzing that sounded as though a massive swarm of bees was overtaking the city. 

“What’s that noise?” Cairo asked. 

“Vuvuzelas,” answered Paris. 

“You mean those plastic horns fans play at soccer matches?” 

“The Swarm uses them whenever they march to a rally,” Paris explained. “All we have to do is listen and follow.” 

“Helpful,” Cairo said. “Annoying, but helpful.” 

As they tried to catch up with the Swarm, the rest of the team was getting ready in St. Mark’s Square, which the Italians called Piazza San Marco. Sydney and Brooklyn were stationed near the security gates through which all the protesters had to pass, while Rio and Monty were backstage keeping an eye on the speakers scheduled to talk at the rally. 

Kat was the alpha, which meant she’d call the shots once the mission got underway. She was positioned on the observation deck atop the bell tower overlooking the square. Four hundred years earlier, this was where Galileo looked to the heavens with his newly invented telescope and discovered order in the universe. Now it was where a fourteen-year-old spy looked across a sea of demonstrators, hoping to figure out which ones were a threat to the others. 

“Testing comms, one, two, three,” she said into the microphone hidden in her jacket collar. “Can everyone hear me?” 

“Roger that,” replied Sydney. 

“Loud and clear,” Brooklyn added. 

“All good,” said Monty. 

“Good for me, too,” answered Rio. 

Kat waited a moment before prodding, “Paris, Cairo, are you in range?” 

“You’ll have to speak up,” Cairo said, trying to be heard over the noise around them. “It’s pretty loud over here.” 

He and Paris had just joined up with dozens of protesters dressed as bees and making a ruckus as they paraded through the city. In addition to blaring vuvuzelas, some of them pounded drums, while others chanted, “Be-a-triz! Be-a-triz!” in honor of their leader. 

“We’re on the Rialto Bridge crossing the Grand Canal,” Paris said, raising his voice. “We should reach St. Mark’s in about ten minutes.” 

“What about you, Mother?” Kat said. “I know you can’t answer directly, but if you can hear us, let us know by asking someone a question.” 

Mother was one of the two adult agents who oversaw the team. MI6 had managed to place him inside Venice’s state-of-the-art Control Room. This was the highly secretive—and somewhat controversial—location where local authorities used a web of sensors, CCTV cameras, and mobile-phone trackers to monitor every person visiting the city. It would’ve caused an uproar if the Italians found out a British agent was running a mission from here, so Mother couldn’t be overheard communicating directly with the others. Instead, he turned to a nearby police officer and asked, “Dov’é il bagno?” 

“Seriously?” Sydney said with a laugh. “That’s the best you could come up with?” 

“You know what that means, don’t you?” Kat asked. 

“Yes,” answered Sydney. “It means ‘Where’s the bathroom?’” 

“True, but it also means that the comms are set and everyone’s in position,” Kat said. “And that means ‘This operation is hot. We are a go!’” 

This was the phrase the alpha said to launch every mission for the City Spies, an experimental team of six covert agents, aged twelve to sixteen, who British Secret Intelligence sent on assignments in which adults would stand out. 

“Chills,” Brooklyn replied. “Every. Single. Time.” 

Shy and awkward by nature, Kat had come into her own as the alpha on some recent high-value missions. She’d been surprised by how much she’d enjoyed the role. “We are underway, and the rally is set to start in twenty-three minutes,” she said, taking charge. “That means open eyes and open minds. This is not a typical assignment.” 

“And by that, are you referring to the part where we’ve been told to look for zombies?” Rio replied. 

There were snickers on the comms. 

“Not just zombies,” Kat replied. “I’ll settle for vampires, flesh-eaters, or any undead creatures you may come across. We’re casting a wide net here.” 

And that was the problem with the mission. They didn’t really know what they were looking for. 

Five days earlier, MI6 intercepted a partial message sent between criminal syndicates in Kazakhstan and Turkey that discussed an attack in St. Mark’s to be carried out on this date by . . . the walking dead. 

That was literally what it had said. 

British analysts probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to it if it weren’t for the fact that the protest was happening at the same time world leaders would be in Venice for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was being held across the Giudecca Canal on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. 

The threat sounded like a joke but couldn’t be ignored. 

“The walking dead?” Mother had asked when the team was given the assignment by his superior. “Are you being serious? What does that even mean?” 

“There are several possibilities,” responded Tru, one of only a handful of high-ranking officials at the Secret Intelligence Service who even knew that the City Spies existed. “It’s either a code, a message that’s been garbled in translation from Kazakh to Turkish to English, or the first sign of the zombie apocalypse. Whichever one, we’re going to need someone there to keep an eye on things.” 

The City Spies were chosen to be that “someone” for two main reasons. First, because the rally was sponsored for and by young people, it was easy for them to blend in. Second, the team’s official cover was that they were all on student fellowships with the Foundation for Atmospheric Research and Monitoring, a weather research center in Scotland that was actually the headquarters for a covert MI6 operation. The FARM, as it was known, was active in promoting climate change awareness, which is how Monty and Rio were able to get backstage with the speakers. 

“Você está nervosa?” Rio asked Beatriz Santos, the sixteen-year-old activist who was scheduled to give the main address at the rally. 

She smiled, pleasantly surprised to hear someone speak in her native language. 

“Um pouco,” she replied, admitting that she was a bit nervous. “Você é brasileiro?” 

“Eu sou carioca,” he replied, which meant that he was from Rio de Janeiro. 

Her eyes lit up and she beamed. “Eu também sou!” she said. So am I. 

Although Kat was the alpha, Rio had the most important assignment. He was supposed to get close to Beatriz and watch over her since she was the most likely target of any attack. For him, this was huge, not only because it was rare for him to get such an important responsibility, but also because he was a massive fan of hers. He had to fight feeling starstruck as they talked. 

“Rafael,” he said introducing himself with his cover name. “But you can call me Rafa.” 

“I’m Beatriz,” she replied. 

He laughed. “Yeah, I think I heard that somewhere.” 

The chants of “Be-a-triz! Be-a-triz!” were ringing through the crowd, and she gave an embarrassed cringe. 

“That must feel incredible,” he said. “People just cheering your name.” 

“It’s good for the cause,” she replied. “But I don’t like the attention.” 

“Really?” he asked, surprised. “That’s too bad, because you sure get a lot of it.” 

In just over two years, Beatriz had gone from unknown concerned teenager to world-famous environmental activist. What started as a one-person protest outside the Brazilian National Congress had grown into a global organization with members in ninety-seven countries. Officially, she was the director of the International Student Coalition to Protect Rainforests, but among her ardent supporters, she was simply known as Queen Bea, which is why they called themselves the Swarm. 

“Still,” Rio continued, “you shouldn’t feel nervous about talking to a crowd that loves you so much.” 

“I’m not too worried about the speech in the piazza,” she said. “But there are people across the water who do not love me so much. It’s important that I don’t make any mistakes that give them an excuse to ignore what I have to say.” 

After her speech Beatriz was scheduled to take the five-minute boat ride across the lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore so she could address the world leaders at the UN conference. It would be an intimidating audience that included the US president and British prime minister. 

“How do you keep calm when you have to speak to a group like that?” 

“I think of the bees,” Beatriz said. 

“The ones who dress up and chant your name?” 

“No,” she replied. “The bees who pollinate a third of the food we eat. They are essential to feeding the world. Thinking about them reminds me that even if you are very small, you can still be very important.” 

Rio flashed a charmer’s smile and said, “Você vai fazer fántastico.” You’ll do fantastic. 

She held up both hands with her fingers crossed. 

Meanwhile, the crowd continued to fill into the piazza. 

“In case the incredibly loud buzzing didn’t give it away, the Swarm just arrived at security gate number one,” Sydney informed the others. 

Fences had been erected so that anyone entering the square had to pass through a series of metal detectors and magnetometers as well as get patted down by officers in black jackets that read polizia on the back. 

“I can even see our busy little bees,” Sydney added once she spotted Paris and Cairo enter the pat-down area. “Bumble One and Bumble Two.” 

“Make sure to get photos of them both,” Kat said. 

“To document the mission?” Brooklyn asked. 

“No, for future blackmail opportunities.” 

“Gotta love Kat,” Sydney said as she snapped some pictures. “Always thinking ahead.” 

“You’re all hilarious,” Paris responded. “Besides, compared to the others, I think we look pretty good.” 

“Keep telling yourself that,” Sydney said. “But you may be mistaking this for our mission in Egypt.” 

“Why do you say that?” he asked, confused. 

“Because you’re swimming in ‘da Nile,’” she joked, eliciting more laughter on the comms. 

“You walked right into that one,” Rio said. 

“All right, that’s enough,” Monty said, laughing with them. “Loose is good, but this mission is important. We need to focus.” Monty was the other adult with the team. She was the director of FARM and was backstage gathered with the parents and advisors who’d accompanied the speakers. 

“All kidding aside, I’m wondering if more of us should’ve worn costumes,” Brooklyn said. “We would’ve blended in better.” 

“Why’s that?” asked Monty. 

“So many people are wearing them,” she responded. “In addition to all the bumblebees, there are people dressed as endangered animals, environmental superheroes, and even some with giant papier-mâché heads of the world leaders. It looks like Halloween at security gate two. Right now, the police are trying to figure out how to deal with two creepy bird-people pushing a giant globe.” 

“What’s the problem with it?” Sydney asked. 

“It’s too big to fit through the metal detectors,” she replied. 

“What do creepy bird-people even look like?” Cairo asked. 

“They’re wearing black cloaks, black hats, motorcycle boots, and white masks with big round eyes and long beaks.” 

“Those aren’t bird-people,” Paris said. “They’re plague doctors.” 

“What?” asked Brooklyn. 

“In the Middle Ages, doctors wore outfits like that when they treated patients who had the plague,” Paris said. “They packed the beak with herbs and flowers to counteract the smell, which is what they thought carried the disease.” 

“They may not be birds, but the masks are still creepy as all get-out,” Brooklyn responded. 

“That’s what people thought in the Middle Ages too,” Paris answered. “They freaked out when they saw one of the doctors arrive in their neighborhood because it meant someone nearby had the plague and was sure to die. It was like a real-life grim reaper.” 

There was a beat, and then Kat said, “The walking dead!” 

Grab the rest of the CITY SPIES BOOKS now!


                        Book Trailer:

About James:

JAMES PONTI (he/him/his) is the New York Times bestselling author of three middle grade book series: City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award–winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, DC; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. His books have appeared on more than fifteen different state award lists and he is the founder of a writers group known as the Renegades of Middle Grade. James is also an Emmy– nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History, and Spike TV, as well as NBC Sports. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. Find out more at

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon

Giveaway Details:

1 lucky winner will receive a finished copy of CITY SPIES: MISSION MANHATTAN, US Only.

Ends February 6th, midnight EST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

                                        Rockstar Book Tour Schedule:

Week One:



IG Review/TikTok Post


Kountry Girl Bookaholic

Excerpt/IG Post


YA Books Central

Excerpt/IG Post



IG Post


Little Red Reads

Excerpt/IG Post


Log Cabin Library



Two Chicks on Books

Excerpt/IG Post


Lady Hawkeye

Excerpt/IG Post


Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Review/IG Post



IG Review

James Ponti’s In-Person Tour for the book:


Tuesday, February 6 at 6:00pm ET

Politics and Prose at The Wharf (Washington, D.C.)

In conversation with Hena Khan


Wednesday, February 7 at 6:00pm ET

Books of Wonder (New York, NY)

In conversation with Gordon Korman and Adam Gidwitz


Thursday, February 8 at 6:00pm ET

RJ Julia Booksellers (Madison, CT)

In conversation with Jake Burt


Friday, February 9 at 6:30pm ET

An Unlikely Story (Plainville, MA)


Saturday, February 10 at 2:00pm ET

Bush Auditorium at Rollins College (Winter Park, FL)

In conversation with Stuart Gibbs