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Mainly reviews of children's and young adult literature. Primarily focuses on new literature, 2004-present, but may feature older titles if they are "favorites" of mine. Feel free to leave comments. I always enjoy reading what others have to say!
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1. The Clone Army Attacketh

William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh. Ian Doescher. 2015. Quirk. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I did enjoy reading Ian Doescher's The Clone Army Attacketh. It was a pleasant-enough way to spend two evenings. I haven't enjoyed any of the adaptations nearly as much as the first book in the series--Verily, A New Hope. Perhaps because Verily A New Hope retains so many memorable lines, only slightly adjusted to come from the pen of Shakespeare. Perhaps because it was the first, the concept, the premise was so new, so novel. It was like trying a new dish for the first time and discovering that you love it. I have to confess that the second prequel movie is one of my FAVORITES. I adore this one for so many reasons. And I was hoping that the flavor of the original movie dialogue would shine through. I was a bit disappointed in that. Though probably Doescher's changes are for the better. Most of the changes focuses on Anakin and Padme, and their romance.

If you've enjoyed the previous books in the series, chances are you'll enjoy this one too.  

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Archivist Wasp

Archivist Wasp. Nicole Kornher-Stace. 2015. Big Mouth House. 268 pages. [Source: Library]

Two words describe Archivist Wasp, in my opinion, confusing and compelling. It's not often a book is equal parts confusing and compelling. Even though I found myself with more questions than answers and lingering confusion, I couldn't stop reading Archivist Wasp. Two more words to describe the book? How about post-apocalyptic and ghosts?

Our heroine is an archivist calling herself "Wasp." I'll be honest, Wasp doesn't have the best of lives, even, when she's not fighting for her life, fighting to stay the Archivist. (She's challenged every year by three Upstarts. That's how she got the job as well, by killing the previous Archivist.) Archivists have a marginally better life than Upstarts. But essentially, no one in this post-apocalyptic world has a happy, easy life. The villagers, well, they have their problems too. But at least they aren't tortured/tormented by the Catchkeep's Priest and brainwashed into a life of hate and violence.

So what does an Archivist do? She hunts ghosts, recording what she learns from each ghost, disposes of ghosts after studying, except, for when a villager wants to buy a ghost for whatever reason. It's a bleak, lonely life. And Wasp does spend a good bit of the book recovering from various injuries.

So the book is about what happens when Wasp meets an out-of-the-ordinary ghost, one that is actually able to communicate with her, one that has a tragic tale to tell and a huge request for her. This nameless ghost (he can't remember his identity, I believe) wants her help in finding another ghost, Catherine Foster. He wants them both to travel to the underworld and search the spirit-world. She agrees, and, in the process learns that life below isn't any more bleak than life above. In fact, in some ways it might even be slightly better. But the search won't be easy. And it will have its own dangers.

The book is about what she learns through this search, it will change her certainly....

Do I understand everything that happened in Archivist Wasp? Not really. The quest was really confusing in places, and, she is thrown in and out of other people's memories. She sees the past on her quest, in bits and pieces, and probably not sequential flashbacks either. She has to piece it all together. And she does a much better job than I did with that!


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. August Reflections

In August I read 55 books.

Board books:

  1. Board Book: Carry and Learn Shapes. Scholastic. 2015. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Board Book: I Love My Puppy. Caroline Jayne Church. 2015. Scholastic. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. Board Book: Oh No, George! Chris Haughton. 2015. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. Board Book: Ten Playful Penguins. Emily Ford. Illustrated by Russell Julian. 2015. [October] Scholastic. 22 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Picture books:
  1. Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became The Beatles. Susanna Reich. 2015. Henry Holt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Friendshape. Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. The Queen's Hat. Steve Antony. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. When Sophie's Feelings are Really, Really Hurt. Molly Bang. 2015. [September] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5. Your Hand in My Hand. Mark Sperring. Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. 2015. [November] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. A Lucky Author Has A Dog. Mary Lyn Ray. Illustrated by Steven Henry. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  7. Elephant in the Dark. Mina Javaherbin. Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  8. Where Did My Clothes Come From? Chris Butterworth. Illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti. 2015. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  9. Frog on a Log? Kes Gray. Illustrated by Jim Field. 2015. [September] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  10. Where's Walrus? and Penguin? Stephen Savage. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  11. Clifford Goes to Kindergarten. Norman Bridwell. 2015. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  12. Railroad Hank. Lisa Moser. Illustrated by Benji Davies. 2012. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  13. Peppa's Windy Fall Day. Adapted by Barbara Winthrop. 2015. Scholastic. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  14. (Peppa Pig) Best Friends. 2015. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  15. Double Play: Monkeying Around With Addition. Betsy Franco. Illustrated by Doug Cushman. 2011. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  16. Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! Dr. Seuss. 1971. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Library]
  17. In A People House. Dr. Seuss. (Theo LeSieg) Illustrated by Roy McKie. 1972. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Library]
  18. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Dr. Seuss. 1973. Random House. 47 pages. [Source: Library] 
  19. The Shape of Me And Other Stuff. Dr. Seuss. 1973. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Library]
  20. There's a Wocket in my Pocket! Dr. Seuss. 1974. Random House. 30 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Early readers and chapter books:
  1. Big Dog and Little Dog. Dav Pilkey. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  2. Eva Sees A Ghost (Owl Diaries #2) Rebecca Elliott. 2015. Scholastic. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Middle grade:
  1. Milo Speck, Accidental Agent. Linda Urban. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Walk Two Moons. Sharon Creech. 1994. HarperCollins. 280 pages. [Source: Bought]
  3. The Whipping Boy. Sid Fleischman. Illustrated by Peter Sis. 1986. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]
  4. Finding Serendipity. Angelica Banks. 2015. Henry Holt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. The View From Saturday. E.L. Konigsburg. 1996. 176 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  6. A Girl Named Disaster. Nancy Farmer. 1996. Scholastic. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  7. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind. Suzanne Fisher Staples. 1989. 240 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
  8. Missing in Action. Dean Hughes. 2010/2015. Random House. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Young adult:
  1.  Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust. Ruth Thomson. 2011. Candlewick. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. A Little In Love. Susan Fletcher. 2015. Scholastic. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  3. An Ember in the Ashes. Sabaa Tahir. 2015. Penguin. 446 pages. [Source: Library]
Adult:
  1. The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1857/1975. Penguin Classics. 623 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II. Molly Guptill Manning. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]  
  3. Gut: The Inside Story of Our Most Underrated Organ. Giulia Enders. Illustrated by Jill Enders. 2014/2015. Greystone Books. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
  4. A Bitter Truth. Charles Todd. 2011. HarperCollins. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
  5. Go Set A Watchman. Harper Lee. 2015.  HarperCollins. 278 pages. [Source: Library] 
  6. Wish You Well. David Baldacci. 2000/2007. Grand Central Publishing. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
  7. Murder at Longbourn. (Elizabeth Parker #1) Tracy Kiely. 2009. St. Martin's Press. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
Christian nonfiction:
  1. John: That You Might Believe (Preaching the Word) R. Kent Hughes. 1999/2014. Crossway Books. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. The Original Jesus: Trading The Myths We Create For The Savior Who Is. Daniel Darling. 2015. Baker Books. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]  
  3. Compassion: Seeing with Jesus' Eyes. Joshua Mack. 2015. P&R Publishing. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Ladylike: Living Biblically. Rebekah Curtis and Rose Adle. 2015. Concordia. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  5.  Our Only Comfort. Neal Presa. 2015. Westminster John Knox Press. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  6. Modesty. Martha Peace and Kent Keller. 2015. P&R Publishing. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  7. Five Minute Bedtime Bible Stories. Retold by Amy Parker. Illustrated by Walter Carzon. 2015. Scholastic. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  8.  Respectable Sins. Jerry Bridges. 2007. NavPress. 192 pages. [Source: Bought]
  9. The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing. Jonathan Dodson. 2015. Zondervan. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Christian fiction:
  1. Through Waters Deep. (Waves of Freedom #1) Sarah Sundin. Revell. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Lady Maybe. Julie Klassen. 2015. Penguin. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Fab Four Friends

Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became The Beatles. Susanna Reich. 2015. Henry Holt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I love the Beatles, have spent several decades loving the Beatles, so I was quite excited to read Susanna Reich's picture book biography of the fab four. She introduces each Beatle individually, starting with John, of course. As each one meets John and joins the band, his story is then told in some detail. It is a partial biography, not a full one. The book concludes circa 1963 with the Beatles just beginning to become HUGE in England. (Think Love Me Do and Please, Please Me.)

The details are age-appropriate, in case you're curious. If you're familiar with the Beatles--as a group, or as individuals--then you know that there is plenty that could have been said, could have been shared, for a mature adult audience. The book captures them at their innocent best.

I've read a handful of books about the Beatles--mainly biographies--over the years, and this one did a good job with the basics. I liked the simple approach for a younger audience. Though this one would definitely be a picture book for older readers, and not a book ideal for preschool read aloud.

The Illustrations are by Adam Gustavson. I spent time looking at each spread of this picture book, absorbing the details in the text and in the illustration. I've spent plenty of time looking at photographs of the Beatles--I had a new Beatles calendar for several years in a row. So what did I think of the illustrations? I liked them for the most part. There were one or two that I thought were practically perfect. But I couldn't really say that of each and every page. Still, I liked the illustrations overall.

If used in a classroom, this one would pair well with the first Beatles Anthology album. Students could listen to "early" recordings of the Beatles.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. A Girl Named Disaster

A Girl Named Disaster. Nancy Farmer. 1996. Scholastic. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I read A Girl Named Disaster and Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind the same week. That fact definitely influenced my thoughts on both books--fair or not. Reading is subjective, after all.

Did I enjoy reading A Girl Named Disaster? Yes and no. I didn't exactly "enjoy" it. I found it a bit slow at the beginning, and, a bit rushed at the end. There were times I definitely found it interesting, but, I never really found myself loving it.

Nancy Farmer's A Girl Named Disaster is set in Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the early 1980s. Nhamo has an interesting relationship to the rest of the family. She dearly, dearly loves her grandmother (Ambuya), and is in return beloved of her grandmother. (She is in fact probably the favorite granddaughter.) But the rest of her family is a different story. They seem to blame Nhamo for the circumstances of her birth. Her mother returned home from school (high school??? college???) pregnant and married to a "useless" man, a man named Proud. Neither is in her life when the novel opens. Her mother died when Nhamo was a toddler--eaten by a leopard. Her father had disappeared even before that. Nhamo is, without a doubt, a hard worker. Yes, she is slightly bitter that her tasks are more difficult and time-consuming than her slightly-older cousin's--Masvita. But she isn't hate-filled and overflowing with attitude either.

Like Shabanu, A Girl Named Disaster introduces readers to a culture where marriage happens VERY early in life for girls--twelve to fourteen, and where a woman's worth is very much tied to her ability to produce children, particularly sons. Like Shabanu, A Girl Named Disaster features a heroine who is to be sacrificed via marriage. Like Shabanu, this marriage is MOST, MOST unwelcome. Dare I say this would-be marriage sounds even more unpleasant than the one in Shabanu--and I never thought I'd say that. Like Shabanu, the heroine makes the only choice she can under the circumstances....

Nhamo runs away from home in an attempt to make it across the border to Zimbabwe. Once there, she'll pretend to be Catholic--her mother attended a Catholic school--and seek refuge with nuns. Is she actually Catholic? No. Of course not. Her ideas of who Jesus is are far from sound, to say the least. But that is not exactly the point of A Girl Named Disaster.

Her journey to Zimbabwe is....much longer than she imagined it ever could be. It is not a journey of a few days or even a few weeks. MONTHS go by with Nhamo still struggling to reach her destination. It is her fight for SURVIVAL. It is definitely nature versus Nhamo...with Nhamo receiving a bit of help from the spiritual world.

Will Nhamo's life be better--easier--in Zimbabwe? Will she find her father? Will she find her father's family? Will she find welcome with them? What will happen to her if she doesn't find them? What will become of her? What are her chances of a decent life, a good life???

A Girl Named Disaster is slightly less depressing than Shabanu. That's not fair. It's not. The ending sees Nhamo with a bit of hope and a chance at a future.

Still neither book "feels" like a children's book. And when I do think of Newbery or Newbery Honor, I tend to think CHILDREN'S BOOK more than anything else. Arranged marriages, child-adult marriages, don't really come to mind. Still exposure to diverse titles can be a good thing. And both books offer readers something to think about.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Library Loot: Fifth Trip in August

New Loot:
  • Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  • Winston the Book Wolf by Marni McGee
  • Ding Dong Gorilla by Michelle Robinson
  • Digger and Tom by Sebastien Braun
  • Toot and Pop by Sebastien Braun
  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
  • The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
  • Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Whittington by Alan Armstrong
  • Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
  • Arthur, For The First Time by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Oh, the thinks you can think by Dr. Seuss
  • Wacky Wednesday by Theo LeSieg
  • Would You Rather be a Bullfrog by Theo LeSieg
  • Hooper Humperdink--? Not him! Theo LeSieg

Leftover Loot:
  • An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
  • The Well by Stephanie Landsem
  • The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem
  • The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers  
  • There's A Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss
  • A Question of Honor by Charles Todd 
  • An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd
  • The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
  • The Matchmaker: An Amish Retelling of Jane Austen's Emma by Sarah Price
  • Second Chances: An Amish Retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion by Sarah Price
  • Vango. Between Sky and Earth. Timothee de Fomb
  • Great Day for UP by Dr. Seuss
  • The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes  
  • Wouldn't it Be Deadly an Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mystery by D.E. Ireland
  • The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
  • An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd
  • Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
  • The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
  • Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Ella MacNeal 
       Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Week in Review: August 23-29

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II. Molly Guptill Manning. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
Big Dog and Little Dog. Dav Pilkey. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]
There's a Wocket in my Pocket! Dr. Seuss. 1974. Random House. 30 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Your Hand in My Hand. Mark Sperring. Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. 2015. [November] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
When Sophie's Feelings are Really, Really Hurt. Molly Bang. 2015. [September] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The View From Saturday. E.L. Konigsburg. 1996. 176 pages. [Source: Bought]

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind. Suzanne Fisher Staples. 1989. 240 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]Go Set A Watchman. Harper Lee. 2015.  HarperCollins. 278 pages. [Source: Library]
Finding Serendipity. Angelica Banks. 2015. Henry Holt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
The Original Jesus: Trading The Myths We Create For The Savior Who Is. Daniel Darling. 2015. Baker Books. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]
John: That You Might Believe (Preaching the Word) R. Kent Hughes. 1999/2014. Crossway Books. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]
The Study Bible for Women: HCSB Large Print Edition. Dorothy Kelley Patterson and Rhonda Harrington Kelley. 2015. B&H. 2208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's recommendation(s)

I loved WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR and BIG DOG AND LITTLE DOG. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Big Dog and Little Dog

Big Dog and Little Dog. Dav Pilkey. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed reading Dav Pilkey's Big Dog and Little Dog. It is newly published in early reader format. (The book was originally published in 1997. The end-of-the-book activities are brand new additions to the 2015 edition.)

In this early reader title, young readers meet Big Dog and Little Dog. The good news is that if little ones LOVE reading about Big Dog and Little Dog, this is the first in a series. There are PLENTY of other books to get them excited--to keep them excited and to keep them READING.

Here is how this one begins, "Big dog and Little Dog are hungry. Big Dog and Little Dog want food."

My favorite part, I must admit: "Big Dog gets in the big bed. Little Dog gets in the little bed. Big Dog is lonely. Little Dog is lonely, too." The illustrations tell the rest of the story!

I love it because it is simple and straightforward. And being simple does not in any way prevent it from being clever and funny and A STORY. The illustrations are bright and bold.

It is a charming book cover to cover.

I also appreciated the end-of-the-book activities. For example, one activity has young readers practice story sequencing and has them retelling the story.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Seuss on Saturday #35

There's a Wocket in my Pocket! Dr. Seuss. 1974. Random House. 30 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Did you ever have the feeling there's a wasket in your basket?

Premise/plot: The narrator starts out asking a series of very silly questions. There's no doubt there's more silliness than actual plot to this one. Readers "meet" lots of fanciful creatures in, on, behind, up, and under common household objects in a special sort of house. The narrator warns: some are friendly; some are not.

My thoughts: I like this one. I do. It's one I definitely remember from childhood. And it's one I recommend parents read to their children. It's just a lot of silliness!

Have you read There's a Wocket in My Pocket! Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is Great Day for Up!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Your Hand in My Hand

Your Hand in My Hand. Mark Sperring. Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. 2015. [November] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Your hand in my hand is where it belongs. Your hand in my hand as we walk along. The world's full of wonders. There's so much to see. I'll find them with you if you find them with me.

Premise/plot: Your Hand in My Hand celebrates families, friendship, seasons, and nature. The illustrations feature a parent and child. (They're mice, I believe.) It's a sweet and precious book. Not every reader loves sweet and precious. Not all adults and not all children. But for the right reader, or set of readers, this one is quite lovely.

My thoughts: Did I love it? Yes and no. I didn't love Your Hand in My Hand as much as his previous book, Max and the Won't Go To Bed Show. I really loved that spirited book. Your Hand is My Hand is much quieter, not as exuberant or obnoxious. There's something personal and precious about it which I can't help liking. This one was originally published in the UK.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. When Sophie's Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt

When Sophie's Feelings are Really, Really Hurt. Molly Bang. 2015. [September] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Sophie loves to paint. She also loves the woods. Now Ms. Mulry is telling the class: "After school, find a tree you like a LOT. Look at it carefully--the trunk, the branches, the leaves. Tomorrow your'e going to paint that tree from memory."

Premise/plot: Sophie's feelings get hurt during art time at school. One of the boys--Andrew--teases her about her painting, telling her that her painting is all wrong. Can the teacher intervene and reassure Sophie that there isn't a right and wrong way to paint a tree?

My thoughts: I liked the text. I did. I like Sophie as a character. And I liked how expressive the story was. Did I like the illustrations? Yes and no. I actually really liked Sophie's drawing of a tree. Her art assignment was beautiful. And I liked the brightness of the colors. But overall, I didn't "love" the illustrations.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind. Suzanne Fisher Staples. 1989. 240 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

Did I enjoy reading Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind? Not really. This Newbery Honor book doesn't fit my idea of what a Newbery or Newbery Honor book should be. I'm not sure that's fair on my part, and it could be a good thing to be a shockingly different children's book.

Shabanu is the young heroine of the novel. She's eleven or perhaps twelve. On the verge of "adulthood" in her culture, she's almost of marriageable age. Her wedding has already been arranged--a cousin--but it is about one year away still. Her sister's wedding, her sister is about thirteen, is months away when the novel opens. The arranged marriages for both of them are with their cousins. (I think one is 15, one 17. They are brothers). The novel is set in Pakistan. (I'm assuming contemporary-to-the-publication Pakistan). Shabanu and her family live in the desert, and live a more nomadic lifestyle. They travel from place to place depending on the time of year and the amount of water. Shabanu loves, loves, loves, LOVES tending the camels, and, she has definite favorites among them. She does not envy her sister being "all grown up." She enjoys the freedom she has as a child. Though it's not complete, absolute freedom ever. (I'm not saying it should be necessarily.)

The setting is interesting. Readers definitely get exposed to a whole new world, a camel-centric world. I thought there were at times a little too much information about the camels. (Warning: there's CAMEL SMUT)

If life had gone according to plan, the novel would not have taken a decidedly dark and depressing turn. But things went horribly wrong before her sister's wedding, and, Shabanu herself pays the price though she is not responsible or to blame for the souring of events. It seems most all the characters have a happier end than she herself does. That may or may not be completely realistic, but, it certainly isn't fair. It may push the extremes of what children consider NOT FAIR.

I'm not sure what response readers are to have with a novel like this. Shabanu may be the first or one of the first books readers come across that either a) stars a Muslim family, features a Muslim heroine, OR b) is set in Pakistan. I doubt the impression of either will be a good one, if that makes sense. Especially considering the ending.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Go Set A Watchman

Go Set A Watchman. Harper Lee. 2015.  HarperCollins. 278 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman? Yes and no. Yes, I wanted to read it. Yes, I had a few doubts and some hesitations to do so. Because you can't unread a book once you've read it no matter how much you want to do so! I certainly don't regret reading Go Set A Watchman. Which is saying something at least in its favor. But I wouldn't necessarily ever call it a 'must read' for its own sake. It will appeal most to those who love To Kill A Mockingbird, and it will appeal least to those who really, really love, love, love To Kill A Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird. It just isn't. It was written first, most importantly. And the characters are the same but NOT THE SAME. It's a work in progress, a work in development, a solid draft but a draft all the same. To read Go Set A Watchman as a proper sequel, one would have to accept regressing character development not just of one or two characters but of many. Of course, there are a few characters developed more fully in Go Set A Watchman. Characters whose presence was barely felt in To Kill A Mockingbird take center stage in Go Set A Watchman. It is hard to imagine the characters we know becoming the characters we see in Go Set A Watchman. Hard to imagine is keeping it on friendly terms in some ways. One reason why is the fact that Go Set A Watchman is not built in any way upon the events and characters of To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus Finch represents a black man for trial, it's true, but the facts of the case are so completely different, and it's a trial that he wins oh-so-easily. That's just one example. Because the past of the characters is different, it's hard for me to imagine these future-characters as being the same characters. More of an alternate or parallel universe feel--in my opinion.

Were there scenes I enjoyed in Go Set A Watchman? Yes, definitely. There were a handful of scenes, mostly flashback scenes, I admit, that really stood out to me. Scout remembering summers with her big brother and Dill. An acting out of a revival of sorts. Just to name one. But present-day Scout, well, I'm not sure I like her. I get the idea that I'm supposed to really, really like her and applaud everything she thinks and says and does. To declare Scout 100% right and incapable of being in any way wrong. But I can't. I just can't. Scout is mostly-fully-grown and definitely fully opinionated. But Scout doesn't know everything--though she thinks she does--and she isn't perfectly perfect. (For the record, I don't think any one person CAN know everything there is to know and be right 100% of the time on every single little thing. I think every person has strengths and weaknesses and blind spots.)

Go Set A Watchman is a coming-of-age-as-an-adult story where Scout battles her emotions. Does she love her father? Does she like her father? Does she respect her father? Does she hate her father? Does she really, really, really hate her father? Does she never want to see him again ever, ever? One thing is certain: she KNOWS that she is right and her father is WRONG. And her father is either stupid for not knowing right from wrong, or, full of hate and cruelty for not knowing right from wrong.

Scout's challenges are probably not unique. There is a time when children question the wisdom and intelligence of their parents--and this can happen at any age--but it's also not unusual for things to swing back around either.

Is Go Set A Watchman a book about race or race relations? Yes, I'm not sure if it is the only thing the book is about. But it's certainly one of the main things it is about--simply because it is a catalyst for how Scout sees her hometown, her family, her friends, now after several years away living in New York. Scout is shocked that almost everyone she knows is hesitant and resistant and unsure about the whole civil rights thing. Atticus' view is that no one--but especially small town Southerners--likes to be told to do something and how to do something and to have their lives managed by outsiders. Atticus sees the potential for another messy Reconstruction. And he's not sure how it will all work out, how it will be accomplished cleanly, neatly, fairly, legally. He doesn't want things to be ugly, messy, violent, hateful. He's trying to prevent a complete collapse of life as they know it. Scout wants her father to be the first to embrace civil rights and to do everything he can to bring changes quickly. Scout interprets her father's hesitancy, his doubts, his fears, his uncertainties about HOW it is to be done--the details of making all things equal and fair--as HATE and bigotry. But is that fair?

Another thing Scout is struggling with from beginning to end is SHOULD I GET MARRIED? DO I WANT TO GET MARRIED? DO I NEED TO GET MARRIED? WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO GET MARRIED? WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY FREEDOM? WHY WOULD I WANT TO GIVE MY FREEDOM UP BY GETTING MARRIED? IS MARRIAGE RIGHT FOR ME? HAVE I JUST NOT MET THE RIGHT ONE YET? OR IS THE RIGHT ONE RIGHT BESIDE ME HERE IN TOWN? (His name is Hank. He grew up with Scout and Jem.)

There were definitely things that disappointed me in Go Set A Watchman. But I certainly don't regret reading it.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Finding Serendipity

Finding Serendipity. Angelica Banks. 2015. Henry Holt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed meeting Tuesday McGillycuddy and her dog Baxterr, the stars of Angelica Banks' Finding Serendipity. The novel takes place on the last day of school/first day of summer vacation. On the way home from school--she's roller skating, by the way--she stops to make a wish at a fountain. She'd never tell the wish aloud, who would? But the reader learns that the wish is that her oh-so-famous mother Serendipity Smith would finish the final novel in her oh-so-popular series. (Vivienne Small and the Final Battle.) Her father welcomes her home with baked goodies, but, Tuesday is too excited about her mother possibly finishing the series to enjoy a snack or even dinner. Her mother is upstairs in her office writing...and mustn't be disturbed. But when it becomes late--past her bedtime perhaps--the two open the door to discover an empty room and an open window. The Dad? Well, he's not worried. But Tuesday, well, she's super-worried! Where did her Mom disappear to?

Tuesday, for better or worse, decides to GO in search of her mom. And that journey starts at the typewriter her mom uses in her office. Before she knows what's happening, Tuesday's own story, her own adventure, has begun...and her oh-so-faithful dog, Baxterr is by her side, of course.

Tuesday's adventure is something....and the "world" she visits is fun in a dangerous sort of way. But I won't be sharing the details of her adventures there and who she meets... That wouldn't be nice of me at all!

I liked this one. I did. It was a quick, light read. It is a bit cutesy, I admit.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. When Books Went to War

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II. Molly Guptill Manning. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

Love to read? Love to read about reading, about books? Or perhaps you love to read about war, especially World War II? Or even perhaps you have an interest in the how-and-why of book publishing? of the history of book publishing? When Books Went To War may be the perfect--oh-so-perfect--book for you.

When Books Went to War is about two things really: a) the need and desire to supply American soldiers (troops) with reading material to keep up their morale b) the effect that the books--and the act of reading--had on soldiers. Both elements of the story are fascinating.

The opening chapters focus on a national book donation drive to supply soldiers with books. After a year--or perhaps two--it became apparent this wasn't the answer, or the best answer at any rate. Hardbacks are NOT practical for soldiers to carry. And you never know what you're going to get with book donations. The types of books--the genres or subgenres--and the condition of books. Sending soldiers books that are decades old, that are cast-offs to begin with. The books are probably unwanted for a reason. Not that every single book would have been disqualified, mind you. But all the donated books had to be gone through, evaluated and sorted. Many books were just not a good match. 

The remaining chapters focus on their new solution: the production of special paperback editions--ASE, Armed Services Edition--of selected titles. Paperbacks, at the time, weren't all that common in the field of publishing. Mass paperbacks hadn't really evolved quite yet in the market. The committee picked titles each month--28 to 40, I believe--in a wide range of genres, fiction and nonfiction. These editions were shipped all over the world wherever troops were stationed. And to say they were appreciated would be an understatement! Each book could fit in a pocket. And they could be taken anywhere--read anywhere. (The book does include a list of each title published from September 1943 through June 1947.)

Probably my favorite aspect of the book was reading about how these books impacted soldiers. Individual stories by soldiers on what these books meant to them, on what certain authors meant to them, on how reading helped them, kept them sane, meant so much to them. The book is full of WOW moments. Like soldiers writing to authors and corresponding with them.   

Quotes:
Librarians felt duty-bound to try to stop Hitler from succeeding in his war of ideas against the United States.They had no intention of purging their shelves or watching their books burn, and they were not going to wait until war was declared to take action. As an ALA publication observed in January 1941, Hitler's aim was "the destruction of ideas...even in those countries not engaged in military combat." Throughout late 1940 and early 1941, librarians debated how to protect American minds against Germany's amorphous attacks on ideas. The "bibliocaust" in Europe had struck a nerve. America's librarians concluded that the best weapon and armor was the book itself. By encouraging Americans to read, Germany's radio propaganda would be diluted and its book burnings would stand in marked contrast. As Hitler attempted to strengthen fascism by destroying the written word, librarians would urge Americans to read more. In the words of one librarian: if Hitler's Mein Kampf was capable of "stirring millions to fight for intolerance and oppression of hate, cannot other books be found to stir other millions to fight against them?" (15)
What the Army needed was some form of recreation that was small, popular, and affordable. It needed books. World War II would not be the first time the Army and Navy welcomed books into their ranks. Yet no other war--before or since--has approached the rate at which books were distributed to American forces in World War II. (24)
Charles Bolte, who was wounded in Africa, hospitalized, and distressed over his future as he faced the amputation of his leg, remembered a momentous day. A friend (who was being treated for a bullet wound) walked up to Bolte's bed, triumphantly waved a copy of Ernest Hemingway's The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories, which he had found in the hospital library. Bolte found comfort in a story about a hero who discovered that crying relieved the pain in his broken leg. Until then, Bolte had never dared cry. The story convinced him to cover his head with his blankets and give it a try. "It helped me, too." Bolte said. Although he endured multiple amputation surgeries, Bolte turned to reading throughout his hospitalization and credited books with helping him mend and move forward. "What happens during convalescence from a serious wound can sour or sweeten a man for life," Bolte remarked. For him, the latter occurred. "It was the first time since grammar school that I'd had enough time to read as much as I wanted to," he said. While there were many things that helped him heal, Bolte placed the dozens of books he read as among the most important. Tens of thousands of men would share Bolte's experience over the course of the war, finding in books the strength they needed to endure the physical wounds inflicted on the battlefield, and the power to heal their emotional and psychological scars as well. (46)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. A View From Saturday

The View From Saturday. E.L. Konigsburg. 1996. 176 pages. [Source: Bought]

I enjoyed rereading E.L. Konigsburg's The View From Saturday. Though I don't usually "enjoy" (seek out) stories with multiple narrators--alternating narrators--in this case it was just right or practically perfect. Readers meet a teacher, Mrs. Olinski, and the four students on the sixth grade competitive team for the Academic Bowl. (They are Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian.) All five narrate The View From Saturday. Mrs. Olinki's chapters are of the BIG competition day, and each chapter generally ends with a question being asked of the competitors. Usually. The chapters narrated by the students cover much more time, generally are full of flashbacks. It is in these narratives that characters are developed and relationships explored. All four students in her class were connected BEFORE they were chosen.

View From Saturday is a great friendship-focused, school-focused coming of age novel. Each narrative is definitely unique. And I like how interconnected the stories really are.

When I think Newbery, this is the kind of book I think of most of the time.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Library Loot: Fourth Trip in August

New Loot:
  • The Matchmaker: An Amish Retelling of Jane Austen's Emma by Sarah Price
  • The Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection: Nine Historical Novellas 
  • An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman
  • Is that my cat? by Jonathan Allen 
Leftover Loot:
  • The Well by Stephanie Landsem
  • The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem
  • The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers  
  • There's A Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss
  • A Question of Honor by Charles Todd 
  • An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd
  • The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
  • Second Chances: An Amish Retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion by Sarah Price
  • Vango. Between Sky and Earth. Timothee de Fombelle; translated by Sarah Ardizzone
  • Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs To Churches That Send by J.D. Greear
  • Great Day for UP by Dr. Seuss
  • The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes  
  • Wouldn't it Be Deadly an Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Mystery by D.E. Ireland
  • The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
  • An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd
  • Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
  • The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
  • Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Ella MacNeal 
     Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Week in Review: August 16-22

The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1857/1975. Penguin Classics. 623 pages. [Source: Bought]
 Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust. Ruth Thomson. 2011. Candlewick. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Whipping Boy. Sid Fleischman. Illustrated by Peter Sis. 1986. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]
A Bitter Truth. Charles Todd. 2011. HarperCollins. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
Eva Sees A Ghost (Owl Diaries #2) Rebecca Elliott. 2015. Scholastic. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Board Book: Carry and Learn Shapes. Scholastic. 2015. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]
A Lucky Author Has A Dog. Mary Lyn Ray. Illustrated by Steven Henry. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Frog on a Log? Kes Gray. Illustrated by Jim Field. 2015. [September] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Shape of Me And Other Stuff. Dr. Seuss. 1973. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Library]
Compassion: Seeing with Jesus' Eyes. Joshua Mack. 2015. P&R Publishing. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Modesty. Martha Peace and Kent Keller. 2015. P&R Publishing. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]
 Our Only Comfort. Neal Presa. 2015. Westminster John Knox Press. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This week's recommendation(s):

I loved, loved, loved The Life of Charlotte Bronte. I also really enjoyed Sid Fleischman's The Whipping Boy.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. The Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy. Sid Fleischman. Illustrated by Peter Sis. 1986. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat. Not even black cats would cross his path.

Jemmy is "the whipping boy" of Prince Horace (Prince Brat). Every time Prince Brat misbehaves, it is Jemmy who receives his punishment. And does Prince Brat get in trouble often? That would be an understatement. He is ALWAYS getting in trouble, and Jemmy suffers oh-so-bravely for it. Does he cry out, whimper, shed a tear? No, never. And Prince Brat almost hates him for not putting on a show. Doesn't Jemmy know that it would be so much more entertaining if he just would shout or cry out?

The Whipping Boy is the story of what happens when Jemmy and Prince Brat "run away" from the palace. Jemmy is hoping to make his own escape, to sneak away from Prince Brat, and to end his whipping days for good. But before Jemmy can make his second get away, the two are kidnapped...

Beyond that, I will say NOTHING. Except that this is a surprisingly delightful adventure story....

This may be one of the Newbery winners that has surprised me most. I wasn't expecting to like it, to find it so readable, so enjoyable. But I really found myself swept into the story. I liked this one very much. 

Have you read it? Did you like it? love it? hate it? Did you like Jemmy? Did you eventually come to like Prince Brat a tiny bit at least? Do you have a favorite Newbery winner? Which one has surprised you the most?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. A Bitter Truth

A Bitter Truth. Charles Todd. 2011. HarperCollins. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

I am continuing to love the Bess Crawford mystery series by Charles Todd. Bitter Truth is the third book in the Bess Crawford series. The book opens with Bess on leave--once again. Bess takes pity on a woman, a stranger, named Lydia. She's distraught and she's clearly been beaten. For better or worse, Bess becomes very involved in a family matter. Good will come out of it perhaps, but, not without sacrifice and risk. For Bess says yes to Lydia's pleas to come home with her, and agrees to pretend to be her long-time friend in front of Lydia's family including her husband, Roger. How will Lydia's in-laws react to her bringing someone home? Surely Roger will mind the interference, right?

The family Bess meets is a strange one in many ways--dysfunctional certainly. But is anyone in the family capable of murder? For that is what we all know it will come down to...a mystery is almost always a murder mystery.

I felt Bess's discomfort throughout the novel. She's witness to some very awkward family scenes. And strangers are confiding in her things that are very personal, almost intimate. Every time Bess tries to leave the family--something happens to prevent it. Though of course, eventually, she does HAVE to leave because she's a nurse stationed in France. Still the family haunts her a bit...

A Bitter Truth is a well-written historical mystery. It wasn't one that I "enjoyed" particularly because enjoy is the wrong word. There was nothing "fun" or "light-hearted" about it. But it was certainly compelling and intense.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Owl Diaries: Eva Sees a Ghost

Eva Sees A Ghost (Owl Diaries #2) Rebecca Elliott. 2015. Scholastic. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Sunday
Hello Diary,
It's me--Eva Wingdale! Did you miss me? I bet you did! I love: drawing, patterns, daydreaming, the word plum, funky hats, questionnaires, my friends, being super excited! I do not love: my brother Humphrey's horrible singing, Sue Clawson ("Meany McMeanerson"), the color gray, washing my feathers, being scared, squirrels, Mom's caterpillar sandwiches, feeling lonely.
Eva Sees A Ghost is the second book in Rebecca Elliott's Owl Diaries series for young readers. (I'm thinking second grade, or so, would be the target audience. Or an advanced first grader. As a read aloud, even younger audiences would enjoy.) It is a chapter book. It is heavily illustrated. It is heavy on puns.

In this book, Eva sees a ghost. She is upset when NO ONE believes her. Can she prove to her classmates, her friends, her teacher, her family that she really did see a ghost? Or did her own eyes deceive her? How does one go about proving something like this?! 

Did I like it as much as the first book in the series? Probably not. But it was still a quick, enjoyable read. As an adult, I was able to guess the outcome very early on, but, younger readers may not be so quick to guess. (In a way, it is fun to guess, to see if one's guess is correct, and to look for clues and make predictions as one reads.)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Carry and Learn Shapes

Board Book: Carry and Learn Shapes. Scholastic. 2015. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:
Triangle
Bright, sparkly roof
Rectangle
Door to a cozy home

Premise/plot: A board book for young toddlers that introduces basic shapes.  The five shapes introduced are triangle, rectangle, circle, square, and star.

My thoughts: A simple, bright, colorful board book for young ones to hold and carry. The pages are easy to turn. The book is easy to grasp. A few pages offer--or potentially offer--an interactive experience. It may not be a thrilling story, but, it's a serviceable concept book. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. A Lucky Author Has A Dog

A Lucky Author Has A Dog. Mary Lyn Ray. Illustrated by Steven Henry. 2015. [August] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Early in the morning, people are waking and going to work. So a dog is, too. Because an author should also be waking. A lucky author has a dog to begin every day with a kiss--then some help getting dressed.

Premise/plot: Ever wondered what a day in the life of an author was like? A Lucky Author Has A Dog is a picture book about what it's like to be an author--an author with a dog! It talks about writing and publishing--being an author. But it is also very much a celebration of dogs and pets.

My thoughts: I liked this one very much. It was a great book. I loved how it discusses the writing process. I loved the point of view as well. For example, "Are stories waiting to be noticed? The dog will show the author how to look and listen the way a dog does. An author without a dog can learn. But having a dog is better. Because everything is better with a dog."

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Frog on a Log?

Frog on a Log? Kes Gray. Illustrated by Jim Field. 2015. [September] Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Hey Frog! Sit on a log!" said the cat. "But I don't want to sit on a log,' said the frog. "Logs are all hard and uncomfortable. And they can give you splinters. Ouch!" "I don't care" said the cat. "You're a frog, so you must sit on a log."

Premise/plot: The cat is quite BOSSY, as this frog discovers in this rhyming book. Cat knows exactly where everyone is allowed to sit: frogs on logs, cats on mats, hares on chairs, mules on stools, gophers on sofas, etc. The frog keeps on asking question after question perhaps hoping to change the cat's mind, but, he asks one question too many…

My thoughts: The text was okay for me. I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. I think I might have liked this one a tiny bit more if I'd liked the illustrations.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Seuss on Saturday: #34

The Shape of Me And Other Stuff. Dr. Seuss. 1973. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence:
You know...
It makes a fellow think.
The shape of you
the shape of me
the shape
of everything I see...

Premise/plot: The Shape of Me and Other Stuff is a "bright and early book" for "beginning beginners." It's a simple book about the shapes of...all sorts of stuff. Somewhat random, but, perfect rhythm and rhyme.

My thoughts: Not much of a story, but, pleasant enough overall. I like the illustration style. 

Have you read The Shape of Me and Other Stuff? Did you like it? love it? hate it? I'd love to know what you thought of it!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading Dr. Seuss (chronologically) I'd love to have you join me! The next book I'll be reviewing is There's A Wocket In My Pocket. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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