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Results 1 - 25 of 175
1. Tallulah's Nutcracker

Tallulah's Nutcracker. Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 48 pages.

First sentence: There was only one Christmas present that Tallulah really wanted. When the phone rang, she was sure her wish had come true--and she was right. 

Premise/plot: Tallulah is super-excited that she will be a mouse in a production of the Nutcracker. She finds out how much work it takes to be involved in the Nutcracker. Will opening night be as wonderful and as thrilling as she hopes?

My thoughts: I love the Nutcracker. And I love Tallulah. So I had high hopes for this one! I definitely enjoyed it. If I liked it a little less than the previous books in the series it might be because there isn't as much of Beckett in it. But still, overall, I would recommend it to anyone who loves happy ballet stories for children.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Tallulah's Solo

Tallulah's Solo. Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Tallulah knew she was an excellent ballet dancer. So she was certain that this year she would be doing a solo in the winter recital.

Premise/plot: Tallulah's Solo is the second book in this picture book series. In this one, Tallulah's oh-so-adorable little brother, Beckett, begins to take ballet. The two are even in the same class. Will Beckett be as eager-to-learn and as well-behaved as Tallulah? Tallulah isn't all that concerned about her brother taking ballet. Her mind is on one thing only: getting a solo for the winter recital. Will this be the year?

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this second book. I am enjoying the characters very much. I love Tallulah and Beckett. I wouldn't mind spending time with them in real life. I like Tallulah's big, big dreams. And I like that sometimes not getting what you want gets you what you need. I love how Tallulah learns a few important life-lessons in this one.

My favorite scene? When Tallulah helps her brother practice at home.

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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3. Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root

The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root. Christopher Pennell. Illustrated by Rebecca Bond. 2011/2013. HMH. 215 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Did I enjoy reading The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root? Yes. Very much. I found it a quick, compelling, delightfully atmospheric fantasy for middle graders.

Here's how it begins: "In a small town called Whistle Root, rats play music in the moonlight." It was a curious way to start a book, in my opinion, and it got me reading. (And this despite the OWL on the cover.)

Carly, the heroine, has trouble sleeping at night. If left alone, she'd gladly sleep all day, stay awake all night. Even if staying awake at night means considerable loneliness with little to no interaction with others. But she's not left alone, not technically, and so when the school year starts, Carly's worst nightmare begins: she's forced to attend school AND stay awake. Her teachers do find it annoying, to say the least, that Carly falls asleep several times throughout the day. And I'd even go so far as to say that her teachers bully her because they are so unhappy with her. But the students, her classmates, REALLY bully her. Carly has made peace, so we're allowed to think, with the fact that she'll never have friends because no one will ever understand her or like her. But this year, that changes. One person does notice her, does like her, and seeks to be friends with her. Of course this person has issues of his own perhaps! But still, his friendship with Carly is special....

Carly lives for the night, lives for the time she plays music with RATS, well, one rat in particular. He takes her with him to the woods. (He can fly on the wind, she has to concentrate on staying caught up with him.) She's soon on visiting terms with a rat community that is facing great danger. She may be able to help. But helping means having to solve a complicated mystery first...and she may not solve it in time to save those she's come to care for.

I liked the world-building in this one, the story-within-a-story aspect of it. It worked for me.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Breakthrough

Breakthrough: How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever. Jim Murphy. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

If I had to describe Breakthrough in just a few words, I'd choose these: fascinating, compelling, a must-read. If I had to pack it all into one sentence? Something like, Breakthrough by Jim Murphy is a fine narrative example of nonfiction for young readers at its best. Of course, I don't have to limit my review to just a few words or a few sentences. But the best books so overwhelm you with their greatness that though you want to gush about them at great length, you're sometimes at a loss of words for you know that you can never do the book you just read and loved justice.

Breakthrough is the story of three people: Dr. Alfred Blalock, Dr. Helen Taussig, and Vivien Thomas. Dr. Blalock was a doctor who spent most of his time doing research, his specialty was studying shock: what it was, what caused it, how to fix it and save lives. He was a doctor who needed a research assistant, a more-than-capable research assistant, an assistant that would be able to do his own research, experiments, and surgeries. That assistant was a black man, Vivien Thomas. He was not technically a doctor or a surgeon. So his story of how he became part of this historic team is quite fascinating. (It would have been easy for most who worked at the hospital to assume that Thomas was a janitor, a "mere" janitor, if you will. But that was so far from the case!!!)  

Readers learn about all three people--their stories and backgrounds and how they came together to help save 'blue babies.' Readers also learn a bit about the field of medicine at the time--the 1930s and 1940s. Heart surgery was not done at the time; it was almost unthinkable for doctors and surgeons to contemplate operating on the heart. "Blue babies" were babies born with heart defects. They might live for a few days, a few weeks, or a few years. But all babies born with heart defects were almost surely fated to die early. Dr. Helen Taussig was a pediatrician who was broken-hearted enough about it to want to do something. Even if other doctors were hesitant or even hostile to help her in her research. She ended up working with Dr. Blalock, and his involvement meant Vivien Thomas doing much of the work: the tests, the experiments, the surgeries, all on animal test subjects of course. The author does address how some found this controversial--doing surgeries and experiments on animals, in this case on dogs--but he stresses how valuable the research was to doctors, and, how their discoveries led to life-changing techniques and practices that would never have been possible without that initial animal research. Thomas, the man doing the test surgeries, also needed to invent the surgical tools to operate.

And without a doubt this first case of heart surgery on a baby, Eileen Saxon, was life-changing. (I believe it was one of the first (successful) heart surgeries ever performed.) This surgery changed the lives of the doctors, changed the field of medicine, and changed people's perceptions of what was possible.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Two Mice

Two Mice. Sergio Ruzzier. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:
One house
Two Mice
Three cookies.
Premise/plot: Readers meet two mice and follow them through MANY adventures. The text is simple. And there is a definite pattern to it. One, two, three. Three, two, one. One, two, three. Three, two, one. And so forth. Because the text is so simple, in my opinion, most of the story is communicated through the details of the illustrations. For example, note the expression on the face of the mouse who only gets ONE cookie while his roommate gets TWO cookies. (The one with two cookies did get up earlier than the other mouse.)

My thoughts: I see this one as having again-again appeal for children. That is just my opinion or best guess. But there is something fun and playful and perfect about this one. I loved it. I really, really loved it. And the "really, really" was added after I read it several times. The first time I thought it was cute, it was good. But the third or fourth time through it was LOVE.

I loved everything about it. The jacket flap reads, "One house. Who lives there? Two mice. What's on their table? Three cookies. How many mice are needed for a big adventure? Two mice! You can go with them--it's as easy as one two three!" That has to be the best jacket flap I read this year. If a prize could be given for best jacket flap, this book deserves the win!!!

The story begins even before the title page. So DON'T skip past it. The story itself is wonderful and clever.

The illustrations are GREAT.

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Tallulah's Tutu

Tallulah's Tutu. Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Tallulah just knew she could be a great ballerina--if only she had a tutu. "And maybe a lesson or two," her mother said with a wink.

Premise/plot: Tallulah is a little girl who really, really wants a tutu. So long as she thinks she'll be getting her tutu soon or even very soon, she's super-motivated to practice. But the tutu is slow in coming, will Tallulah realize there's more to ballet than owning a tutu?

My thoughts: This is a cute book, some might even say a little too cute. But I am not one of them. I am quite tolerant of cute and overly cute books. I am so glad that Tallulah has her own series. I think this would make a great television show as well. Dare I admit that one of my favorite things about the book is Tallulah's little brother Beckett?

I think my absolutely favorite part of the book is the illustrations.

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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7. Case of the Phantom Cat

Case of the Phantom Cat (Maisie HItchins #3) Holly Webb. Illustrated by Marion Lindsay. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed this one, I did. But I didn't enjoy it as much as the first two books in the Maisie Hitchin's mystery series. In the third mystery, Maisie meets a new friend, Alice. Alice takes French lessons from someone who boards with Maisie's grandmother. Alice has been sick and missed a few lessons, Maisie, curious as ever, goes to visit her. This will be their first time to actually talk freely and for any length of time. Some in Alice's household take a liking to Maisie, others not so much. Her father invites Maisie, whom he has just met, and whom his daughter has just met, to accompany his daughter to the country. The two girls will be accompanied by the governess. Things could go smoothly, or, not so smoothly for everyone...but with a title like CASE OF THE PHANTOM CAT...one can guess that trouble and danger are on the way...

Alice and Maisie do indeed find an adventure at the rented country house. But it isn't necessarily a dangerous one. Maisie will solve the mystery of the spooky sounds, the white "phantom" cat, and the HORRIBLE smell in the library...

If you're already hooked to the series, this one is worth your time. If you haven't met Maisie yet, this isn't the best introduction.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. WaterBridge Outreach Books Selection 2015


Logo: WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water

WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water recently announced the books in English they have selected this year for donation to the different schools and libraries they support around the world.  WaterBridge Outreach is a non-profit that seeks … Continue reading ...

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9. Betty Crocker Kids Cook

Betty Crocker Kids Cook. 1999/2015 (spiral-bound) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed skimming through Betty Crocker Kids Cook. I don't "review" cook books often, but, I do enjoy looking at ones specifically designed to appeal to children and teens. This one is written with kids of all ages in mind. It features recipes that kids can cook on their own with just a little guidance, and some more difficult recipes that may take more cooperation with an adult.

The recipes fall into five categories: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and desserts. The book includes simple instructions and guidelines for general cooking and baking. (The end papers illustrate the tools of the trade.) The "Just the Basics" section even includes the current nutritional guidelines, MyPlate.

The recipes themselves seem straightforward and reader-friendly. As an adult, I appreciate them listing the nutritional information for each recipe. (Serving size, number of calories, number of carbohydrates, amount of fat, amount of fiber, etc. It also includes the number of carbohydrate exchanges (choices) a serving is. Most of the recipes, though certainly not all, are carbohydrate heavy I noticed. Some recipes look delicious, very delicious, but are certainly not healthy enough to be eaten all that often, in my opinion.

The recipes that looked most appealing to me include:

  • Super-Tasty Sweet Potato Bacon Biscuits (p. 23)
  • Surprise! Confetti Pasta Salad (p. 60)
  • Impossibly Easy Mini Chicken Pot Pies (p. 98)
  • Cheese-Stuffed Meatballs and Spaghetti (p. 112)
  • Bottom of the Cereal Box Cookies (p. 140)
Do you have a favorite cookbook for children or teens?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. The Property Brothers Ink Deal With Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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11. Orbiting Jupiter

Orbiting Jupiter. Gary D. Schmidt. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Orbiting Jupiter is a great book: an emotional, compelling, coming-of-age story with an incredible focus on friendship and family and what it means to love someone.

Jack is the narrator of the book, and I absolutely loved, loved, loved him. I loved him from the start. Here's how the book opens: with Jack and his parents getting ready to welcome a very troubled boy into their home. Joseph, Jack's new foster brother, isn't like other eighth graders. He has a daughter he's never been allowed to see. He has a history of violence. And because of the institutions he's been in, he can freak out and overreact a bit. But Jack's family, well, they are good, solid, dependable, patient, heart-wide-open people ready to love and accept. From the day he walks into their home, they see him as family. And there's nothing Jack won't do to help his brother--sometimes that means giving him plenty of space, and not pushing him to talk, sometimes that means reassuring him that he's there for him, that he has his back, that he is not alone anymore.

But not everyone in the community is ready to welcome Joseph. In particular, some of the people at schools--some who should know better, others who probably don't--are not ready for Joseph. Some are openly hostile and just MEAN. Others treat him not as another human being, but, as a spectacle, a freak. But several teachers see through Joseph's past and come to really LOVE him and see that he's more than the choices he's made, that, he is in fact, really smart and capable of good. I both loved and hated the school scenes. There were a few times I was just so angry--like Jack--in Joseph's defense. And there were a few scenes I just found sweet.

Joseph's story slowly but surely unfolds, and, it is intense. I couldn't help liking Joseph and just caring for him and wanting the best for him.

Orbiting Jupiter is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that worked for me for the most part. But oh how I wish I could rewrite the ending! Not because this one doesn't feel good-enough or that it feels completely out-of-place, but, because it's just so achingly bittersweet.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Lana's World. Let's Have A Parade!

Lana's World: Let's Have A Parade. Erica Silverman. Illustrated by Jess Golden. 2015. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Pitter pitter pat, sang the rain. Mama was making pancakes. "Let's have a parade," said Lana. "It's raining," said Mama. Papa set the table. "Let's have a parade," said Lana. "We'll all get wet," said Papa. Jay poured syrup. So did Ray. "Let's have a parade," said Lana.

Premise/plot: Lana, the heroine, really, really wants to have a parade. Her family have excuses, admittedly good excuses, for not wanting to have a parade. When she can't get anyone to join her, she creates her own parade. In the house, of course. Will her family want to join in on the fun once they see how much fun she's having?!

My thoughts: I've read two books in this series so far, and I've enjoyed both of them very much. The books are quite similar to one another, both focus in on playing pretend, so if you love one, you may very well love both. I hope there are MORE books to come in this series!!! The other title I've read is Let's Go Fishing.

This book is a Level Two Green Light Reader published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Level 2 is reading with help.)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Lana's World. Let's Go Fishing

Lana's World: Let's Go Fishing. Erica Silverman. Illustrated by Jess Golden. 2015. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Let's go fishing," said Lana.

Premise/plot: Lana spends the first several pages of this early reader trying to get the rest of her family to go fishing with her. Her Papa. Her Mama. Her brothers, Jay and Ray. Her dog, Furry. No one "wants" to go fishing, so, off she heads to her bedroom to fish by herself...

My thoughts: I love Lana, her imagination, and her family. I liked the focus on playing pretend, and, I love how her family eventually joined in on the fun.

The book is a Level 2 Green Light Reader published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Level 2 is "reading with help.")

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Big Dog and Little Dog Wearing Sweaters

Big Dog and Little Dog Wearing Sweaters. Dav Pilkey. 2015. HMH. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I happen to love Big Dog and Little Dog. You might come to love them too if you read this oh-so-fun series of Early Readers published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Dav Pilkey's series is super-fun.

Little Dog has a sweater. Big Dog does not. Does he want a sweater? Of course! Little Dog and Big Dog go in search of a sweater. Will they find one? Will it be easy or difficult? How much "help" does Big Dog need?

Out of all the Big Dog Little Dog books I've read, this one is probably my least favorite. I think probably because it's not quite as funny as the previous books in the series. That being said, I still love the series overall and would definitely recommend them. This title is good, but not GREAT. Good is still worth reading, in my opinion!

This book does have activities at the end. This one has a maze, for example. But new readers can also practice story sequencing. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Board Book: The Doghouse

Board Book: The Doghouse. Jan Thomas. 2008/2015.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 36 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:
Oh no! The ball went into THE DOGHOUSE.
Who will get it out?

Premise/Plot: A cow, a mouse, a duck, and a pig are playing ball together....when....it happens. The ball is kicked into the doghouse. Who is brave? Who is scared? Will they get their ball back? Read and see!

My thoughts: I do love Jan Thomas. And The Doghouse is a great example of just why. The Doghouse is funny, playful, and dramatic. Some drama can help keep read alouds fun and spirited. This one is just predictable enough--repetitive enough--to keep it fun.

The same characters can be found in A Birthday for Cow. (Cows feature into two other Thomas picture books: Let's Sing A Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy and my personal favorite, Is Everyone Ready for Fun?)

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Gingerbread for Liberty (2015)

Gingerbread for Liberty: How A German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution. Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Everyone in Philadelphia knew the gingerbread baker. His honest face...his booming laugh...And, of course, his gingerbread--the best in all the thirteen colonies. His big, floury hands turned out castles and queens, horses and cows and hens--each detail drawn in sweet, buttery icing with the greatest skill and care. And yet, despite his care, there always seemed to be some broken pieces for the hungry children who followed their noses to the spicy-smelling shop. "No empty bellies here!" the baker bellowed. "Not in my America!"

Premise/plot: Gingerbread for Liberty is the untold, near-forgotten story of Christopher Ludwick, a German-born American who loved and served his country during the American Revolution in the best way he knew how: by baking.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, LOVED this one. I loved the end papers which feature a recipe for "Simple Gingerbread." I loved the illustrations. Never has a book's illustrations gone so perfectly-perfectly well with the text. The illustration style is very gingerbread-y. It works more than you think it might. At least in my opinion! I loved the author's note. I did. I loved learning a few more facts about Christopher Ludwick. It left me wanting to know even more. Which I think is a good thing. The book highlights his generosity and compassion as well as his baking talents.

But most of all, I loved the text itself, the writing style. The narrative voice in this one is super-strong. And I love the refrain: Not in MY America!  

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

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. The Polar Bear Scientists

The Polar Bear Scientists. Peter Lourie. 2012/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Curious about polar bears? Especially polar bears in the wild? Have an interest in science? Curious about what it is a scientist actually does day to day? Peter Lourie's The Polar Bear Scientist is a reader-friendly book giving readers a behind-the-scene look at several scientists who study polar bears--who have spent most of their lives studying polar bears.

I loved the photographs I did. Yes, the book is packed with information, but, it was the photographs themselves that held my interest. Personally, I found the layout to be a bit difficult on the eyes. Some pages were black text on top of light photographs--snow mainly--but, plenty were white text on a black background. Not every reader will mind this, but, it was hard on my eyes and probably kept me from fully engaging with this one. 

Polar Bear Scientists is one of the books in the Scientists in the Fields series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Little Blue Truck's Beep-Along Book

Board book: Little Blue Truck's Beep-Along Book. Alice Schertle. Illustrated by Jill McElmurry. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 8 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: If you're ready for a ride, beep along. If you're ready for a ride, beep along. Beep along with Little Blue--it's a friendly thing to do. If you're ready for a ride, beep along. Beep! Beep!

Premise/plot: Little Blue Truck's Beep-Along Book is a novelty book for little ones. Enthusiastic parents--or caregivers--can sing along with Little Blue as little hands make Little Blue "beep" in time with the song. There are a LOT of verses to Little Blue Truck's song. Verses about riding along, cows in the corn, pigs in the clover, frogs busy hopping, horses neighing, etc. The song ends slightly awkwardly. But overall, it's a fun song.

My thoughts: Little Blue Truck has appeared in a handful of books. If your little one likes Little Blue Truck, this is an obvious choice. Parents may or may not like having to sing the book again and again. But overall, this is a nice enough book.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Miss Patch's Learn to Sew Book

Miss Patch's Learn-to-Sew Book. Carolyn Meyer. 1969/2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading Miss Patch's Learn to Sew Book. I had no idea that Carolyn Meyer wrote a book on sewing. I love her best for her historical fiction. In particular, White Lilacs, but also her series of young royals: Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary Anne, etc.

Did you grow up sewing? I did. I didn't learn from a book, or at least this book. But it felt very familiar all the same. I think I've done similar projects myself. What kinds of sewing projects are included? pillows, pillowcases, drawstring bags, scarves and aprons, quilt squares, skirts and slips, toys, and doll clothes. Some of the projects have you making your own pattern out of newspaper, and other projects have you copying patterns from this book. The instructions, for the most part, are simple and straightforward.
This is how to thread a needle:
Cut a piece of thread as long as your arm.
Then poke the end of the thread through the "eye" of the needle.
It will go through more easily if you wet it on the tip of your tongue and then squeeze it. Now try to hit the eye.
Pull the thread through until the ends are even and make a knot.
This is how to make a knot:
Wet your finger a little on the tip of your tongue.
Wrap the thread around your finger once.
Roll it off with your thumb.
Pull it tight.
The knot should be small and neat.
If it isn't, don't worry.
You can hide it so no one will see it, and the next time you do it, it will look much better. 
The book is step-by-step, which is an absolute necessity in my opinion.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Picture This: Shapes

Board books: Picture This: Shapes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2015. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:
The number of dots on a ladybug's wings tells us what type of beetle it is. How many do you count?
Look at the pigeons on the telephone line. Together they take a break from flying in the sky.
Snakes curve from side to side as they slither along.
Premise/plot: A nonfiction concept board book for young(er) children. The focus this time is on shapes found in nature. Readers are introduced to the following shapes: dot, line, curve, round, triangle, square, rectangle, diamond, oval, semicircle, coil, spiral, crisscross, star, pentagon, hexagon, ball, and trapezoid. These 'shapes' are found in photographs.
The chameleon can twirl its tail to grab on to branches. See the spiral as it sits in a tree?
My thoughts: I like this one. I do. I enjoyed it just as much as Homes. Both books are definitely worth seeking out. It's never too early to start sharing good nonfiction titles with your children!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Picture This: Homes

Board Books: Picture This: Homes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2015. 42 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:
The weaver ant twists leaves and twigs together with silk thread to make a home.
This wasp spider spins a web in tall grass, where it rests and catches its food.
Premise/plot: A nonfiction concept book for young(er) children. Readers are introduced to a wide variety of animals and learn where they live. The book is full of photographs of animals and their homes. The book is quite simple in concept, yet, oddly fascinating at the same time. Some animals may prove familiar (polar bear, ant, bee) others may seem more exotic (Fennec fox, eel, village weaver).

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. I loved looking at the photographs. As I said, I wasn't expecting to find the book fascinating. (Board books, well, they rarely fascinate me. They can make me smile now and then. And now and then even sing.) If you're looking for a nature-themed concept book, this one is worth your time.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Milo Speck, Accidental Agent

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent. Linda Urban. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 Did I enjoy Linda Urban's new book? Yes. What should you know? Well, it's a fantasy novel. A fantasy for middle grade. Milo Speck, the hero, finds himself suddenly in an adventure he's completely unprepared for. How did he get there? The dryer. Yes, I'm serious. He is reaching into a dryer, looking for a missing sock, when suddenly he's being picked up by an OGRE, pulled from an OGRE'S dryer. He's confused, and has every right to be. What will become of him? How will he get back home? How can he avoid being eaten? Is he alone? Or are there other kids out there being pulled into this ogre-world? Can he save the day?

If you enjoy quick fantasy reads, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy Linda Urban's Milo Speck, Accidental Agent. It's slightly-slightly predictable in a place or two. But for the most part, it kept me reading. Was it silly? Yes. Especially the GIANT TURKEYS. But did I want to keep reading to find out what happened next? Of course I did. Plenty of action and adventure in this one. But I also enjoyed meeting Milo and Tuck.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. 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.   

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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24. 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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25. Big Dog and Little Dog Going for A Walk

Big Dog and Little Dog Going for a Walk. Dav Pilkey. 1997/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I really, really enjoyed meeting Big Dog and Little Dog in the first book in the series. So I was excited to see there are many books in this series including the title I'm reviewing today: Big Dog and Little Dog Going for A Walk.

In this early reader, Big Dog and Little Dog go for a walk with their owner. They leave the house nice and clean, but, will they return home that way?! Probably not since Big Dog and Little Dog like mud. Can you guess the FIRST thing they want to do once their owner gives them a bath?!

I enjoyed this one very much. Perhaps even more than the first book in the series. I loved it because it was funny and charming and simple. The storytelling was great, in my opinion. Simple does not mean boring.

I love the text. I love the illustrations. This one is oh-so-easy to recommend.

Like the first book, this one has end-of-the-book activities.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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