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1. All We Have is Now: Lisa Schroeder



My most recent read is All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder. With the end of the world quickly approaching, how would you spend your last hours? What if you were a homeless teen, what choices would you make?

Lisa explores the value of now and the gift of kindness. A diverse group of characters is met and wishes are fulfilled as humanity explores compassion when all is to be lost in moments.

Thought provoking and hopeful, be kind to yourself and read All We Have is Now, rgz. A great follow-up movie would be Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Poster

All We Have is Now
by Lisa Schroeder
Point, Scholastic, 2015

LorieAnncard2010small.jpg image by readergirlz

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2. Memory of Light: Francisco X. Stork



Just finished The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. The exploration of depression is honest and may give words as well as hope to those within the condition. Learning to exist in the midst of the trial is displayed with a tender compassion.

Watch for Vicky's story of crisis and recovery. It may help you find your own memory of light or assist another along the path beside you.

The Memory of Light
by Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, 2016
Edited by Cheryl Klein

LorieAnncard2010small.jpg image by readergirlz


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3. Review of the Day: The King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti

KingKazooKing of Kazoo
By Norm Feuti
Graphix (an imprint of Scholastic)
$22.99
ISBN: 978-0545770880
Ages 9-12
On shelves July 26th

When I used to run a children’s book club for 9-12 year-olds, I’d regularly let them choose the next book we’d discuss. In time, after some trial and error, I learned that the best way to do this was to offer them three choices and then to have them vote after a stirring booktalk of each title. The alternative was to let them choose the next book we’d read for themselves. Why would this be a problem? Because given a choice, these kids would do the same kinds of books week after week after week: graphic novels. In fact, it was my job to give them the bad news each week (after they plowed through our small comic section) that we didn’t have any new comics for them. To their minds, new graphic novels for kids should come out weekly, and secretly I agreed with them. But five years ago there really weren’t a lot to choose from. These days . . . it’s not all that different. In spite of the fact that comics have been sweeping the Newbery and Caldecott Awards and our current National Ambassador of Children’s Literature is a cartoonist by trade, the number of graphic novels produced in a given year by trade publishers isn’t much different from the number produced in the past. Why? Because a good comic takes a long time to create. You can’t just slap something together and expect it to hold a kid’s interest. There was a time when this fact would make me mad. These days, when I see a book as great as King of Kazoo, I just give thanks that we’re living in an era where we get any comics at all. A debut GN from a syndicated cartoonist, Kazoo is a straight-up, kid-friendly, rollicking adventure complete with magic, big-headed kings, robots, volcanoes, and trident wielding frog people. Everything, in short, you want in a book.

The King of Kazoo is not a wise man. The King of Kazoo is not a smart man. The King of Kazoo is not a particularly good man. But the King of Kazoo, somehow or other, has a wise, smart, good daughter by the name of Bing, and that is fortunate. Bing dabbles in magic and has been getting pretty good at it too. That’s lucky for everyone since recently the nearby mountain Mount Kazoo kinda, sorta exploded a little. When the King decides the only way to secure his legacy is to solve the mystery of the exploding mountain, he ropes in Bing and silent inventor/mechanic Torq. Trouble is, Bing’s dad has a tendency to walk over everyone who tries to help him. So just imagine what happens when he runs into someone who doesn’t want him to fare well. It’ll take more than magic to stop the evil machinations of a crazed alchemist. It’ll take teamwork and a king who understands why sometimes it might be a good idea to let others take some credit for their own work.

KingKazoo2As a general rule, it is unwise to offer up comparisons of any cartoonist to the late, great Carl Barks. The man who lifted Uncle Scrooge out of the money pit to something bigger and better, set the bar high when it came to animal-like semi-humans with long ears and big shiny black noses (not that Barks invented the noses, but you know what I mean). All that said, it was Barks I kept thinking of as I read The King of Kazoo. There’s something about the light hand Feuti uses to tell his tale. The storytelling feels almost effortless. Scenes glide from place to place with an internal logic that seemingly runs like clockwork. I know it sounds strange but a lot of graphic novels for kids these days are pretty darn dark. Credit or blame the Bone books if you like, but for all that most of them contain humor the stakes can run shockingly high. The Amulet series threatens characters’ souls with tempting magic stones, the Hilo books are filled with questions about the absolutes of “good” and “bad”, and the aforementioned Bone books delve deep into madness, apocalypse, and dark attractions. Little wonder a goofy tale about a hare-brained king in a wayward jalopy appeals to much to me. Feuti is harkening back to an earlier golden age of comics with this title, and the end result is as fresh as it is nostalgic (for adults like me).

KingKazoo3Which is not to say that Feuti sacrifices story for silly. The biggest problem the characters have to overcome isn’t what’s lurking in that mountain but rather the King’s love of bombast and attention. Each character in this story is seeking recognition. The King wants any kind of recognition, whether he deserves it or not. Torq and Bing just want the King to recognize their achievements. Instead, he takes credit for them. And Quaf the Alchemist has gone mildly mad thanks to years of not receiving sufficient credit for his own inventions. To a certain extent the book is questioning one’s desire for applause and attention on a grand scale, focusing more on how necessary it is to give the people closest to you the respect and praise they deserve.

KingKazoo1The style of the art, as mentioned, owes more than a passing nod to Carl Barks. But the seeming simplicity of the style hides some pretty sophisticated storytelling. From little details (like Torq’s missing ear) and sight gags to excellent facial expressions (Feuti is the lord and master of the skeptical eyebrow) and uses of body language (Torq never says a word aside from the occasional sigh, but you are never in any doubt of what he’s feeling). I’m no expert on the subject, but I even think the lettering in the speech balloons may have been done entirely by hand. The coloring is all done on a computer, which is a pity but is also pretty par for the course these days. There’s also something sort of classic to the story’s look. With its strong female character (Bing) you wouldn’t mistake it for a tale published in the 1950s, but on all the other fronts the book harkens back to a simpler comic book time.

I read The King of Kazoo to my four-year-old the other day at bedtime. She’s not the book’s intended audience but her inescapable hunger for comics can drive a mother to grab whatsoever is handiest on the shelf. Lucky is the mom that finds this book sitting there when you need it. Perfect for younger readers, ideal for older ones, and with a snappy plot accompanied by even snappier dialogue, Feuti has produced a comic that will actually appeal to kids of all ages. That King is a kook. Let’s hope we see more of him in the future.

On shelves July 26th

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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4. Everland

Everland. Wendy Spinale. 2016. Scholastic. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Everland is a dystopian, steam-punk retelling of Peter Pan.

If I was giving stars for premise, it would be five stars for sure. The premise is surely the most interesting and captivating thing about Everland. Gwen Darling is the heroine. Since a virus/plague killed off most--if not all--of the adults in England, Gwen is responsible for her younger siblings, Mikey, the youngest, and her sister Joanna. When Gwen is out scavenging one day, Joanna is kidnapped by the Marauders, the Marauders are led by Captain Hook, though Hook is just a nickname. His initials are H.O.O.K. Fortunately for Gwen, on the same scavenging trip, she caught her first glimpse of Pete and Bella. These two come to her rescue. Pete eagerly and generously. Bella with much protest and grumbling. Pete hopes that Gwen is truly IMMUNE, the one human on earth who is immune to the virus, the one whose blood or antibodies in the blood may hold the cure for saving those left alive. Pete takes Gwen and Mikey to the underworld--the underground remains of Everland, or London. She'll join the Lost Boys. Bella is the only other girl. Jack and Doc are two Lost Boys that seem to stand out from the rest.

So, as I mentioned earlier, the premise gets five stars from me. Unfortunately, I found the world-building, the storytelling (narration, plotting), and the characterization to all be lacking.

The world-building seemed all-surface and not much depth. Like flimsy props on a set that could potentially be tipped over leading to disaster. I never once forgot myself in the story or got lost in the story. And that's what you want in fantasy: to be swept into a whole new world, to become absorbed in it, fascinated even. It isn't that the world created doesn't have potential or promise. It does. But I don't want potential-fulfillment, I want actual fulfillment. One thing that bothered me was the depiction of this "war" between England and Germany. The German bad guys--led by the oh-so-evil Queen that we never once meet--didn't come across to me as well-executed.

The narration was an almost for me as well. I really did not enjoy the alternating narrators. Chapters alternate perspectives between Gwen and Hook. If I had to have alternating characters, I'd much rather have gotten to know Bella or Pete or if it absolutely had to be a bad guy, Smeeth. Seeing Captain Hook through Smeeth's eyes would have likely been more entertaining than being stuck in Hook's head. Still, I think readers didn't get to know Bella enough, and, it would have been great to have alternating chapters between Gwen and Bella. It would have made for a lively, tension-filled read. Because Bella seemed fierce, strong, stubborn.

The plot itself was okay, but, it was the little things that annoyed me. For example, the "need" to represent pixie dust leading to the gold dust powder that somehow, someway enables all the characters to see in the dark. That's just one example of how the need to represent as many details as possible from Peter Pan led to a weaker story. That being said, the surprise introduction of Lily was very much necessary. Now that I think about it, LILY would have made a good alternate narrator. What I was not thrilled with was the "instant" romance between Pete and Gwen.

The characterization. I personally found it on the weak side. If the premise wasn't so strong, would anyone really keep reading? Or, would I have kept reading?! (That would be the fairer question). Gwen, Pete, Bella, Hook, all the characters really felt like paper dolls. Some readers prefer action-driven novels. Some readers prefer character-driven novels. I happen to prefer character-driven novels. And I like my action novels to have a certain depth to their characters. I think the best villains should be fleshed-out villains. Even though we were in Captain Hook's head, I never once really thought of him as being a developed character.

Think of LOST. Tons of characters, plenty of action and drama, plenty of tension and suspense, plenty of mystery. Yet what hooks me is the DEPTH of the characterization. Every single character is fully fleshed out--past, present, everything in between. You may or may not "like" a character. But every action, every word seems to come from within a character, staying true to that character. The same could be said of Once Upon A Time. And that show put a WHOLE new spin and then some on Peter Pan and Captain Hook!!!!

Would a rereading at some point persuade me to reevaluate this one, and "like" it more??? Perhaps. After all, such has occurred before. But I'm not eager to do so now.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Everland as of 5/5/2016 12:29:00 PM
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5. Owl Diaries #4 Eva and the New Owl

Eva and the New Owl. Rebecca Elliott. 2016. Scholastic. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Eva and the New Owl is the fourth book in Rebecca Elliott's Owl Diaries series. If you've read any of the previous books in the series, you know what to expect from this one. If you're unfamiliar with the previous books, you could probably pick up any book in the series and catch up. Eva, the heroine, is an owl who keeps a diary. She has strong opinions, and, is thoroughly likable. Puns abound as do illustrations. The illustrations and puns may both be on the cutesy style. But there is something about the series that I think will appeal to young girls--think ages five to eight. Each book focuses on school life and home life with relationships between friends and family being very important.

There are two main stories in this one. First, Eva's class has started a newspaper. Eva is a reporter. Other classmates have other jobs for the paper. Second, Eva's class will be welcoming a new owl, Hailey. Eva really, really, really, really wants Hailey to be her friend. In her mind, the two are already close friends. Eva makes her a welcome necklace and a special drawing--a map. But when her plan to change seats so that Hailey can sit by her backfires--Hailey chooses to sit in Eva's old seat, the one by Lucy, Eva's best-best friend, Eva is left confused and frustrated. No matter how hard she tries, Hailey is not becoming her best friend. And Lucy and Hailey are becoming closer and closer and closer. Eva finds herself alone...

Can Eva learn an important lesson about friendship?

I think the theme of this one is true to the age of the audience. I think young girls understand all too well about the ups and downs and ins and outs of friendship. Friendship can be confusing and frustrating!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Owl Diaries #4 Eva and the New Owl as of 4/24/2016 10:20:00 AM
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6. Cheryl Klein — Editor/Author Interview

I have been interviewing members of our kid lit community for about four years now, chalking up well over a hundred interviews, and I never tire of them. It has given me a wonderful opportunity to connect with people I … Continue reading

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7. I Survived the Hindenberg Disaster, 1937

I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster. Lauren Tarshis. 2016. Scholastic. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Scholastic has published many books in the I Survived series for middle schoolers, but, this is the first I was curious enough to pick up and read. I've seen a couple of documentaries on the Hindenburg Disaster, and, I find it a fascinating subject. The book is written from a young boy's perspective.

Our hero's name is Hugo Ballard. He is an American travelling with his family back to the U.S. His younger sister, Gertie, is very, sick--a matter of life and death. Accompanying the family--but in the cargo hold--is the family dog. Hugo meets fellow passengers, and, quite a few things happen to move the plot along BEFORE the big disaster. Most of the book is in fact "the before." Readers, of course, know that the voyage is doomed--that disaster awaits the Hindenburg.

I liked this one. I think it would be a good choice for those who perhaps may not seek out historical fiction for the sake of history... Me? I was the kid who LOVED history practically from the time I could read.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. UPDATE: Publishing Partners Release Press Statements on ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Merchandise

Following last week’s announcement of the publishing partners assisting with the creation and distribution of Fantastic Beasts merchandise and companion books, press releases from the publishers are circulating, giving us little hints at what to expect.

The CEO of Insight Editions, Raoul Goff, said of the announcement:

“Insight is thrilled to continue working with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, extending our current line of Harry Potter film-related products to include Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The Fantastic Beasts line will have a little something for everybody and will feature all of the hallmarks of quality and creativity that fans have come to expect from the Harry Potter film publishing program.”

Their press release reminds us of their great merchandise, and the amazing works partnerships like this can produce on a global scale:

“For the last seven years, Insight Editions has published a wide range of books and collectible products for the Harry Potter franchise, including the Monster Book of Monsters prop replica (featuring a limited edition of Harry Potter: The Creature Vault), Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book, and several other titles and formats released in over twenty-five languages worldwide.

In addition to products they have published themselves, Insight Editions has created multiple books for the Harry Potter film franchise that have been published in the US through HarperCollins and Scholastic—including the New York Times bestsellers Harry Potter: Film WizardryHarry Potter: Page to Screen, and Harry Potter Coloring Book.

“Our partnerships, both in the US and internationally, have become a cornerstone of the success of our Harry Potter film publishing,” said Goff. “We look forward to creating an equally strong global program for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for years to come.”

Ellie Berger – President of Scholastic Trade – commented on the partnership:

“As the U.S. publisher that introduced Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to American readers in 1998, we are thrilled to partner with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to complement the expansion of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. We look forward to bringing the world of these amazing movies to existing fans and a new generation of readers.”

Catherine Bell, Scholastic UK’s Co. Group Managing Director, said:

“We are delighted to be publishing the tie-in programmes for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and the original Harry Potter movies. With a range of exciting formats, we look forward to bringing the world of these amazing movies to existing fans and a new generation of readers.”

Iole Lucchese, President of Scholastic Canada, commented:

“We are absolutely delighted to partner with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to create products complementing the broadening scope of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. This publishing program for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, marks the start of an exciting year for J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, generating a magical publishing moment for Canadian fans and readers.”

Chief Executive of HarperCollins UK, Charlie Redmayne, commented:

“We are delighted to be publishing the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them tie-in books. The film promises to be a spectacular rendering of the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling, and the books will be the perfect companions for fans everywhere.”

President and CEO of HarperCollins Worldwide, Brian Murray, said:

“For the first time we are able to seamlessly plan, coordinate and integrate book publication of film tie-in editions across multiple languages and markets with Warner Bros. Consumer Products in North America and internationally to ensure the widest possible readership and awareness of the books and the film.

You can read the full press releases over at Mugglenet, here, and our coverage of the original announcement here!

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9. Carry and Learn: Opposites

Board book: Carry and Learn: Opposites. Sarah Ward. 2016. Scholastic. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence:
Chicken
UP and DOWN
Cluck like a chicken!

Premise/plot: Carry and Learn Opposites is a concept board book that can be used with little ones to illustrate ("teach") the concept of opposites. The opposites explored in this book are as follows:
  • up and down
  • in and out
  • big and little
  • over and under
  • full and empty
Each page has something "interactive" for your little one to do. It may be "making" the chickens jump up and down. It might be "petting" a sheep. It might be making an animal sound. Not all pages are equally interactive and engaging.

My thoughts: I like it well enough. I like the series well enough. I think the pages are easy enough for little ones to turn themselves. 

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Posy the Puppy

Posy the Puppy (Dr. Kitty Cat #1) Jane Clarke. 2016. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I was most impressed with Jane Clarke's new series Dr. KittyCat. Posy the Puppy is the first title in the series. The premise is simple and fun. Dr. KittyCat is a cat who is a vet. In this first book, she and her nurse, Peanut, see several animal patients. In particular, they see Posy the puppy, who is mysteriously sick and unable to compete in a Field Day competition. Can Dr. KittyCat help Posy feel better? Will Posy be able to compete after all?

I think the book is super-sweet, super-adorable, super-fun. The illustrations use "real" pictures of animals in their mostly purple illustrations. The fact that I love, love, love cats, I like animals, and I love the color purple, well, it helps me really love this new chapter book.

Chapter books and series books are both important stages in the learning to read, learning to love to read process. Do you remember which books you read as a child that helped you learn to love reading?
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Bedtime Blastoff!

Bedtime Blastoff! Luke Reynolds. Illustrated by Mike Yamada. 2016. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A bed. A boy. His daddy. "Bedtime?" "Not yet!" A train…a conductor…His full-steam-ahead!

Premise/plot: A little boy isn't quite ready for bed yet. He and his dad have a LOT of playing to do…together.
My thoughts: I am so glad I didn't judge this book by its cover. I wasn't expecting to like it very much. But I gave it a chance and decided to go ahead and read it. The first few pages hooked me. It was GOOD. What did I like about it? The simplicity of the text. So much is communicated in just a few words. I liked the creative, imaginative play. I enjoyed the relationship between father and son. It was just sweet without being super-sticky sweet. And the illustrations may not have wowed me at first. I did appreciate the clues they provide.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Two Friends

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. 2016. Dean Robbins. Illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. 2016. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Susan B. Anthony set out two saucers, two cups, and two slices of cake. Frederick Douglass arrived for tea.

Premise/plot: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass were friends. This picture book for older readers imagines these two sitting down and enjoying tea together. Readers learn facts about Susan B. Anthony and facts about Frederick Douglass. Readers can see what these two had in common and why they supported one another.

My thoughts: I liked it. This one reminded me of last year's Chasing Freedom by Nikki Grimes. But I happened to like this one a bit better. Instead of trying to force all the biographical facts into dialogue, this book devotes a few pages per person. Readers still learn a little bit about each one. But it doesn't feel as forced perhaps, at least in my opinion. This one was also not as text-heavy.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Rise of the Wolf (2016)

Rise of the Wolf. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2016. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I was excited to read Rise of the Wolf, the sequel to Mark of the Thief. (I did not reread Mark of the Thief in order to 'prepare' for this one. But after the first two or three chapters, I found myself managing just fine to remember the characters and the details.)

Nic is the hero of the story. He's a former runaway slave who is now staying with his sometimes-good-sometimes-quite-evil grandfather, Radulf.

Livia is the younger sister of the hero. She is not as defiant perhaps as Nic, but, she is more loyal to her brother than her grandfather. (The two did just meet their grandfather, and they know that he was plotting against Rome.)

Aurelia is probably the strongest female character in the book, and Nic's potential love interest as well. She is resourceful, stubborn, and never backs away from a fight. Nic mostly trusts her intentions, but, sometimes--only sometimes--would prefer her to stay far, far away from the danger.

Crispus is someone Nic has a hard time fully trusting. He is Valerius' son. Valerius was a tricky sort of 'friend' to Nic in the first book. Nic is jealous--does he have cause?--that Aurelia is friends with Crispus. Crispus declares himself mostly-mainly loyal to Nic, unless, Nic should suddenly become a traitor-ish threat to the Roman empire, in which case Crispus would have a hard time still supporting him.

Radulf is a Roman general. His loyalties are definitely questionable. He's power-hungry, ambitious, and not above using his grandson to get what he wants. He doesn't make the best first impression...or second impression. When the book opens, readers learn that he chains his grandson up at night in his room so that he can't escape.

The Praetors. The super-bad guys who are after Nic for the entire book. They want Nic to give them the key so they can find the MALICE. And once they have the MALICE and the BULLA, they want Nic to make them a JUPITER STONE. These are all magical items that wield great power and threaten to destroy life as everyone knows it--completely upsetting the Roman empire.

The plot is simple: As Nic continues to learn and use magic, his life is threatened by the Praetors. If the Praetors didn't have his mother as prisoner, Nic might consider running away from his problems with his sister and friends. But. He wants to save everyone he loves. And this leads him into dozens of confrontations with the bad guys. He has dozens of close-calls. A few of these close calls involve chariot races. But not all of them. There is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE battle at the end. And the book ends in a crime-worthy cliffhanger.

So did I like it or love it? I think I found it super-compelling as I was reading it. I found the ending frustrating because it was just WRONG to end the book the way she does. But. I found it action-packed and interesting. I mentioned that Aurelia was a love-interest, but, I want to point out there is more action than romance. There are one or two scenes where feelings are discussed, but, it is far from being a romance novel.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Echo

Echo. Pam Munoz Ryan. 2015. Scholastic. 592 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan? Yes. I found it both unique and compelling. Echo is unique in that it has three-in-one feel to it. Essentially Echo being three middle-grade novels in one. The three are held together by a fairy-tale-esque frame of a story, and, also a physical object: an harmonica. The framework of the story would lead me to think of it as "fantasy" or magical realism. But without that framework--which consists of just a few pages at the beginning and the end--the book IS historical fiction. Nothing happens within the three stories that couldn't--wouldn't--happen in the real world.

The book has three main characters. Friedrich living in Nazi Germany in the early 1930s; Mike living in Pennsylvania in the mid-1930s; Ivy living in California in the early 1940s. Music is a big part of each story, and, each have played the same harmonica.

So which story did I find most compelling? That's not a fair question at all! Friedrich perhaps would be my answer. He is very gifted, but, also publicly and privately shamed because of a birthmark and the fact that he had had epilepsy as a baby/toddler. His "imperfections" may prove too costly for him and his family with Hitler now in control. That and the fact that his father--a musician--is friendly with Jews. Is he "different"? Yes. But in a good way--a BRILLIANT way. When he hears a piece of music, he really HEARS it and REMEMBERS it. And he can play and replay it in his mind, it can "continue" to sweep him away each time. And the fact that he likes to pretend to conduct the music he hears in his head, well, that makes him horribly odd to outsiders. A handful of adults really see him as something special, but, others see him as an embarrassment, a disgrace, a mistake. This story had a few heartbreaking scenes in it. Scenes with the sister, Elizabeth, for example.

The other two stories are set in America. Mike's story features him and his little brother--both orphans. Both are musically gifted which proves to be fortunate. For a wealthy woman has to adopt a musical boy into her family in order to inherit her father's money. The problem? She doesn't *want* to be reminded of heartbreak in her own past. Can Mike and Frankie thaw her heart? Ivy's story is definitely centered on World War II. Her story is slightly more complex than the other two to summarize clearly. Essentially, Ivy (and her family) are Hispanic. They have moved a LOT through Ivy's young life. But the father receives an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If he will manage a piece of property for another family--a Japanese-American family being forced to resettle in an internment camp--then he will be hired on as manager or kept on as manager after the war and receive a small bit of property/house. The family experiences some prejudice after the move. Ivy can't attend school with white children. But she can participate in after school activities at the main school--including orchestra.

Overall, this one worked for me. Perhaps some scenes are better--stronger--than others. It is a long novel for middle-graders. As I said, it's like three-in-one! But I essentially enjoyed it


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. #StepUpScholastic - What I Don't See in Feb 2016 Flyers for Early Childhood, K, 1st, and 2nd Grade Readers

You remember those Scholastic catalogs your teachers would pass out from time to time? Thinking about them is a powerful memory--for me--because I loved reading. I still do! I was a kid in the 60s. I wish I had one of those catalogs now, so I could see how the books I chose from compare to those in this year's catalogs.

American Indians in Children's Literature is part of the #StepUpScholastic campaign that invites parents, students, teachers, librarians--anyone, really--to study the books Scholastic offers in their flyers (they say flyer, some say catalog, others say club forms). Once you study a flyer, you can write a letter to Scholastic telling them what you were looking for, and what you found--or didn't find.

I'm looking for books by Native people, but if I see a good one about Native people that is written by someone who is not Native, I'd buy it.

Let's take a look at what kids are getting this month (February of 2016). First, a screen capture of that page so you know what it looks like:



Early Childhood:

On the first page, I see Happy Valentines Day, Little Critter. I bet the Little Critter Thanksgiving book was in their November catalog. I wouldn't get that one. In fact, I have it on my "not recommended" list. On the second page, I see a Pete the Cat boxed set. I bet the November catalog had Pete the Cat's Thanksgiving book. It, too, is on my "not recommended" list. There's a Pinkalicious set, too. I bet the Thanksgiving catalog had the Pinkalicious Thanksgiving book... Also, not recommended.

So what did I find? No books by Native writers; no books about Native people or with Native characters. Native people--good or bad--are completely missing from this flyer.


Kindergarteners:

On page three, I see Stuart Little. It kind of has an image of a Native person. In that book, Stuart imagines an Indian paddling in a canoe. On page four there's a set of all the Junie B. Jones books. My guess is that it includes Shipwrecked which has the kids doing a play about Christopher Columbus. Turkeys We Have Loved is about Thanksgiving, and it has the kids doing a play about Thanksgiving. One girl is dressed up as a Native American.

What did I find? No books by Native writers; one character playing Indian.


First graders:

On page three is Polar Bear Patrol in the Magic School Bus series. In it is Dr. Luke, an Inuit scientist who teaches the kids about the Arctic and that he prefers Inuit to Eskimo. On page five is the Junie B. Jones Shipwrecked that was in the Kindergarten catalog.

I found no books by Native writers; one character who is Inuit. I don't have that book on my shelf so can't tell if the depiction of Dr. Luke is one that is free of bias or stereotyping.

Second graders:

On page two are boxed sets of the Magic Tree House books. One is Thanksgiving on Thursday. There's a Native character in it. You know which one, right? Squanto! The stories told about him are pretty much a whitewash of what his life really was, but Thanksgiving on Thursday took that whitewashing to a whole new level. Another book in the series is Buffalo Before Breakfast. In it the Jack and Annie travel to a Lakota camp. There are many errors in that story and the part where the wise Lakota grandmother gives Jack and Annie an eagle feather? That doesn't work at all, because when they travel back to the present day, having that eagle feather is a violation of federal law.

No books by Native writers; a handful of stereotypical Indians and some factual errors.

~~~~~

I'll have to find time to look through the catalogs for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. And the seven different catalogs in their "Wider" selection category. And the four in their "Special Collections" category.

In the meantime, I'm going to the campaign page and I'll be submitting a letter saying this:

Dear Scholastic:
I am looking for books by or about Native peoples. When I looked through your preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grade flyers for Feb of 2016 I found no books by Native writers or illustrators. NONE. ZERO. 
Equally troubling is what I did find: several books in which the author stereotypes or misrepresents Native people/history/culture. For your records, those problematic books are:

  • Buffalo Before Breakfast by Mary Pope Osborne
  • Junie B. Jones: Shipwrecked by Barbara Park
  • Stuart Little by E. B. White
  • Thanksgiving on Thursday by Mary Pope Osborne
  • Junie B. Jones: Turkeys We Have Loved by Barbara Park

Magic School Bus: Polar Bear Patrol by Joanna Cole might be ok. If I find a copy, I'll be back with an update. Will it be the one book out of 410 items on the order form that I would buy? 
Actually--there's more than 410 books total across those four flyers. Some of the items are sets, like the 49 books in Item #46L6 (Magic Tree House Pack Books 1-28) and #47L6 (Magic Tree House Pack Books 29-49). If I add those 49 to the 410, I can say that...
Out of 459 books, none are by Native writers or illustrators. 
Please, Scholastic, you can do better than that. All children ought to learn the names of Native writers and illustrators, and their respective nations, too! You, Scholastic, tell us that you have children's interests at the core of your company and what it publishes. I see lot of room for improvement. #StepUpScholastic. Do better.
Sincerely,
Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature

~~~~~


People are already submitting letters. You can see them at the Tumblr page for the campaign. Please join this effort to get more diversity in Scholastic's catalogs.




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16. Ruby Lee and Me

Ruby Lee & Me. Shannon Hitchcock. 2016. Scholastic. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I loved, loved, loved Shannon Hitchock's Ruby Lee and Me. This middle grade historical novel is set in the 1969, I believe. It will be a year of BIG change for the heroine, Sarah Beth Willis. School integration is probably one of the least of her worries. First, her sister, Robin, is run over by a car. Sarah worries a lot. Will her sister die? will she wake up from the coma? Will she walk and run and play again? Will her sister blame her for the accident? Will her parents blame her for the accident? Can she ever forgive herself for reading a library book instead of keeping both eyes on her sister every single moment of the afternoon? Second, because of finances, her family will be moving in with her grandparents. Now Sarah loves, loves, loves to visit the family farm and to spend time with each of her grandparents. But to move away from her house, her room, her school, her neighborhood, her friends and to have to start all over again in a new place?! It's scary. The one person she does know--and is quite good friends with--is the one person the adults in her life tell her she CAN'T spend time with in town, at school: Ruby Lee.

Ruby Lee's grandma and Sarah's grandma grew up as friends, and, are still quite close--in their own way, in their own private, behind-the-scenes way. But whites and blacks can't be friends publicly and openly, can they?! School integration is happening in the fall. Ruby Lee and Sarah Beth will be in the same class. Sarah really wants to be at-school friends too. Ruby Lee is hesitant. Does Sarah know what she's getting herself into? Is it something she's comfortable with too? Tension is only getting worse between races: for the school will be getting African American teachers as well as students. And Sarah and Ruby Lee will be taught by an African American. A lot of parents are, at the very, very least concerned, and, at worst, ANGRY and upset by this. Sarah's family is fine with this, by the way.

Ruby Lee and Me is about race and school integration. But it isn't only about that. It is about friendship and family. How do you make a friend? How do you keep a friend? How do friends help one another? When is a friendship worth fighting for or standing up for? How do friends resolve disagreements and fights? I liked the focus on Ruby Lee and Sarah Beth. But I also appreciated the family focus. I loved getting to know Sarah, Robin, the grandparents, and parents. I also appreciated the community librarian! Readers do get a first impression of the teacher as well. Part of me wishes the book followed the girls past meet the teacher night and well into their school year.

Another aspect of the novel was faith--faith in GOD. I loved that aspect of it. Not enough books today are written with a good, strong, solid Christian faith tradition. The family's faith is presented realistically and naturally.

Anyone looking for a historical coming-of-age novel with strong characterization should read Ruby Lee and Me.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Moo Bird

Moo Bird. David Milgrim. 2015. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Review copy]

Looking for a silly book to read and share with little ones? Or perhaps you're looking for a funny book for your young reader to read to you? Moo Bird by David Milgrim is definitely worth considering.

In the book, readers meet a bird who is a little different. Instead of saying "tweet, tweet, tweet" like his brothers and/or sisters, this little bird chooses to MOO. The bird, initially, meets with a lot of rejection. First from his own nest. Then from other farm animals the bird meets as he searches for cows. He's rejected by a pig, a horse, a sheep, and ultimately a cow. But someone has heard his "moo" and responds gleefully. It seems he will find a friend at last....

I like this one. Perhaps I don't love, love, love it. But it makes me smile. Every time it makes me smile. So that has to say there is something about this one that makes it worth reading, right?


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Dear Scholastic: This Is A Test

I have a lot of thoughts in my head this morning, about yesterday's #StepUpScholastic chat on Twitter, and about the Step Up Scholastic campaign, but I am starting with this:

Stone Fox is in 10 bks/$10 box
Last year, Scholastic, working with WNDB, put together a flyer of books specific to diversity. In theory, terrific marketing! BUT.

When I saw the first page of the flyer, I wasn't happy at all to see Stone Fox on it. That book has stereotyping of Native peoples in it, and as such, is the opposite of what kids need if they're to 1) see mirrors of who they are, or 2) see accurate depictions of those who are unlike themselves. With that book on there, Scholastic and WNDB are marketing a problematic book. Stone Fox is in the 10 BOOKS FOR $10 box on bottom right of the flyer shown here.

Late yesterday, Scholastic announced an expansion of its partnership with We Need Diverse Books. They're going to do eight flyers this year. Will these flyers have Stone Fox? Will they have books by Native writers? When I looked inside last year's flyer, I saw two books by Joseph Bruchac, but that's not enough.

Last year's partnership, and this expansion of that partnership, are steps in the right direction but if Scholastic is seriously committed to diversity and providing children with books that truly education--rather than ones that miseducate children about Native peoples--here's what they need to do (saying they in this post but I know Scholastic is reading this, so I could say YOU instead):
  1. Acquire more books by Native writers and put those books in the flyers, all year long, not just in the special flyers about diversity. And on the teacher webpages. And in book fairs. Maximize the distribution, here and around the globe, too. Last night I learned a little about the flyers you publish around the globe. You're exporting stereotypes. That has to stop. 
  2. Seek out books by Native writers--books published by other publishers--and get them into the flyers. Do it now. Today. I understand there's "rights" issues associated with all this but also think that your billion+ revenue could be leveraged somehow to make this happen. Get them in the diversity flyers but in all flyers. Like I said above: all year round. Every grade level. Every month.
  3. Remove books that misrepresent Native peoples from all flyers and from their website, too. There's absolutely no reason to continue to market Island of the Blue Dolphins. Or Hiawatha (the one by Susan Jeffers). Or Touching Spirit Bear. Or Sign of the Beaver. Or The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses. Or Julie of the Wolves. Or Indian in the Cupboard. Those are some of the books you distribute. STOP. And I know there are others, too. 
  4. Take some of that billion dollar revenue and hire people with expertise---not just in kidlit---but in Native Studies, to help you with all these tasks. I'm not asking you to hire me. But I think I can help you find people who would work with you. All this money you're making, right here on what used to be Native lands... come on. Step Up. 

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas has been doing some writing about distinctions between marketing, advocacy, and activism that I find helpful as we all live through these periods of fighting for change in what we get from the publishing industry. The Scholastic flyers are marketing. I think it is marketing borne from activism, but as I noted above, there's a lot more to do with what Scholastic publishes, and what they choose to market.

Some people think I hate Scholastic. Some people think I hate white people. Neither is true. Last night I did a series of tweets about how much I love Shadowshaper and If I Ever Get Out of Here. I wanna see several of the people who made those two books possible, working in-house at Scholastic, getting us more books like that.

I'll be waiting to see the new flyers. Not just the diversity ones. Every single one. They are a way to measure what Scholastic is doing. Doing content analyses of the flyers provide us with a way to test what Scholastic is doing. The flyers, as I view them, are a test that--if passed--could win back the trust they've lost.

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19. My Name Is Not Friday

My Name Is Not Friday. Jon Walter. 2016. Scholastic. 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

My Name is Not Friday is not a book I could say I "enjoyed." For who would want to ever admit to enjoying a book about slavery?

Could I say it was a good book? Yes, I think I could say it was solidly good. (Maybe not solidly great, but good, yes, I can see that.)

Do I think that it is a book adults will like/love more than kids? Yes, I think that's true. Some kids *do* voluntarily read historical fiction. Some kids do read "heavy" serious books. This one is decidedly heavy. It is set during the Civil War.

But this, to me, seems more like a book adults would try to coax/pressure kids into reading because it is "good for them" or "important." And if My Name Is Not Friday does eventually become assigned reading, well, I don't think kids will "like" it or admit to liking it.

Samuel is the hero of the novel. He and his brother Joshua live in an orphanage for Negroes/free blacks run by Father Mosely. Samuel is the "good" one. He's a "good" student, a "good" brother, a "good" friend. Joshua, his younger brother, is not as "good." Let's just say that learning and following rules isn't as easy and natural as breathing. To protect his brother from punishment (the crime is shocking, and the big reveal at the end even more so) Samuel confesses to something he didn't do. His punishment is that he 'disappears' from the orphanage. Samuel finds himself "kidnapped" by someone--a white man--and taken south to a slave market where he is sold into slavery with forged papers. Before he's sold, he's "stripped" of his name/identity and told that he is now FRIDAY.

Two-thirds of the book focuses on Friday's new life as a slave in the south, in Tennessee, I believe. He's bought by Gerald, the stepson of Mrs. Allen. Gerald and Samuel are about the same age. And Gerald seems more interested in having a playmate and friend than a field worker. But Friday isn't overly grateful to his young master who wants to play baseball and go swimming with him. Especially since Mrs. Allen and everyone on the place--white and black--thinks his place is to work from sunrise to sunset at whatever task he is given. (In the morning, he's in the field, in the afternoons, he's assigned to the house.) Friday does have an ally, of sorts, in Gerald. Part of that friendship is based on a lie, on flattery at that. But Gerald considers Friday to be his friend, and, is completely honest with him and somewhat vulnerable. It violates Friday's conscience to actually be friends with Gerald, but, at the same time he feels guilty for lying and pretending and doing whatever is necessary to appear "good." My impression is that Friday/Samuel has understandably mixed feelings about Gerald and Mrs. Allen both, though especially Gerald.

Readers meet the other slaves on the plantation. Men. Women. Boys. Girls. He makes friends, and, pieces together a family of sorts. Though not everyone treats him as a friend/brother/son. Almost halfway through the novel, he has a revelation of sorts. He feels that God has led him purposefully into slavery so that he can teach others how to read and write. His calling will be questioned and doubted now and then for the rest of the novel, but, he holds onto the idea that there is a purpose for his life for the most part.

I have very mixed feelings on the "Christian" aspects of this one.

Samuel himself seems VERY confused in terms of what Christianity is and what it means to be saved. From start to finish, he carries the notion that it is what he himself DOES that determines the matter. In other words, if every single day of my life, I am good and make more good choices than bad choices, then God will look down on me see my effort and reward me by delivering me from my troubles in this life and letting me into heaven in the next life. Samuel also seems to be a bargainer. Most of his prayers equating to: Lord, I know Joshua was bad today, but, count some of my goodness towards him and keep him safe. I can be good enough for the two of us if I just keep on working and trying. I just have to say emphatically THIS IS NOT the gospel; THIS IS NOT Christianity.

Samuel is not the only one who is confused. The white minister who preaches in the town and makes a once-a-month visit to the slaves to teach to them the joys of slavery and how they will still be slaves in heaven is a mess as well. I have no doubt that there were Southern ministers who did preach that slavery had God's approval. But ministers--then and now--are not infallible in their sermons, their books, or their interpretation of Scripture. The Bible has plenty to say about slavery, but, not celebrating it as wonderful and beneficial and absolutely necessary.

Mrs. Allen does seem to be a woman of faith. She may be a slave-owner, or, the wife of a slave-owner. She may erroneously believe that the slaves are like children, and will always--no matter their age--need to be taken care of. But my impression was she did care about their spiritual needs, and, wanted to do whatever she could to teach them about God. Meeting with them daily, reading to them from the Bible, leading them in songs. These are things that she didn't have to do, or make time to do--especially with the stress and uncertainty of war. There were scenes where I couldn't bring myself to hate her. Then again, some scenes, it wasn't all that hard. I think the author did a good job in depicting Mrs. Allen and Gerald as complex human beings.

Another "layer" of this is the portrayal of some slaves having no faith, or having lost the faith, because of their reckoning that if God exists and if God is good, then slavery wouldn't exist. In other words: because I am a slave, because I have been whipped and scarred, because I have endured much suffering then God doesn't exist.

But there is yet another layer that gives a fuller picture. A handful of the slaves--not all of them--gather together some nights--secretly--go to the woods, and have their own meetings. They sing. They dance. They testify about God's goodness. They talk of the day when He will deliver them from slavery. They speak of God in a vibrant, real way illustrating that their faith is core to who they are. That even though the "white minister" might preach down at them, their faith is stronger and deeper and more substantive than that. God is not defined to them as being "the white man's God." Samuel reads the Bible to them at these meetings. Before they could just look at the pictures and try to remember what they've heard from others through the years. (I don't know where the Bible comes from, or, who owns it. But it is much treasured.)

I am glad I read this one. I think it is a solidly good novel. Adults may be more amazed at it than kids are.

I don't know if I should admit that I didn't "see" the cover properly until I happened to look at it upside down at the time I was reviewing it. The reflection in the water is DIFFERENT. One sees both Friday (the slave) and Samuel (the scholar).

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Peppa's Busy Day Magnet Book

Peppa's Busy Day Magnet Book. 2016. Scholastic. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Peppa and George love visiting the museum. But the museum is very big and they're lost somewhere inside! Can you find Peppa and her family and put them in the dinosaur room?

Premise/plot: Peppa's Busy Day is an interactive magnet book. The book comes with eight magnets. The book features several different scenes: the museum, the park, the beach, the family's living room, and Peppa and George's bedroom. The text guides/encourages participation. For example, the last page reads: "It's nighttime and Peppa and George are tucked in bed with Teddy and Mr. Dinosaur. Can you put Mummy and Daddy Pig in the room and ask them to read a bedtime story?"

My thoughts: I like it. I do. I'm not sure I love, love, love it. But for someone who loves Peppa Pig, for someone who is still young enough to PLAY, I think this one would be a good choice.

Text: 3.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3.5 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Clover the Bunny (2016)

Clover the Bunny (Dr. KittyCat #2) Jane Clarke. Scholastic. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I would have LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the Dr. Kittycat series as a child. I would have. I know it. Partly because even as an adult, I am charmed and quite pleased. Partly because I've always had a fondness for cats and animals.

So Clover the Bunny is the second book in the series. Dr. KittyCat and Peanut are planning a camping trip. Sadly, some animals who were planning to go with them came down with paw pox. Fortunately, not everyone got sick. (You do only get paw pox once, and if you've had it, you're immune.) Clover, a bunny, is one of the animals going camping. And it is Clover who happens to need quite a bit of medical attention throughout the book! Dr. KittyCat is always prepared, and so is Peanut!

The story is cute and charming, and, probably won't appeal to every adult certainly. It probably won't appeal to every single child either. But for the right child, this might be the series that gets them super-excited to pick up a book! And series books are so essential in this stage of development!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. How To Dress A Dragon

How To Dress A Dragon. Thelma Lynne Godin. Illustrated by Eric Barclay. 2016. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: If you have to dress a dragon, you must be prepared to catch him as he flies by. You may have to tickle-tackle him to the floor and give him belly kisses.

Premise/plot: A boy demonstrates for readers HOW to dress a dragon. It isn't an easy task certainly!!!! The book is quite informative. Dragons LOVE underwear, but, hate shirts and pants. (Good thing they like capes, shorts, and hats!)

My thoughts: I love, love, love this one. So silly. So funny. So quirky. (Its endpapers are underwear!) It just had me at hello from the very start. I think I "knew" how good this one would be based on the cover alone.

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


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. BuzzFeed Reveals Cover Art fro Illustrated Chamber of Secrets!

BuzzFeed exclusively revealed a first look at Jim Kay’s new work on the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of  Secrets. The pop-culture news site revealed the cover art, as well as one beautiful diagrammed image of a Phoenix.

Please take a look at the new images below. Visit the original BuzzFeed article here.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.22.00 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.22.17 AM

 

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24. ‘Harry Potter: Magical Places & Characters’ Colouring Book Out Now!

We all loved the Harry Potter and Harry Potter: Magical Creatures colouring books by Scholastic. The exciting news is, Harry Potter: Magical Places and Characters is available now!

According to Mugglenet, the pattern designs seem simpler in this instalment, however, the scenes themselves are extremely detailed.

Check out photos of inside the book over at Mugglenet here, and get the book now on Amazon here – we can’t wait for the next in the series!

 

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25. All Year Round

All Year Round. Susan B. Katz. Illustrated by Eiko Ojala. 2016. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A world of shapes, twelve months abound, from four-cornered square, to circle, round.
Circle round, ready to roll. Add two sticks, a carrot, and coal. January.  Cut out a Heart for a special friend. Write a message, lick, stamp, send. February.

Premise/plot: A picture book teaching TWO concepts. One concept is shapes. The other concept is the months of the year. Each shape shares something about the month. For example, triangle is November's shape. It is the shape of a slice of PIE.

My thoughts: I liked it better than I thought I would. It is a concept book and not a story book, but, it is enjoyable enough. So don't expect it to be as memorable as Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice.

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

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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