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1. How Do You Resolve Conflict with a Penguin? Flora Knows How

I just have to say that I absolutely adore Molly Idle, her art, and her lovely little girl Flora. I can not seem to get enough of Flora and now there is a new Flora book! Flora and the Penguin does not disappoint.

Flora The Penguin

The pragmatic mom herself and I were discussing who we think is up for the Caldecott and who is going to win. Flora and the Penguin is a book that would make my entire year if it won the Caldecott. This book is perfect for ages 3 to 5 but I  have to confess this grown woman adores it too.

Molly Idle has a way of telling a story that keeps her readers engaged. Did I mention she does this all with innovative illustrations ? There isn’t a word in the book.

This wordless wonder is innovative and brilliantly creative as it uses clever flaps that reveal Flora and her penguin friend becoming acquaintances, drifting apart and then coming back together as only friends can do.

In her last book Flora mastered the art of ballet. In Flora and the Penguin, we find her on ice skates, twirling, leaping, and gliding and her penguin friend is up to usual penguin antics by gliding on his flippers.

The ever perfect ice-skating duo mirror each other in an exuberant ice dance.

flora-penguin dance

The penguin delighted with his new skating partner, dives into under the ice to give her the gift of a small fish. Ever disgusted at the idea of a fish, Flora throws it back into the water and gives her new friend the cold shoulder.

flora flaps

Realizing she has offended her friend she takes off her skate to use as a fishing rod, to try and capture the fish back. This in itself leads to a new adventure and back to a very funny ice dance. All’s well that ends well.

Molly Idle has a great gift of story telling. The use of flaps I think is just brilliant and engages the child as well as the adult on many levels. Flora is still one of my favorites. I can’t wait to see what happens at Caldecott time and I really can’t wait until the next Flora book.

Molly Idle began her career as an artist working for DreamWorks Feature Animation, contributing to movies including The Prince of Egypt and El Dorado. From there she leapt into the world of children’s books. She lives in Tempe, Arizona. Grab your copy of Flora HERE.

Something To Do

Though snow and ice and such are winter themes, the truth of the matter is thanks to ice skating rinks, we can go ice skating anytime we want to. To celebrate Flora and the Penguin why not head out to your local ice skating rink for an afternoon of frivolous Flora fun !!!

Once you get your balance and can stand up on ice skates, here are some really fun games for you , your family and friends to play,….oh on the ice of course.

Ice Skating Games

ice skating games

Freeze skate

This game is played similar to the classic party game of freeze dance. Instead of dancing, however, kids will skate along to the music in whatever manner they wish, perhaps while performing some of their favorite skating moves. When the music stops, all skaters must freeze in place. The last player to freeze is out. Play continues until all but one player have been called out. The last player left on the ice is the winner.

Skate Chain

Have kids line up with their hands on each other’s waists, like when forming a conga line. Play some music and have the kids wind around the rink while linked together in the chain. Gradually increase the speed of the music and challenge the chain to speed up as the music does. Any kids who let go or break the chain are out of the game. Play continues until only two players are left. They are the winners.


Have two kids stand behind the same starting line. On the start signal, these skaters may take three skating strides and then glide over the ice until they stop. The one who glides the farthest wins while the other player is out. Keep competing like this in pairs of two until everyone has had a turn. All of the winners will then compete against each other to see who can glide the farthest to win the game. To make it more challenging, you could also have the second round of skaters compete with one-foot-glides.

Ice Potato

This game is modeled after the traditional party activity of hot potato, but has been modified to play on the ice. Have your players skate freestyle around the rink. As they are skating, toss a foam ball to a random skater. That player must pass the ball off to the first player to cross his path. Kids will keep passing the ball from skater to skater until the music stops. Whoever is holding the ball when the music stops is out. Play continues in this manner until only one player is left. That skater is the winner.

Follow the Leader

This game is played very much like the well-known schoolyard game of Follow the Leader, except that it is played on the ice. To play, have skaters line up on the ice. Choose one to be the leader. That player will skate for a few feet, performing her best figure skating techniques as she does. All of the other players must follow her lead by repeating the same moves as they skate the same distance. Any player who fails to mimic the leader is out of the game. If all of the players are able to correctly follow the leader, then the leader is out and a new leader is chosen. Play continues until one player remains. That skater is the winner.

Ice Words

Write several words that have to do with ice, and ice-skating on small pieces of paper. Fold them and place them inside of an ice skate. All of the players gather on the sidelines. One player will choose a paper from the skate, look at the word (without saying it aloud) and then “spell it out” by skating. The other players must watch the motion of the skater’s feet to try and guess the word she is writing in the ice. The first player to guess correctly takes the next turn at writing a word with skates. A few suggestions for words to use include ice, skates, figure 8, rink, blade,, and a variety of common figure skating terms.

Need a last minute gift? Books always make a wonderful book for kids and A Year in the Secret Garden is a “must have” for any active family! This vibrant book is part of s huge holiday sale and is available for only $15.00 unti 12/31/14! Grab your copy of A Year in the Secret Garden  


A year in the secret garden

The post How Do You Resolve Conflict with a Penguin? Flora Knows How appeared first on Jump Into A Book.

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2. Muddy Max - a graphic novel review

I have been busy lately with review and blogging obligations, as well as work and preparation for the holiday season, but I did take time out to read a copy of Elizabeth Rusch's graphic novel, Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Thanks to the hard-working intern who brought it to my attention and supplied me with a copy.

Rusch, Elizabeth. 2014. Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel.  Illustrated by Mike Lawrence.

Max lives in the aptly-named suburban town of Marsh Creek. In addition to the marsh on the outskirts of town, mud is everywhere in town as well, making it almost impossible for the child of neat-freak parents to stay clean!  Max becomes suspicious of his parents'secretive habits, frequent trips to the marsh, and fanatical obsession with his cleanliness.  When he accidentally discovers that mud gives him superpowers, he and his friend Patrick become determined to figure out exactly what is going on in Marsh Creek.

This is an easy-to-read graphic, sci-fi novel that should be popular with younger kids and reluctant readers. The panels are easy to follow, with simple, but expressive drawings in muted browns and grays that reflect the book's muddy locale. Hopefully, future installments will add some dimension to the Max's female friend. Not willing to completely divest herself of her nonfiction roots, Rusch adds some real science about mud and its denizens in the back matter.

I predict that more than one member of my book club will want to take this one home.  I'll have to place some holds on library copies.

A Teacher's Guide to Muddy Max is available here.

Elizabeth Rusch is also a talented author of nonfiction. Last year I reviewed her book, Volcano Rising.

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3. Back with a Review of a Marvelous Book on Writing

My writing corner when it's tidy.
Although this is what is usually looks like.

Hello, again, at last, after the long silence. I have keenly missed blogging and connecting with blog friends, but I had to put writing first these last few weeks, and it's paid off. I finished my mystery, and now I'm doing the re-thinking, re-conceiving, additional research, etc. that is so much of the re-writing process. And I have been reading a wonderful book that I just have to share. The Art of Character, by David Corbett.

I first came across Corbett's insights in an article titled, "Characters, Scene by Scene", in the January, 2015 issue of Writer's Digest. (Yes, I know it's not January yet, but that's how magazines do things.)

In his article, Corbett emphasizes that "dimensional characters are born from drama—not description." Yes, you should know descriptive and biographical details: eye color, hair color, height, weight, hobbies, work history, biographical information, etc., but that's doesn't create characters who live and breathe. What brings them alive on the page is interaction with others in scenes that serve a purpose in the story.

To paraphrase just one of his examples: How your character looks isn't as important as, say, how her appearance makes her feel, how it makes others feel, and how this translates into behavior. The same is true of age: How does her age affect her interactions? I have to say that just reading this article inspired several insights into my main character and a couple of others, and I immediately sent off for his book, The Art of Character.   Here's the book at Amazon, although several sites sell it.                                                      
And I bought the paperback, not the kindle. (When I read something this pithy, I do a lot of underlining.)

The Art of Character does not disappoint. It's like a course in creative writing, with exercises that are challenging but oh-so useful if you want rounded out characters that truly drive your story. It's also like a course in psychology, probing your characters fears, desires, hates, loves, spirituality or lack of it. Or a course in sociology. Or philosophy. Or literature. (Corbett gives solid examples of stories, plays, novels, that illustrate the concepts he covers.)

You can tap into this book as deeply as you feel your work calls for, but the advice and insights gleaned from it are useful for any genre: light fiction, cosy mystery, MG or YA novel, literary adult fiction. It's the best book on writing I've come across in a long time. And it's the kind of book you can return to again and again.

You can visit his website to learn more about this book and the best-selling mysteries he writes. Meanwhile, I have to get back to the last chapter, the one on "voice". Happy reading.

And happy writing.

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4. Joan Aiken for Grown Ups…!

“It was dusk, winter dusk – snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills…”  Sound familiar? The opening lines of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase could almost describe a scene from Joan Aiken’s first adult novel, The Silence of Herondale published just two years after her most famous children’s classic.  The novel draws on […]

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5. Do You Remeber the Joys of Paddington Bear? The Paddington Treasury

{Guest Post by Hannah Rials}

The Paddington Treasury by Michael Bond and illustrated by R.W. Alley is a collection of six wonderful stories from the bear that we all know and love—Paddington Brown.

Paddington Bear


This story is the introduction to Paddington Bear’s tale. In here, we meet a young bear from the Darkest Peru who is found by the Brown family in the train station where they are meeting their daughter. Mr. Brown notices the bear and asks him if he needs any help. Not only are they stunned that he can speak, but he is also very impressed with the bear’s manners. After deciding that the bear should come home with them, they name him Paddington, after the train station, and get him some tea to drink. They collect their daughter Judy and Paddington, who makes a mess of his tea and snacks, and take a taxi back to their home where their son and nanny, Mrs. Bird, are waiting. At the Brown’s house, he impresses Mrs. Bird with his very fine manners and experiences his first bath, where he again makes a mess of bubbles, shaving cream, and other bathroom materials. Paddington ends his first day with the Browns by starting to share his story, but ends up falling asleep in their extremely immensely arm chair.

The Paddington Treasury

Something To Do Activitiy

Paddington’s Marmalade**A recipe for Paddington’s Orange Marmalade:
Paddington looovveess his orange Marmalade! Here’s how you can create your own from the Food Network:

Orange Marmalade

2. Paddington at the Palace
Mr. Gruber takes Paddington to the place so that he can see the changing of the guards. When they first arrive, he sees a figure in one of the windows, and waves his British flag just in case it is the queen, who happens to be in the castle on this particular day. As the parade starts, Paddington is unable to see over the heads of the people in front of him, and by the time he crawls his way to the front under people’s legs, the parade has passed—he didn’t get to see a single guard. Before Paddington and Mr. Gruber leave, they are invited onto the grounds so that they can take a proper picture for Paddington’s scrapbook—the queen must have seen him waving his flag for her.
Fun Facts about the English Flag:
The flag of the United Kingdom is commonly called “Union Jack.”
The three colors—red, blue, and white—represent the three countries under one ruler, England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
The flags of the three countries became combined under the rule of Queen Anne Bolenyn in 1801.
The red cross is England’s flag. The white and blue X is Scotland’s flag, and the red X is Northern Ireland’s flag. Together, they make the Union’s flag.

3. Paddington at the Zoo
Judy and Jonathan decide to take Paddington for a zoo day. Paddington decides to make six marmalade sandwiches in case they get hungry. However, the day does not start off right. When they arrive at the zoo, the guard announces that pets are not allowed in the zoo. Offended, Paddington stares hard at the guard until he lets them pass. Inside, he takes pictures with each of the animals—parrots, donkey, elephant, lion, and penguins. Each time, the animals take a sandwich, and his last sandwich is stolen by a man in the penguin exhibit. At the end of the day, looking back at the pictures, Paddington decides to put the picture of him with parrot in his scrapbook because the parrot is the only one who said thank you for his sandwich.

A recipe for Cheese and Marmalade sandwich:

cheese and marmalade sandwich

4. Paddington in the Garden
Paddington is very thankful for the Brown’s garden. It is very beautiful and peaceful, even with the building area nearby. Mrs. Bird decides that it will be a good idea to let Paddington, Judy, and Jonathan have a piece of the garden for themselves to take care of and keep them out of trouble. Judy decides to plant flowers. Jonathan arranges tiles for a fountain, but Paddington has no clue. So he goes in search of ideas. In the market, he finds a book on gardening that talks about looking at your garden from up high to get ideas. Paddington goes to the construction site near the Brown’s house, setting his marmalade down so that he may climb high while the workers are on their tea break. When the laborers begin to work again, his marmalade is knocked over and stains a pile of concrete orange. Instead of throwing the concrete away, as the workers would have otherwise had to do, they let Paddington take them back to the Brown’s, where he makes a rock garden, finished off with some plants that the workers give him. On National Garden day, Paddington’s garden wins first prize, with a gold star due to his extraordinary orange stones.
How to make your own piece of a garden —
1. Ask yourself…what do you want to plant?
2. Picture how you want your garden to look.
3. Make sure everything is planned out and has enough room to grow.
4. Plant and watch the miracle of life!
5. Paddington and the Marmalade Maze
Mr. Gruber takes Paddington for another outing to Hampton Court Palace. Here they see the various rooms, the huge beds, the tall fireplaces, and the orange fish in the pond. Before they leave to go home, Mr. Gruber says that they must go through the maze, even though some people get stuck for hours. A group of tourists overhears them and wishes to see a real english home. In order to lose the group—so that Mrs. Bird will not get angry at them for bringing a big group back to the house—Paddington tricks them into the maze where they get lost. In order to find his way out, Paddington leaves a trail of Marmalade to follow—a trick he learned from his Aunt Lucy, that and keeping a spare marmalade sandwich in case of emergencies.
—What have you learned from your family?
All families have tricks that have passed down through the generations, whether it be recipes, every day tips, or history. So what have you learned?
6. Paddington the Artist
Mr. Gruber takes Paddington to an outside Exhibition, but Paddington does not enjoy any of the paintings that are for sale. Instead, he decides to paint pictures of his own. He paints a sunset, rain, and a self portrait. But the sunset becomes dark before he can finish. And it rained on his painting of the rain. And Paddington could not for the life of him remember what he looked like, even though he kept looking at himself in the mirror. He sets up an exhibition of his own outside his house to sell his paintings, but he falls asleep in the warm afternoon. When he wakes up, all of his paintings are gone, and an envelope of cash rests in his coat pocket. But Paddington does not need to know that Mr. Gruber was the recipient of all of Paddington’s paintings.

—Painting and never giving up.
Painting is not as easy as it seems. But painting is a great outlet for feelings and experiences. Even if you are not the best painter in the world, you can still paint. Artists don’t paint for every one else. They paint for themselves. Never forget that. Paint whenever and whatever you want, and never ever give up!

Thanks for reading!


Born in the hills of Louisiana and raised in the mountains of Tennessee, Hannah Rials is an eighteen year old aspiring author and editor. Now a freshman in college, she’s been writing short stories since she was a little girl, but for the past several years, she has been writing, editing, and reediting a novel of her own that will soon be published by Audrey Press. Hannah has always loved reading and the world of books. With a librarian grandmother who can tell the most magical stories, how could she not fall in love with the written word? Her library collection and love for books grows every day.

The post Do You Remeber the Joys of Paddington Bear? The Paddington Treasury appeared first on Jump Into A Book.

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6. What would you do with a Dreidel that doesn’t Spin ?

It’s nearly Hanukkah time once again and do I have a most magical tale to share with you!

The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin by Martha Seif Simpson and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard is a precious tale which shares an important message of the heart.


Two days before Hanukkah, a peddler goes to the toymakers shop and sells him a beautifully painted wooden dreidel. This particular dreidel comes just in time because the shop keeper had sold his last dreidel.

“Remember,” said the peddler. “That the miracle of Hanukkah cannot be bought. ”

In a strange series of events, two different children bought the dreidel and then returned it the next day insisting the dreidel didn’t spin. How does a dreidel not spin?


Each time the shop keeper refunded the customers money. He himself would try spinning the dreidel and it always spun perfectly with no problems.

Later that same afternoon, a man and a boy came to the shop looking in the windows. They were very poor wearing ill fitted and patch clothing. They had no money but the shopkeeper invited them in any way just to look around. The young boy was delighted in all that he saw and wanted nothing, just the joy of looking at everything.


The shopkeeper was so touched that he gave the boy the beautiful dreidel that wouldn’t spin for the other children. The shopkeeper told him that the dreidel was broken but this very special boy could make it spin. The boy with the golden heart could spin the dreidel. As the dreidel spun and landed it left a special message but I’ve told you enough of the story now. I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.

This book is magically written and the story masterfully told. Durga Yael Benhard’s illustrations are colorful and captivating bringing this tale of the heart to life.

Pssst: Would you like to WIN a copy of “Dreidel?” Starting tomorrow (12-10-14) I will be giving away a copy of this wonderful book along with other lovely Wisdom Tales Press titles! Remember, this giveaway won’t be live until Wednesday, but be sure and stop back to enter to WIN!

Wisdom Tale Press Giveaway

Something To Do

Though I’m not Jewish, I can share that our best friends are and we’ve celebrated Hanukkah with them for years and years. Hanukkah is December 16th-24th this year !!!

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah lasts for eight nights, celebrating a miracle which happened a long time ago.

In 165 BC the Greek Emperor captured the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. A group of brave Jewish warriors known as the Maccabees recaptured the temple. As they were re-dedicating the Jewish Temple, they only had enough olive oil to light the sacred lamp, the menorah, for on day. This little bit of oil ended up lasting for eight days and nights. During Hanukkah a new candle is lit each night for eight nights.

Latkes Recipe


One of our favorite parts of the Hanukkah celebration is our friend Suzie’s Latke party. Latkes are potato pancakes. Here’s her fabulous recipe. Enjoy !!!


1 -1/2 pounds russet potatoes peeled
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons flour (or more)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

In a food processor grate the potatoes. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and transfer potatoes to the sieve. Set sieve over a bowl, twist cheesecloth into a pouch, squeezing out some moisture. Let mixture drain for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pour off liquid from the bowl but leave the white potato starch that settles in the bottom of the bowl.

To that starch add shallots, eggs, flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt and freshly ground pepper. Return drained potatoes to this mixture and toss to combine.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking pan with paper towels. When you are ready to eat, in a large skillet heat 1/4 inch of oil over medium high heat until hot. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of potato mixture and cook for 3 to 4 minutes a side; latkes should be golden and crisp on both sides. Eat right away or keep warm in oven. Serve with applesauce or sour cream or cottage cheese mixed with sour cream.

Dreidels and Chocolate


One of the nights of Hanukkah we head over to the Roseman’s for dinner, and some serious dreidel spinning and geld ( chocolate gold coins) eating.

The dreidel is a four-sided top which has four distinct letters in Hebrew on each side. The object of the game is to spin the dreidel and collect coins or candy depending upon what letter appears after each spin.

Each side of your dreidel will need to have on it one of the following Hebrew letters;

נ (Nun)

ג (Gimel

ה (Hei)

ש (Shin)


You can make your own Dreidel here.



Here’s how to play

Each player starts with some gelt (or money, sweets or counters). Each player puts one coin into the pot in the centre. The players take it in turns to spin the dreidel, following the instructions of the letter which lands facing up.

נ = Nit (Nothing), play passes to next player.

ג = Gants (all), the player takes all of the pot.

ה = Half, the player takes half of the pot.

ש = Put, the player puts all of his coins into the pot.

Play can go either for a set amount of time or until one player has won all of the coins.

Make a Hand Print Menorah

It wouldn’t be the Festival of Lights without a Menorah. Here’s a great way to remember your little ones as they grow and celebrate at the same time. You can find it here.



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The post What would you do with a Dreidel that doesn’t Spin ? appeared first on Jump Into A Book.

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7. Mayday Book Review

Title: Mayday Author: Jonathan Friesen Publisher: Speak Publication Date: April 10, 2014 ISBN-13: 320 pp. ARC provided by author The premise for Jonathan Friesen's Mayday is pretty intriguing. Eighteen-year-old Crow tries to protect her sister Addy, but ends up in a coma. During that coma, she has the chance to go on a "walkabout," an opportunity to go back in the past and change things.

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8. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

2014, Candlewick Press

It began with the beautiful marriage between Beauregard Roux and Maman in the mid-late 1800s.  He, with his big personality, and she with her small one.  Beauregard's dream was someday to move to the American city of Manhatine and eventually this became reality.  Between the dream and reality came four beautiful children to the couple.  Emilienne was the first and she would fall in love exactly three times.  Rene was next, and he was so beautiful people would stare when he passed by.  Margeaux was the third and devoutly followed Emilienne's footsteps.  Pierette was the baby and the tiniest fragile creature of the four siblings.

Reality hit hard when the Roux family moved to Manhatine.  Living in squalor and a filthy tenement, the children didn't understand why anyone would consider this paradise.  When you live in a place like this, things get worse most of the time instead of better.  Death took most of the family, and Emilienne knew she had to escape.  She found her way out of the tenements and into the lush, green world of Seattle,  where she started her own family in a periwinkle house on Pinnacle Lane.

Life didn't come easy for Emilienne but she braved through the storms and eventually had a baby girl named Viviane.  She was a bright and intelligent girl and was talented in many ways like her mother, but was especially gifted at being able to attune her sense of smell to not only people, but situations as well.  Rain would smell different during the seasons.  And the love of her life would always smell of soap and Turtle Wax.  Their love produced a set of twins, Ava and Henry, both of them carrying on the uniqueness of the Roux side of the family.

Ava was born with wings, and Henry was born not wanting to be touched or to talk.  Hers was a gift people could see, while his was a talent not fully understood until that tragic day....a very tragic day for the Lavenders...

Leslye Walton writes such a beautiful story filled with allegories, metaphors and lyrical writing.  It's in her writing that the characters fully form in all of their gloriousness as well as the juxtapositions she explores in the settings and personalities found in the book.  Walton's book is meant to be read, but it should be read not only with the eyes, but the soul as well.  Not only meant for teens, this is a novel that adults, especially those who enjoy depth, will love.  No wonder this is a finalist on YALSA's Morris List (new debut authors).  I LOVED this book!!  HIGHLY Recommended high school and up.

Link to a book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDF-B4n6mEs

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9. The Terrible Two - a review

Barnett, Mac and Jory John. 2014. The Terrible Two. New York: Amulet.

Miles is moving away from his beloved home at the beach to Yawnee Valley, where the slogan is "Come Look at our Cows."  Miles Murphy, the best-known prankster at his old school, will be attending the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy,

     Miles awoke with a sense of dread.  He opened his eyes and stared at his blank ceiling.  Last night he'd dreamed it had all been a dream, and now he wished he were still dreaming.
     Miles shut his eyes tight.  He tried to fall back asleep, but downstairs he could hear his mother shuffling around the kitchen, preparing breakfast.  Breakfast smelled like eggs. And cows. Although that might have just been the cows.
     Miles ate his eggs.  They tasted like dread, although that might've just been the dread.

When he's paired up with the insufferable school helper, Niles Sparks, Miles thinks things can't get worse, but they do. Someone else in school is a prankster, and whoever it is, he's outpranking Miles.

What's the best part about pulling a great prank?  Getting away with it, or getting credit for it?  Miles is about to find out!

This illustrated novel is the first in a series that's sure to appeal to middle-grade jokers and pranksters.  The writing style is conversationally funny with great black-and-white illustrations that add to the humor, A goofy, cud-chewing cow with a bell stands in a pasture adorning half of page one, which reads,

Welcome to Yawnee Valley, an idyllic place with rolling green hills that slope down to creeks, and cows as far as the eye can see. There's one now.
The Terrible Two has more than just humor. There are some intricate pranks woven into the plot, and there are well-developed characters in Miles, Niles, and Principal Barkin - all of whom are sure to reappear in future installments. It's got more text and fewer illustrations, but this series should be popular with Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans.

I have to add that this book had the best Advance Reader Copy promotion ever!  I was totally pranked!  I received a large box in the mail marked "Perishable."  Inside was the big milk carton, and inside the milk carton was my copy of The Terrible Two, a coffee cup featuring cartoon images of the authors, and a signed certificate from The International Order of Disorder proclaiming the holder to be "a distinguished member of the International Order of Disorder."  I will raffle this off to the members of my book club.  Someone is going to be as happy as a cow in a cornfield!

Advance Reader Copy supplied (with coffee cup and milk carton) by the publisher.

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10. How Do We Change Mine into Ours? The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston

Today we are venturing to the land and country of Lebanon and reading a most enduring and powerful story about sharing and restoration called The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston and Illustrated by Claire Ewart.

The Olive Tree

For many years Sameer lived next to an empty house which had been deserted during the Lebanese civil war. One day the family returns and with them came their daughter Muna. There is a quiet politeness between the two families. Respectful and polite but not friendly.

Separating the two houses is a stone wall and a very old olive tree. The trunk of the tree is on Muna’s side of the stone wall and the branches hung over Sameer’s side of the wall.

Muna feeling the tree is hers because the trunk is on her side of the fence, forbids Sameer to pick up the fallen olives which have dropped on his side of the wall.

Now no one benefited from the olives as they lie on the ground rotting.

One night a storm destroys the tree, leaving nothing left to fight over.

Both Sameer and Muna feel the loss of their ancient friend the olive tree. Trying to make Muna feel better Sameer said, ” At least you’ll have firewood. ” Sameer then started picking up wood chunks and quietly placing them by the side of Muna’s house.

Muna started picking up wood and branches and stacking wood next to Sameer’s house. Quietly they put their differences aside, stacking wood at each other’s houses until all the wood was picked up. Muna picked up the fallen olives and laid them on a chair outside of Sameer’s house.

Finally in one last gesture, they decided to plant a new olive tree between the houses so each family could benefit.

This story is beautifully and simply told. It tugs at the heart-strings and encourages all of us to do better, be generous, and work together. Along with Elsa Marston poignant story are exquisite illustrations by Claire Ewart which bring the story to life and gives us a glimpse into the beautiful country of Lebanon.

I highly recommend the The Olive Tree. It’s one that will grace our coffee table for years to come.

A Closer Look

Some of you may know this and for some this might be news. My husband is from Lebanon and I’m happy to say that I have visited this country for nearly 30 years. It is beautiful in it’s variety of terrain. It’s largest city, Beirut sits on the Mediterranean Sea but Lebanon also hosts very high mountains with forests of pine and cedar trees. It is totally possible to be skiing in the mountains and looking at the sea below.

We have many wonderful family memories of Lebanon and olive picking season is one of them. The harvest has just finished and it brings to mind one of the oldest olive groves on the earth which just happens to be in Lebanon.

Noah’s Olive Trees

There is a grove of ancient trees way up north in the mountains of Lebanon. It is known that these are the very trees that a dove took a branch in it’s beak to bring to Noah to show him the flood waters had subsided and land had been found. For thousands of years these trees have seen, feast, famine, good times, war, and in a simple word, life. To this day the trees still bear fruit and they press olive oil from it.

Here’s a look at these old and beautiful giants who carry such a large lineage.

Noah's Olive Tree 1

noah's olive trees 2

noah's olive trees 3

noah's olive trees 4

noah's olive trees5

noah's olive trees 6

just a note: Because of the incredible difficulties the countries of Lebanon and Syria are facing these days I am not giving the specific location of these trees. I want to protect them for future generations and keep them from harms way.

Something to Do

Fun facts about Olives

Olives have been a staple in the Mediterranean for at least 5,000 years.

Olive trees may live to be 1500 years old, the average life span is about 500 years. There are olive trees in Lebanon and on the island of Crete that are at least 5000 years old.

Over 90% of world olive production is used to make oil, and almost 98% of the acreage is in the Mediterranean region.

Green olives are picked early in the season and black olives are picked later in the season as they have ripened and turned black.

California is the only state where olives are grown commercially.

There are 500 million olive trees in Europe, and 50 million in California. California produces less than 5% of the world crop, but it produces more than 70% of the ripe olives consumed in the U.S.

How to Cure Olives


Olives can’t be eaten right off the tree. The fruit of an olive tree is known as a drupe. It is very very very bitter and needs to be picked or cured. I couldn’t leave you today with out our family olive curing recipe.

1 pound of green olives
1 pound of black olives
Lemon wedges
2 tablespoons rock salt per 1 cup of water

Green olives are picked before they ripen. To prepare green olives, wash and then soak in water for 2 days – this helps remove any bitterness. Change the water at least twice a day.

Place the olives in sterilized jars with lemon wedges and cover with brine. Add a little olive oil on top, and seal. Leave them at least for 1 month before eating.

Black olives are picked at harvest time. Rub with coarse salt, cover with water and set aside for about 4 days. Place the olives with lemon wedges in sterilized jars and cover with brine. Add a little olive oil on top, and seal. Leave for at least 1 month before eating.

Added kick: You can put a hot pepper in the brine mix as the olives cure or pickle. It will make your pickles spicy with a kick but not too spicy.


**some of these links are affiliate links

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The post How Do We Change Mine into Ours? The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston appeared first on Jump Into A Book.

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11. You Can’t Pay for This

Well, actually you can. People buy reviews all the time – even Kirkus is happy to take money from indie authors to furnish them with a glowing review. Which makes this honest-to-God-they-really-like-me review from Publishers Weekly on Friday even more wonderful: Though first-time author Petersen’s story flits through time and space, it’s easy to follow, […]

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12. Book Review: Superfab Saves the Day

If you love super-hero books, here is a super-fun one with a twist. Superfab is the best-dressed superhero around. He's got a walk-in closet, an extensive collection of outfits, and fabulous style to boot. The only problem is, he can't leave his house to go fight crime until he has the perfect outfit ––and sometimes that takes awhile. It often takes so long that by the time he arrives at the scene of a crime, another superhero has already gotten the job done.

Superfab finds himself less and less in demand, until one day he gets called to help out in a crisis where all other superheroes have been defeated –– and he discovers that his exquisite sense of style is just the weapon he needs to beat (and befriend) this particular monster.

Published by Owl Kids and written by Jean Leroy, this fun, quirky superhero story will have the reader rooting for the underdog and celebrating Superfab's unique pizazz. 

The whimsical illustrations, by Bérengre Delaporte, are loose and childlike in their colored-pencil style, filling the page with lots of hidden details and energy. And Leroy's fresh approach redefines the traditional superhero and shows the value of embracing your own unique interests and talents.

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13. Jackaby by William Ritter

2014, Algonquin Young Readers

All Abigail Rook wants is to live the life of adventure her father instilled in her.  When she leaves Europe to come to America in 1892, she finds more than she could have imagined….

Nearly penniless and without a place to stay, Abigail sets foot into the city of New Fiddleham hoping work is plentiful but finding nothing but the oddest man she’s ever met.  People tell her he’s a sham, others say he has a gift, still others won’t even say his name…Jackaby.  Abigail tends to believe what they say when her first encounter with him involves him seeing all sorts of fairy creatures hiding within the folds of her skirt.  With what little money she has, she finds a room for the night hoping the next day will prove more fruitful.

The next morning proves just as dismal as her entrance, with little to no job offers available until Abigail notices an ad for an assistant for an investigative services.  Immediately going the address all she can hope is that the job isn’t filled.  When she rings the bell of the odd house she’s standing in front of, Jackaby appears on the other side.  His is a job that can solve incidents using not only the power of deductive reasoning, but also using his skills at detecting creatures from ghosts to trolls to banshees and more.  Both of them are uncertain about the other (Is he off his rocker? Can she handle the duties involved with the job?) but a murder of dire concern needs his utmost attention, and Abigail follows along, hoping to impress her potential employer.

At the scene of the murder, Jackaby realizes this isn’t just a murder, but one involving a dangerous creature others cannot detect.  Clues left behind are important, but more important are the auras Jackaby sees leading him further down the dark and dangerous path to find the creature who is craving new victims and the reason behind it.  Along with a young police officer named Charlie, who hides a secret of his own, the trio begins this supernatural investigation that could lead to their untimely demise.  All isn’t what it seems and Abigail learns not only more about Jackaby and his peculiarities, but also something about herself as well. 

This is a brilliant book that entwines historical fiction with hints of mystery and fantasy all blended into one amazing adventure the reader becomes a part of right from the start.  The author, William Ritter, uses descriptive language to create that dark mood and setting but has the ability to use his main character for a break from the dark and dangerous, creating a balance of edge-of-your-seat action with those smiles that occur when Jackaby shows his quirks and curiosities.  Along with the plot, Ritter creates a character in the architecture as well, creating a mansion Jackaby lives in more than meets the eye.  With all of this combined, it makes for a quick read and a hope that there are other adventures Jackaby and Abigail will share with new fans.  New England and YA readers, meet a new breed of Holmes and Watson!  Recommended 7-12 grades

Book pairs:
Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
Ripper by Stefan Petrucha

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14. Book Review- The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Title: The Mirror Empire
Author: Kameron Hurley
Series:  Worldbreaker Saga #1
Published:  26 August 2014 by Angry Robot
Length: 569 pages
Warnings: semigraphic sex, assault, graphic gore
Source: Netgalley
Other info: Hurley has written many things, like God’s War and We Have Always Fought.
Summary : On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.
Review: Two worlds exist, mirrors of each other, and two versions of people exist, one in each world. Doorways can be opened between them, but you can only cross into the other world if your double in that one is dead. In one world, the Kai, the leader of the magic workers,Kirana, dies mysteriously, leaving her ungifted brother Ahkio  to take her place. In another story line, Lilia was pushed through a door to escape death. Many other stories weave together to form the story of this mirror empire.
I read this because Kameron Hurley's  blog posts are really good and Angry Robot had this on offer from Netgalley and I'd heard of really good diversity  and so I read this.
I haven't read high fantasy for some time,I think, and it shows. I did infer lots of things about this world  and my head picture is probably completely different to Hurley's.
I also think I missed something crucial as to how everything fits together in terms of plotlines. There's Zezeli,an army captain, who goes campaigning and then.has to find her husband Anavha (who we followed for a bit then I think we stopped following him which was sad because I liked him). Other characters I liked include Roh, Ahkio, Taigan, Gian and many others. Most of the main characters really.  They were all developed, and their stories were intriguing and I wanted to carry on reading about them despite me not fully understanding the links between them all.
The worlds are well developed. Polyamory and female led relationships and strong belief in magic and a  coherent magic system can be found, and settings range from army camps to cities to frozen areas.
The writing is descriptive, even in the very gory areas. It felt like  a long book, but it didn't feel slow. i didn't want this book to end!
characters' storylines clearly overlap in places, but in others, it felt like we were just following someone without it feeding in to a main thing.  I didn't mind, because the small plots were well written and interesting, but I would like to see more convergence in any future novels.

Overall:  Strength 4 tea to a book I enjoyed for its characters' individual plots, despite them not all coming together.

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15. Free ebooks Review: Ring on Her Finger by Lisa Swinton

Disclaimer: I received no compensation from the author or publisher for this honest review.

About the Book

What happened in Vegas should stay there, not follow Amanda home, newly wedded to the man who broke her heart.

After celebrating college graduation with her friends in Las Vegas, Amanda St. Claire wakes up with a terrible hangover and a ring on her finger. Her day gets worse when she finds out she's married to rich playboy Blake Worthington—the guy she has loathed the past four years. Amanda convinces Blake to legally terminate the marriage and they both return home like nothing ever happened. That is, until Blake shows up on her doorstep and Amanda has to come clean with her family.

Together for better or worse while the legalities are cleared, Amanda reluctantly plays along, but then the unthinkable happens---she finds herself falling in love with Blake.

Can they overcome the past? Or will it end their future before it even starts?

Buy the Book

Here's what I'm giving it:

Rating: 4 stars

Here's why:

There were a couple of things that kept this book from being a 5-star for me. First, I want to start off with the things I liked.

Amanda's and Blake's past played a huge role in their present interactions and also brought new meaning to the "put your past behind you" adage. The contrast between their families was well done and made me grateful for the family I do have.

What I didn't like was how long Amanda held on to her grudge/stubbornness. Granted, I do know/have known people who are "stubborn as a mule" before, but I think it was just a little bit overdone and got to be very irritating.

The other thing was how Amanda was in denial or reality even after getting a good slap of it. That also annoyed me.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, especially for those who are looking for "clean" romances.

0 Comments on Free ebooks Review: Ring on Her Finger by Lisa Swinton as of 11/25/2014 10:02:00 PM
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16. Book Review: Purity by Jackson Pearce

Title: Purity
 Author: Jackson Pearce
Series:  N/A
Published:   6 March 2014 by Hodder
Length: 224 pages
Source: publisher
Summary : A novel about love, loss, and sex -- but not necessarily in that order.
Before her mother died, Shelby promised three things: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Those Promises become harder to keep when Shelby's father joins the planning committee for the Princess Ball, an annual dance that ends with a ceremonial vow to live pure lives -- in other words, no "bad behavior," no breaking the rules, and definitely no sex.
Torn between Promises One and Three, Shelby makes a decision -- to exploit a loophole and lose her virginity before taking the vow. But somewhere between failed hookup attempts and helping her dad plan the ball, Shelby starts to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity

Review: Shelby promised her dying mother that she would listen to her father, love as much as posible, and live without restraint. She's done quite well in the five years since then, but when her father wants to arrange her part in a purity ball, in which she promises her purity to her father, which is essentially no drugs, drink or sex. Shelby doesn't want this. So she tries to find a loophole; if she has sex before then, she won't have purity to give. Thus begins a five week search for someone to lose her virginity to.
I wanted to read this obok because commentry on the value of virginity and women in society is an important one to me, and I quite liked Sisters Red, even though I knew from the presmise that this would be completely different. 
The characters are funny, not particularly bright, but the friendships are nice and supportive, even if the end “revalation” isn't that surprising or enjoyable. I liked watching the relationship between Shelby and her dad develop.I think Shelby could have developed more.
I like the fact there's humour throughout, without which Purity would be much less lighthearted, and either too sad or too serious.
I find it a bit weird that Shelby goes from not really caring about sex to wanting to do it without caring about who it is as long as they're not diseased. Sure, the possiblity of lack of sex for years is obviously going to make her try and find someone, (it would me if I were in that situation) but there are other ways she could have dealt iwht it, and other parts in the novel when she could have done something else.
I like the fact that faith is a theme. It's not there too much to make it into a preachy book, but it did add a bit of depth to Shelby.
Finally, I just want to ask; since when was “listen to” synonymous with “completely obey”?

Overall:  Strength 3 tea to a book that opens discussions for lots of things.

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17. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Audiobook Review

Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Author: Robin Sloan Narrated by: Ari Fliakos Publisher: Macmillan Audio Publication Date: February 26, 2013 Listening copy via local library I know I'm not the first to call this a mash-up of Umberto Eco and Doug Coupland because that's exactly what Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is. It's a mystery about manuscripts and codes, it's a

0 Comments on Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Audiobook Review as of 11/23/2014 4:56:00 PM
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18. Want to Put an End to Name Calling ? Never Say a Mean Word Again

Inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, “never say a Mean Word Again” by Jacqueline Jules, and Durga Yael Bernhard, is a wonderfully crafted story about two little boys, one Jewish and one Muslim, who try to settle their differences.

Never Say a Mean Word again

This light-hearted look at a very serious problem of name calling. After a series of accidental events, Hamza (the muslim boy), calls Saumuel, (the jewish boy) some very unkind names.

Samuel’s father, the grand vizier, noticed this and mentioned that Hama said some very unkind things. Samuel wanted his father to punish Hamza but the wise Vizier said, “No, I’ll let you punish him yourself. Make sure he never says a mean word to you again.”

As Samuel laid in his bed he thought of several very unkind things he could do to Hamza to punish him for his unkind words.

Settling on one punishment in particular, Samuel arrives at Hamza’s door with a lemon. Mahza thinking Samuel had come to help clean his shirt clearly stated that the lemon wouldn’t help so they ended up playing catch with it instead.

The next day Samuel arrived at Hamza’s house with a pen and paper. He would make him write a formal apology then he would have something to show his father the Vizier. But then they just ended up coloring instead.

Day after day this continued. Each time Samuel thought up a “new punishment”, the ended up playing together. This created a great dilemma for Samuel. What was he going to do to show his father that he had punished Hamza and that he would never say a mean word to him again ?

The entire story as well as the ending of this book is completely charming and engaging on many levels. The art is beautiful and deepens the story with it’s beautiful colors. The print is big and easy to follow and the whole feel of the book is welcoming. The best thing of this book is it’s message. Though the intention to do something unkind to Hamza to return his unkindness was clearly there, Hamza never say any unkindness coming towards him. He only say a new friend instead. It is a beautiful story of conflict resolution perfectly told. This book is out on the coffee table where it is picked up often by family and visitors alike. I’m so glad this book exist. It is an invaluable tool to teaching children how to deal with conflict in kind ways.

Never Say a Mean Word again

Something to Do:

The problem starts when Hamza views Samuel’s clumsy actions as mean intended. So to return Samuel’s unkindness, Hamza calls him mean names. Samuel then feels its his turn to show unkindness but it always unfolds into kindness. How can we do this in our own lives? How can we turn unkindness into kindness.

Let’s start with the way we speak. Here’s a few nice things to say to people whenever you should encounter them.

  • Hi my name is______ what’s yours?
  • Can I help you?
  • What’s your favorite color?
  • Say thank-you
  • I’m sorry.
  • I forgive you
  • Please
  • I’m glad you’re my friend.
  • You’re awesome
  • I like you
  • That’s Incredible !!
  • Want to play?
  • Want to play: Charades, hop scotch,board game, cards, Hide & Seek, Simon Says, 20 questions, I spy, Catch?
  • Awesome

Along with kind words, we can also choose not to view someone’s unkindness as unkindness but an invitation to play. If someone should say something unkind, compliment them on something and then include them in an activity.

Please note that I’m referring to simple childhood disagreements and not full on bullying which is a much bigger problem and is dealt with differently. It’s my hope that simple kind actions when children are small will provide them with the tools they need to deal with conflicts in a kind way as they grow as opposed to aggression.

Along the same lines of this whole post is a free gift I would like to offer my readers! “Conditions of the Heart” is a FREE kids activity book filled with fun activities & crafts that teaches values and conduct. Grab your copy HERE:

Conditions of the Heart

Need gift ideas for Christmas? Give the gift of education and guidance with Donna Ashton’s The Waldorf Homeschool Handbook Now available through Audrey Press Books!

The Waldorf Homeschool Handbook


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19. Audio book reviews - recent fantasy favorites

I'm back from vacation and have some catching up to do!  If you're a frequent reader, you'll know that I review books for AudioFile Magazine.  Once submitted, I cannot reprint my reviews here, but I can offer a quick rundown, and link to the reviews as they appeared for AudioFile.

I am smitten with the unflappable Jennifer Strange, protagonist of Jasper Fforde's Chronicles of Kazam series. I recently reviewed the second book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast. A quirky, funny, and smartly-written fantasy series.  Book 3, The Eye of Zoltar just published last month, so get reading!  Read my review of The Song of the Quarkbeast here.  Suggested for ages 10-14. (I think older readers may enjoy it as well.)

I love Cornelia Funke's dark fantasy titles.  The Inkheart trilogy is a favorite series, and I thoroughly enjoyed Reckless, the first in the Mirrorworld series. I was thrilled when offered an opportunity to review her new early chapter book fantasy, Emma and the Blue Genie, especially when I discovered that she is the narrator.  My review of Emma and the Blue Genie is here.  Suggested for ages 7-10.
 (I only reviewed the audio copy, but the print copy is lovely - small and special and delightfully illustrated)

* Headphone image courtesy of Openclipart.org.

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20. KidLit Book Review - Ashlynn's Dreams by Julie C. Gilbert


Ashlynn’s Dreams
Written by Julie C. Gilbert

Julie C. Gilbert has created and delivered a fantasy adventure like no other. From the onset the reader is immersed into Jillian Blairington’s world told from the perspective of those closest to her as well as Jillian’s inner most thoughts. Using the technique of diary/letter entries shared from each perspective person, the reader is carried through a journey of unexpected twists and turns. Jillian longs for the days of her predictable life after her kidnapping. What she learns about her existence and the plans Dr. Deyva has for her newfound capabilities shatters Jillian’s every waking thought and dream state. Will she figure out all the components to save herself, Danielle and her “new siblings” in time? Or will Jillian succumb to the treachery of Dr. Deyva and the so-called capability of shaping a person’s dreams?

Best wishes,
Donna M. McDine
Multi Award-winning Children's Author

Ignite curiosity in your child through reading!

Connect with
A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Farvorite Five Star Review

The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.
~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist

0 Comments on KidLit Book Review - Ashlynn's Dreams by Julie C. Gilbert as of 11/13/2014 10:29:00 AM
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21. What tastes like home to you ?

When author Christine Ieronimo saw her adopted Ethiopian daughter drinking from a puddle of water in their driveway, it inspired her to look how water connects us to the places we live and ultimately call home.

A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water Across the World is a poignant and heartfelt story about Eva Alemitu and how water connects her to Emaye, the mother she left behind in Africa.

A Thirst for Home

This is a story about the bleakness of poverty. Having to walk miles every day to get water, Emaye didn’t have enough food to feed her daughter Eva. In an act of love, she gives Eva up for adoption, knowing that giving her up means saving Eva’s life.

Through tears, rain, and puddles, water is what keeps Eva connected to her mother. The exquisite illustrations by Eric Velasquez capture the dignity and the drastic reality of poverty facing millions of people every day on this planet.


Eva faces balancing the security of her new American life with the longing for her biological mother back in Ethiopia.

This is one of these books that stays with you long after you read it. It creates a great opportunity to discuss poverty, the importance of food and water, sacrifice, and all of our connections to home.

Something To Do

Living in America we simply do not understand what not having water means. Everyday millions of people all over the world walk miles every day on empty stomachs just to seek out water they can drink and use to survive.

Here are some incredible and through provoking exercises that can be done to get a true view of the importance of water.

The Water Project: Help Solve the Water Crisis

Water Lesson Plans

Book Discussions


2nd & 3rd

4th & 5th

Let’s Learn About Ethiopia

Guide to Ethiopian Food

Kid World Citizen 

Behind the Story of A Thirst for Home

This is a beautiful film made by the author about adopting her daughter from Ethiopia and the inspiration for the book A Thirst for Home. A must see !!


Don’ miss the A Year in the Secret Garden Book Launch Blog Tour and your to enter to win our Amazon $100 Gift Card!!!! Go HERE for more details!


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22. Book Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Book: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Published: 2014
Source: Local Library

Lara Jean Song has loved many boys, but never one who’s loved her back. She formed a habit of writing a goodbye letter to each boy and hiding it in her treasured hatbox as she gets over them.

Suddenly the letters disappear, sent out to the boys who were never supposed to see them. Lara Jean finds herself facing the consequences of her own emotions for the first time.

The most horrifying consequence is that one of the letters went out to Josh, her next-door neighbor, and also her big sister’s recent ex. Desperate to stop him from thinking she still likes him (although she sort of does), she begs one of the other crushes, Peter, to pretend to be her boyfriend. He’s amenable because he’s trying to make an ex jealous. They embark on a fake relationship, but as it goes on, Lara Jean gets more and more mixed up about what she wants. Is it Josh? Or Peter? Or neither?

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare - your old crushes suddenly discovering the feelings you hid so deeply! Okay, not the worst nightmare. Zombies and public nudity are probably worse, but this is right up there. Han explores this situation by having Lara Jean encounter all her old crushes again in the course of trying to get the letters back. Some are great, some are horrifying, some are, “What did I ever see in him?!”

Lara Jean starts off the book childish and impulsive, almost slappably so. But as the story goes on, you can see her maturing. Is this because she’s having to face the consequences of the letters? She always crushed on boys silently before, never giving any indication of her feelings. Is it because she is having to step into her older sister’s Margot’s place as the caretaker of the family, or possibly coming out from under Margot’s shadow? Is it because she gets the opportunity to see how she herself has changed over the years, through the lens of the boys she once crushed on? For me, it was a mixture of all those things.

I was a little disappointed in the end because it left us dangling as to the resolution of Peter and Lara Jean’s story. Although Lara Jean had made a decision, we didn’t get to see the effects of it. Luckily, according to the author’s blog, there will be a second book called P.S. I Still Love You due out in the spring.

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23. Days of Blood & Starlight Book Review

Title: Days of Blood & Starlight Author: Laini Taylor Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication Date: November 6, 2012 ISBN-13: 978-0316133975 528 pp. Reading copy via public library I didn't do a review for the first book in this series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which introduces the reader to Karou. Karou is an art student in Prague. She has blue hair and portfolios

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24. The Paper Cowboy

Levine, Kristin. 2014. The Paper Cowboy. New York: Putnam.

In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid.  He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.

Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.

Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life.  Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it.  Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help?  His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.

It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family.  He will find help where he least expects it.

     I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper.  But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy.  Maybe that would help.  "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."
     "I didn't like him.  I don't like him.  Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
     "Ahh," she said again.  "He laugh too?"
     I shook my head.  I knew what Mary Lou would say.  Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy.  And now she would have scars just like him.  How would I feel if someone picked on her?
     "What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession.  It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
     "I took some candy from him," I admitted.
     "You stole it."
     I shrugged.
     "It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
     Mrs. Glazov laughed.  "You don't need sister.  You need conscience."
     I had the horrible feeling that she was right.  I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw.
Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy. Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s.  We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses.  Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying.  This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up.  It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.

Give this book to your good readers - the ones who want a book to stay with them a while after they've finished it.

Kristin Levine is also the author of The Lions of Little Rock (2012, Putnam) which I reviewed here.

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25. We Like What We Like

When he was little, one of my husband’s favorite Christmas movies was “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” I laughed out loud the first time he told me the title, sure he was making it up. But no, it’s a real movie starring a young Pia Zadora as a martian child. The acting is terrible, the […]

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