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Viewing Blog: Crazy For Kids Books, Most Recent at Top
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Passionate reader wants to connect kids with books that captivate and educate so they grow into lifelong readers and learners.
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1. Faces of the Moon

"Each month the Moon transforms her face,
which grows and shrinks at steady pace.
Her changing looks reveal her place
in orbit 'round our globe."

This early passage in Faces of the Moon by Bob Crelin and illustrated by Leslie Evans sets the tone of this children's book. The first part of the book explains the phases of the moon in rhyme while diecut page tabs and diecut moon in the middle of each illustration walk readers through the progression of moon phases.

As the "first stepping stone toward discovering our universe," the author explains in educational text in the back of the book how the earth, moon and sun orbit each other in plain language. He also includes some "Moon Memo-Rhymes", short, rhyming memory aids to remember key facts about the moon and its phases.

This is a terrific book with which to introduce children to basic facts about the moon that will reinforce their own observations in the long tradition of sky watchers and astronomers.

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2. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

"Creating currents of electricity and hope" is the subtitle of this amazing memoir - The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Thanks to a three-shelf library full of cast off books and his own persistence and ingenuity, William Kamkwamba is able to build a windmill out of cast off trash (including a broken bicycle) to generate enough electricity to light his house at night and play a radio.

In the first two-thirds of the book, William tells us about his family, his village, his life and the challenges of living a poor, subsistence life in Malawi -a small, land-locked, politically corrupt country in southeastern Africa. The only son of a close, hardworking, farming family, as a result of famine William's family is no longer able to pay his school fees and he drops out of secondary school. It is his greatest wish to return to school and he spends hours each day in this "library" reading and studying the old textbooks so that when he returns to school, he will be able to stay even with his peers. It is in these books that he finds the basic information about creating energy.

In a rural village that is dependent on both the whims of nature and the government, William and his family hammer out a life that revolves around the planting of the next crop of maize.Except for the rare intrusion of things like cell phones or planes, the life they lead is very much like the life their grandparents led.

Once the first windmill is completed and word begins to spread of William's marvel, an extraordinary sequence of events follows that leads William to the TED conference where he flies in an airplane, stays in a hotel, sleeps on a real mattress, and learns about laptop computers and the internet all for the first time. At the TED conference (an international thought-fest of the smartest people with ideas and inventions in technology, entertainments and design), William meets people who literally change his life and bring him into the 21st century.

His intelligence, drive and search for a way to make his family's life just a little better sets him on a path to international stardom and eventually finds him at an African school with other exceptional African students like himself all with the commitment to creating a new Africa - one of humane leaders that can lead the people to a better life through education, health care and infrastructure.

It is a marvelous story. It's hard for us in the U.S. or any western nation for that matter to believe that such subsistence, "third-world" life can still be so prevalent in our world. This young man's journey again proves the difference that one person can make. The book is being released this month. Look for it; buy it; read it. I highly recommend it.

2 Comments on The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, last added: 9/4/2009
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3. Amelia Bedelia's First Day of School

Amelia Bedelia, the beloved adult character from the 14 Amelia Bedelia stories by Peggy Parish has reappeared in this story by Ms. Parrish's nephew, Herman Parish. It is illustrated by Lynne Avril. In this prequel, we find Amelia at her first day of school. All of the characteristics that make Amelia Bedelia entertaining as an adult who takes things a bit too literally are on display here. From this story we are to assume that Amelia's silliness as an adult was part of her personality from the beginning.

When the teacher tells Amelia to "glue herself to her seat" - that is literally what Amelia does. The following passage is typical of Amelia's take on the world:

At last it was time for lunch.
"Do you feel like a sloppy joe?" asked the lady behind the lunch counter.
"No!" said Amelia Bedelia. "Do I look like one?"
"Here you are," said the lady. "I hope your eyes aren't bigger than your stomach."
"Me too," said Amelia Bedelia. "They would not fit in my head."

As in all the Amelia Bedelia stories, Amelia enjoys great adventures while learning something new and demonstrating to readers that there is more than one way to interpret something. This story takes the familiar first-day-of-school confusion and turns it on its head. A very fun read.

To find out more about Amelia Bedelia, visit www.ameliabedelia.com

You can order the book here.

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4. GEEKTASTIC: Stories from the Nerd Herd

Before I read this wonderful collection of short stories, I hadn't stopped to think about all the different flavors of geeks there are. I can now share with you that in addition to science and math geeks, there are music geeks; gamer geeks; fantasy geeks; comic book geeks; Star Trek and Star Wars geeks; role-playing geeks; technology geeks; theater geeks; fan fiction geeks, etc.

Geektastic is edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci and includes stories by YA authors I recognized such as Lisa Yee, Cynthia & Greg Leitich Smith, and John Green and those I did not recognize like Barry Lyga and Libba Bray.

Advance copy invited all readers "whether you're a former, current, or future geek, or if you just want to get in touch with your inner geek, Geektastic will help you get your geek on!"

In most cases, these can be described as coming-of-age stories. Each story addresses one or more of the issues people encounter as they grow into adulthood - wanting to belong but feeling different; finding joy in interests shared with a friend; gender role development; how much self to show to the world and how much to keep hidden; family challenges; evolving friendships; honor; trust; loyalty - all the biggies.

Some of the stories are more compelling than others, but they are all worth reading. If you're not a geek yourself, you probably know a geek. What all these stories have in common is the discovery that no matter what your area of interest, everyone wants the same things - to belong; to be recognized; to be valued.

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5. Llama, Llama Misses Mama

This is the latest in the delightful series by author/illustrator Anna Dewdney. Our lovable little llama is back with a new adventure-in this case, the first day of school - in Llama Llama Misses Mama.

At first little llama is very excited to begin school until he realizes that Mama is leaving him at the school. After a bewildering morning of declining offers to get involved with various activities, it becomes all too much for little llama and he begins to cry at the lunch table. He is comforted by his teacher who says:

"Don't be sad, new little llama!
It's okay to miss your mama.
But don't forget -
When day is through,
She will come back to you."

As little llama lets himself be persuaded to play with his new classmates, he learns a valuable lesson. Mama does indeed return for him and he can love both Mama and his new school. All the llama books focus on a situation from a child's perspective, and author/illustrator Dewdney demonstrates a deep understanding of a child's fears. Her illustrations are sweet and complement the story nicely.

If you are getting ready to send a child off to school for the first time, I highly recommend this story to help ease the transition.

My reviews of other llama llama titles:

Llama Llama Mad at Mama

Llama Llama Red Pajama

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6. Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Precocious doesn't begin to describe 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, the heroine of this story - chemistry aficionado with a special interest in poison, youngest of three motherless girls, daughter to an emotionally distant philatelist father, amateur sleuth, and prankster.

The investigation into the murder of the man Flavia discovers in the cucumber patch is at the center of the story, and as with most English village murders, launches a chain of events that weaves together sins of the present with sins of the past. It is the summer of 1950 and the de Luce daughters are pretty much left to their own devices as their father dallies with his postage stamp collection behind closed doors in their family mansion that has seen better days.

Eccentricity abounds both within the de Luce household and in the folks of Bishop's Lacey (the local village). Within the genre of the English village mystery, author Alan Bradley has created a fresh and unique protagonist who, like many 11-year-olds, vacilates between adult and childish behavior. Too clever for her own good, Flavia manages to fall into and then extricate herself from one situation after another as she pushes the story to its conclusion.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is one of those books that can be read and enjoyed by both teen and adult readers. Flavia's desire to get to the bottom of things and to save her father from miscarried justice is at the heart of this puzzle. I look forward to Flavia's next adventure with great anticipation. This is a very satisfying story on every level.

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7. Shop Green and Support Independent Bookstores!

The latest video from the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, NC, is a fabulous 1940s era newsreel expose on the "green" difference between buying local and buying from mega online retailers. It's creative, clever, and compelling.

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8. Summer Reading and The Best Kids Books Ever!

NY Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof recently discovered a fact that will be no surprise to educators and librarians. During the summer vacation, students from lower economic families can lose two months of reading gains while they are absent from school. This is less of a concern for middle-class kids because their parents send them to camps, enroll them in summer reading programs, and read to them on a regular basis or make sure they are reading to themselves.

This is one of the primary justifications for the year-round school calendar which limits vacations throughout the year to 6 weeks. But trying to move away from what was initially an agrarian calendar has proven very difficult in schools with the vocal opposition of both teachers and parents.

Some urban districts make it a practice to ensure that students have library cards by taking them to the library during the school year and then encourage them to keep visiting during the summer. I would venture to guess that there is not a public library in this country that does not have a summer reading program for kids. All you need is a library card. And, that's free.

Last Sunday Mr. Kristof published as good a basic reading list as any I've seen. Most of these books he read himself or read to his kids. It's hard to argue with any of his selections. I particularly like this selection from his op ed piece:

"(As for Nancy Drew, I yawned over her, but she seems to turn girls into Supreme Court justices. Among her fans as kids were Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.)" Check out the link for a cool article on this topic.

Without further ado, here is his list.

I SPY PRIZE PACKAGE UPDATE. Thanks to all who entered. Winners are currently being contacted. Thanks to Scholastic for putting this promotion together.

1 Comments on Summer Reading and The Best Kids Books Ever!, last added: 7/10/2009
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9. Review: Subway Ride

Whether you live in a city with a subway system or are planning a trip with a child to a city where there is a subway system, Subway Ride by Heather Lynn Miller and illustrated by Sue Rama is a must read.

The author's perspective is that riding subways is a great adventure whether in your own country or in one of the 10 international cities that are featured in the book. Whether you're traveling in Cairo or London, Chicago or Mexico City, the similarities between subway systems are evident making the people who ride them seem familiar too. In this way, subways are an important part of each community and link communities together.

Fun facts about each of the subway systems are included in the back such as the longest escalator in the Western hemisphere is located in the Washington, D.C. metro at the Wheaton Station. It climbs 230 feet from the tracks to the street.

Don't forget to enter the I SPY Prize Package Giveaway. You can enter here until July 4th.

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10. Enter the I Spy From A to Z Book & Prize Package Giveaway

The I Spy book series has provided many hours of entertainment for young children over the years. The A to Z collection is a representative set of some of the previous I Spy books. Here is a wonderful array of still life photographs jam-packed with kid-focused objects that will delight the young in all of us. The 46 treasure-hunting photos are accompanied by easy-to-learn rhyming couplets, each of which details specific items to find in the photographs. Of course, there are plenty of other items in the photos to spark conversation.

In the introduction, author Jean Marzollo provides coaching for parents and teachers on how the book helps develop pre-reading skills. Some of Walter Wick's photos picture scenes that are as carefully staged as any movie set while others are a fabulous montage of objects old and new. This book is sure to become one of the most loved in any child's library. Be sure to check out the official I Spy website!

Now for the Prize Giveaway!

One Grand Prize Package: ($86 value)

  • Wii Video Game "Ultimate I SPY"
  • Board Game - "I SPY Memory Game"
  • I SPY A to Z: A Book of Picture Riddles
  • I SPY Treasure Hunt - one more great book adventure!
Four Runners Up will each receive one copy of this book - "I SPY A to Z: A Book of Picture Riddles

So, How to Enter for the Giveaway? So simple. Leave a comment here to enter. Be sure to include a way to get in touch with you in case you win. Contest is only open until July 4th so be sure to enter right now!

Sorry, but only continental U.S. readers are eligible.

15 Comments on Enter the I Spy From A to Z Book & Prize Package Giveaway, last added: 7/1/2009
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11. New Series - Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass

What better place to set a modern story of an historic and epic battle between good and evil than in Las Vegas. It is hard to imagine that there could be a better backdrop for a family of real magicians than the Winter Palace Hotel and Casino where the family's lead magician, Damian, is starring in the greatest magic show on earth.

These descendants of Russian royalty are quite at home in the Winter Palace complete with snow, onion domes, horses, bears and tigers. Secret floors and vaults are available only to the family but like most Las Vegas hotels, the lobby is still a casino and Damian stars nightly in the Winter Palace theater.

Author Erica Kirov comes by her Russian history honestly. Although not from a family of magicians, she is of Russian descent and grew up hearing about life in Russia including stories of what life was like before the Bolshevik revolution. The arch villain in this story is the same Rasputin who betrayed the last Russian tsar and his family.

Our hero, Nick Rostove, and his cousin Isabella are being trained for Damian's show while also learning magic from the family practioners. Rasputin is after Nick believing that Nick knows the secret of the Eternal Hourglass that was rendered unusable by Nick's mother before she died.

Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass
is the first installment in what promises to be a terrific series. What do you get when you mix an interesting array of characters with a shared history battling the forces of good and evil in the magical playground of Las Vegas? A rollicking good story, that's what. This middle-grade adventure is fun to read alone, but it would also be a terrific read-aloud.

Check here, here and here to see what other reviewers are saying about Magickeepers.

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12. Review: Grandmother, Have the Angels Come?

Author Denise Vega and illustrator Erin Eitter Kono have created a fabulous story in Grandmother, Have the Angels Come? Highlighting the special relationship between the very old and very young, this is a joyful meditation on growing old as seen through the eyes of a young girl.

Rich, vibrant and whimsical, the saturated color of the illustrations perfectly match the heartwarming and inspirational text. The story is written joyfully and reassures the granddaughter that her beloved grandmother will always be there to love and guide her.

Here is a sample:
Grandmother, Grandmother, have the angels come and bent your fingers?

Yes, my darling granddaughter.
They have bent my fingers
so I may hold your hand more tightly.

Will you hold me when I'm scared and feeling all alone?

Yes, my darling granddaughter.
I will hold you when you fly
and when you fall.

This special book will reassure youngsters that this special love will endure. This is a book to treasure. Check for other reviews here and here.

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13. Faith: A Global Fund for Children Book

This book is a visual feast of children in religions around the world as they pray, sing and participate in rituals. Faith by Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis and Cynthia Pon showcases the similarities between the world religions in sections such as:

  • We pray
  • We celebrate with festivals
  • We mark the important events of our lives
  • We respect others, making friends and building peace.
All three authors are associated with the Global Fund for Children. The group's mission is to advance the dignity of children and youth around the world by making small grants to groups working with the world's most vulnerable children. Read more here.

Full of delightful, engaging children, the books clearly demonstrates that people of the world are more similar than different. The book can be used as a teaching tool or just to share with your favorite young reader. Globalization in the 21st century is pushing the countries of the world closer together. This book is a good way to introduce youngsters to their future as global citizens who care for and respect the differences of others. Kudos to Charlesbridge publishing and the Global Fund for Children.

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14. Video - Book:The Sequel

How odd is it, that my 100th post is a video about a book?

This video features an interesting project that culminated at last week's BEA in New York. A month ago, this team sent out a request for an opening line from an imagined sequel to any book ever written. They received more than 780 entries which they did not review until Thursday last week. Over the next 48 hours, the team "crashed" a book - they assessed, edited, designed, printed, bound and delivered copies to their BEA booth. In addition to the printed edition, the book also simultaneously appeared in formats for the iPhone, Kindle and Sony Reader as well as large type, braille and audio.

That's a stunning display of technical virtuosity as well as savvy promotion as they filmed multiple videos of the process which can be viewed here.

I think I'll order it!

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15. Review: The Cuckoo's Haiku

Did you know that cardinals mate for life and return to the same nesting ground every year? Or that a roost of crows can number up to two million individual birds with complex family units that could include up to fifteen family members? Those are just a few of the many facts about common North American birds found in this lovely book authored by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Stan Fellows.

Haiku seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance with dozens and dozens of poets sharing traditional and new haiku on blogs. One of the most striking things about this book is that the watercolors contribute to the impression that we're just catching a quick glimpse of the bird's busy life.

The illustrations are masterful as they emphasize one or two physical characteristics of each bird and place them in a typical setting so that the reader gets a real sense of what they look like and where to find them. The book is organized into four sections that represent birds you would see during the four seasons. The color palette for each of the seasons also contributes to the impressionistic effect.

There is quite a community of Canada Geese in my neighborhood and Rosen's haiku describes them perfectly.

the pond's still airstrip
far-off trumpets grow louder -
one splash! two...hushed...glides...
And here is one for the dark-eyed junco:

phased like tilted moons
half shadow, half reflection
juncos cross the snow

There are many wonderful facts about the birds scattered throughout the book in lovely script. My only complaint about the book is that these are very small and difficult to read. I had to pull out the magnifying glass and my eyes are not that bad. there is an appendix in the back of the book that gives more information about the birds, their habits and their songs.

It is a beautiful book that can be shared many times throughout the year as the seasons change.It's a wonderful place to start a young birdwatcher.

For more reviews about the book, check these out:
The Wrung Sponge
Haiku by Two
Book Ideas

1 Comments on Review: The Cuckoo's Haiku, last added: 6/4/2009
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16. Review: The Curious Garden

When I ordered this book, I intended to write about it in time for Earth Day, but that obviously didn't happen so in honor of Children's Book Week, here we go.

I love this book. I can look at it over and over again. Illustrator/author Peter Brown has developed a distinctive style of telling a story through both words and pictures where the pictures carry as much or more of the story than does the text.

The Curious Garden is a story of a boy named Liam who discovers a small, neglected garden high over the dreary city in some abandoned train tracks. With a little bit of encouragement from Liam, the garden begins to expand with the mosses and the weeds leading the way. After faithfully tending to his garden through the spring, summer and fall, Liam is stopped by winter. He spends the winter studying gardening so that when the winter is over, he and the garden are both ready to begin the new spring together.

The evolution of the garden as it moves across the elevated train tracks throughout the city and enlists more gardeners and changes the interactions of the people living in the city, is primarily conveyed through the lovely detailed illustrations. The story culminates in a revisit to the opening illustration of the city which has now been totally transformed by its abundant green space. The health and well-being we derive from our green space is gently reinforced through this little fable.

This garden is definitely worth repeat visits. Perhaps I'll see you there.

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17. Historic Fact and Fiction

When I was a teenager, I loved reading historical fiction. Books that took me to another place in time. I particularly remember the books of Anya Seton and Taylor Caldwell and their depictions of women characters during earlier historical periods. So I readily agreed to participate in author Jane Kirkpatrick's "Duet" blog tour scheduled for this week.

A Flickering Light is a fascinating story of Jessie Anne Gaebele who is determined to become a photographer in a small Minnesota town at the turn of the century. When we first meet Jessie, she is in her mid-teens and both she and her older sister have been sent out to work to help support their close-knit family.

Jessie is a determined young woman and willing to work hard for what she wants. Fascinated by the images she sees in the landscape around her, she finds a job as an assistant to a portrait photographer. Joined by her friend Voe, Jessie spends the next several years learning everything she can about portrait photography. At several points during these years, Jessie's boss, F.J. Bauer, becomes deathly ill from mercury poisoning as a result of handling too many photo chemicals. During these times, Jessie and Voe run the photography studio giving Jessie the opportunity to actively make portraits herself. She also learns valuable skills in supervising the administrative tasks of the business as well.

The primary sub-plot is the growing attraction between Jessie and her very married older boss F.J. While this part of the plot is predictable, Kirkpatrick's writing keeps it as fresh and new as these unwelcome feelings are to Jessie. As Jessie matures throughout the story from ages 15-18, her development as a young woman is both believable and poignant. Although Winona, Minnesota is an established town, the story has a bit of the frontier freshness when our towns were more open than they are now.

This coming-of-age story is well worth reading to learn about what life was like for one family in this time and place of our history and also to admire one girl's determination to break free from established conventions and "acceptable" behavior for young ladies.

Paired with A Flickering Light in this "duet" blog tour is another book by Jane Kirkpatrick that is a historical recounting of a real frontier community in Aurora, Oregon in the mid-1850s. Some of the most fascinating chapters of our country's history revolve around the various religious groups who pulled away from society to establish utopian communities, sharing a life together that was built around particular sets of religious beliefs and hard work.

Aurora, An American Experience in Quilt, Community, and Craft benefits immensely from plentiful primary sources as many of the documents, photos, crafts, tools, and stories of the Aurora community have been preserved over time. Kirkpatrick pulls all of things together to write an engaging biography of the founding and history of the Aurora community.

It is a beautifully printed hard-bound book that is chock full of period photographs, contemporary photographs of still-existing buildings, quilts, and tools. Many letters, journals, and other historical documents have been preserved and Kirkpatrick brings these people and their stories to life.

As with many of these communities, the founder William Keil was charismatic and had a strong vision for what the community could be. Kirkpatrick tells the Aurora story with compassionate insight and with great respect. The Aurora colony was more successful than most, but eventually it began to disintegrate. The fact that their story has been preserved for more than 150 years is a testament to their success and their influence on the community in which they lived.

Anyone interested in history and particularly utopian communities would find Aurora an interesting read.

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18. Horrid Henry Series

This newly published series from Sourcebooks has been a publishing sensation in the U.K. for some time with almost 12 million copies sold to date. Each of the first four chapter books features four self-contained stories about the same group of characters.

Horrid Henry lives up to his name. He is a most unpleasant child. However, as an anti-hero, he provides outrageous fun for children an
d a continuing object lesson for parents as he is everything you would hate your own child to be.

As he plans and schemes to make fools of his family and friends, Horrid Henry gets into a series of scrapes that seven- and eight-year old boys (in particular) will revel in.

Most of the character development of the supporting cast is telegraphed in the character's name. Perfect Peter is Henry's do-good brother. Moody Margaret is the bothersome girl next store. Bossy Bill, Clever Clare, Rude Ralph, and Greedy Graham are his fellow students in Miss Battle Axe's classroom. All of these children play signature roles in Henry's adventures.

Horrid Henry is Dennis the Menace 40 years later and on steroids. His behavior is so bad that even though children enjoy his mischief, they know it's fiction and not real. However, knowing that no child could ever really be this bad, doesn't detract from their fun one bit.

The award-winning author, Francesca Simon, is a transplanted American living in London where these books first found an audience. There are additional adventures to come and there is even an official UK Horrid Henry website which may spawn an American version at some point. Both of these websites offer insights into Henry and his creator.

It's difficult to imagine the books without the clever drawings of illustrator Tony Ross. He has done a marvelous job of capturing the personalities of the characters in simple pen and ink renderings.

If you think I might be exaggerating Henry's unpleasant personality, let me just say that there is a reason Horrid Henry is billed as the "world's most mischievous child"!

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19. The Horses of Half Moon Ranch

Every 11-12 year old-girl I've ever known, including me, has gone a little horse crazy at some point. What is it about young girls and horses? In my case, I was fortunate to have a friend down the street who had a horse. She taught me how to groom her horse, how to muck out his stall, the basics of riding, and the best way to feed and water him. I learned that taking care of a horse is an awesome responsibility and one that does not disappear when you start to lose your interest.

I always thought it would be fun to live on a ranch for a summer. In the newly re-published series, The Horses of Half-Moon Ranch, Kirstie Scott does not have to imagine what life on a ranch is like. She lives on the ranch. Her mom, her brother, and a small group of dedicated hands have brought her grandmother's ranch back to life again and they take in guests during the summer.

In both Wild Horses and Rodeo Rocky, the first two books in the series, author Jenny Oldfield creates a satisfying mix of horse lore, mystery, and local color. Not surprisingly, Kirstie is the most fully developed character but there are plenty of memorable characters, even if a little heavy on stock characters of the old crusty trusted ranch hand and heart-of-gold, hermit in the woods kind.

For many readers there will be much to learn about in these stories including how wild horses are tamed and trained and what a rodeo is like. But the thing that shines through both of these stories and rings most true is the love and connection that Kirstie has for these horses. By caring for them and loving them, she learns much about herself and the world around her. A very enjoyable read.

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20. Review: Everything is Fine

Actually, everything is anything but fine in Mazzy's world as she struggles single-handedly to take care of her mother who is in deep depression. I love the style and organization of this book. It is written in short, terse segments that are more like staccato rat-a-tat-tats than paragraphs. In each one of these titled segments, Mazzy's story unfurls in bursts of understanding and we are gradually enlightened to the details of her story.

Mazzy creates a series of coping strategies that manage, for most of the book, to keep the world at bay, including her father and well intentioned neighbors. It's clear from the beginning that Mazzy's mother is practically catatonic in her depression as Mazzy talks to her, cares for her, and pretends that Mom is just a little tired. Considering that Mazzy is a young teen and obviously coping alone with issues beyond her age to understand and control is probably more understandable than at first glance. She does an excellent job of keeping people at bay, out of her house, and away from her mom.

Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis is a page-turning, heart-breaking story about a family tragedy, how the family processes and copes with that tragedy, and tries to find their way back to each other and a shared future. You can't help but love and root for Mazzy. This is a girl with determination and grit. Mazzy is revealed to us in the short riffs of prose as she becomes revealed to herself. It's a marvelous story and I highly recommend it.

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21. Video Book Trailer: Who Made the Morning?

Full disclosure: This book is published by my company, New Day Publishing. I just had this video book trailer done and would love some feedback. Let me know what you think.

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22. Review: Hip Hop Speaks to Children

The tagline of Hip Hop Speaks to Children describes the book perfectly - A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat. Edited by Nikki Giovanni and illustrated by a team of five illustrators, this treasury is a feast of color and sound.

An audio CD is enclosed that features a range of poets reading their work from Langston Hughes to Queen Latifah. There are so many excellent poems, it is hard to choose a favorite. Often when you read poetry, you wonder if you are reading exactly what the poet intended. One of my favorites, "Books" by Eloise Greenfield is read by the author in the exact way I imagined it would be.

I've got
books on the bunk bed
books on the chair
books on the couch
And every old where
But I want more books
just can't get enough
want more books about
All kinds of stuff, like

Jackie's troubles. Raymond's joys
Rabbits, kangaroos, Girls and Boys
Mountains, valleys, Winter, spring
Camp fires, vampires

Every old thing
I want to
Lie down on my bunk bed!

Lean back in
my chair
Curl up on the
And every old

From recognized and honored poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and W.E.B. DuBois to today's musical artists such as Tupac Shakur and Stetsasonic, the range of experience captured by these African American writers is varied, rich, and deeply personal.

The book and CD culminate in Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech which we've heard much of recently during Barack Obama's election. It had been awhile since I'd heard the speech almost in its entirety. It gave me shivers. It was followed by a wonderful performance piece by Nikki Giovanni, Oni Lasana and Val Gray Ward based on the same speech.

This is a book that deserves to be pulled off the shelf again and again. The layers of meaning to these poems will unfold as a child grows older and more sophisticated. The book and CD together make a wonderful resource for home, school or library. It is truly one of the best books I've read this year.

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23. Celebrate I Love Libraries Month

February is "I love libraries" month. Of course for me, every month is "I love libraries month," but I'm happy to have a special occasion to celebrate the wonderful work that school and public libraries do throughout the country.

This photo from Lester Public Library in Two Rivers, Wisconsin (courtesy of Flickr) is called "Taking a Break at the Library." First of all, how wonderful is it that they have stuffed animals for kids to love on at this library, but secondly it's a terrific image pairing books and stuffed animals - kids get the message that they can love both.

Most book lovers have never met a library or a bookstore they didn't like. As the economic downturn has accelerated in these last few months, circulation and visitation of local public libraries is at an all-time high. Folks are turning to their local libraries for entertainment as well as access to information on job opportunities and skill development. Ironically, during these boom days in public libraries, funding for public libraries is close to an all-time low.

Here is a fab site that provides lots of ideas as to how we can all support our community libraries. And here is the "I Love Libraries" site supported by the American Library Association. Both sites have a wealth of information about books, authors, illustrators, bloggers, and libraries.

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24. Poetry Friday - Emily Dickinson #657

I dwell in Possibility -
A fairer House than Prose -
More numerous of Windows -
Superior - for Doors -

Of Chambers as the Cedars -
Impregnable of Eye -
And for an Everlasting Roof -
The Gambrels of the Sky -

Of Visitors - the - fairest -
For Occupation - This -
The spreading wide my narrow Hands -
To gather Paradise -

For more verses for Poetry Friday, visit Wild Rose Reader. Enjoy.

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25. Review: Michelle Obama - Meet the First Lady

Just in time for the inauguration festivities, several publishers released biographies of President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle for young readers. While there is not much new information about our charismatic First Lady, author David Bergen Brophy has written a credible and easy to understand account for readers aged 8-12.

The overarching story of Michelle Robinson Obama's life is that if you work hard, study hard, keep your family together, and think about someone other than yourself, the United States is still what most of us like to think it is, a place where anyone who works at it can make a good life for themselves and their family.

In this way, Michele Obama's story is a reassuring reminder to all of us that success is not so much luck as hard work. For children of color, her story and that of her husband's serve as beacons to the value of a good education and hard work. In our pop celebrity-filled world, kids can be forgiven for thinking that there are shortcuts to success.

Author Brophy makes it clear in this telling of Michelle Obama's story that her success would not have been possible without hard work and a good education. But beyond that, it is the passion that she shares with her husband about living outside your own desires to help those who need our help that clearly sets her apart from most of today's celebrities. Yes, she is beautiful and stylish and charismatic. But she is also a devoted wife, mother, daughter and sister. She gathers her strength from her family and her conviction that we must all look outside ourselves to help and to speak for those who need us.

I hope that the Obamas' call to public and social service will change our country once again, reminding all of us that we who are so blessed have an obligation to share ourselves with those who need our help. As Michelle said in her speech at the Denver Democratic Convention:

"I believe that all of us - no matter what our age and background or walk of life - each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation."

This is an extraordinary time in our country's history and as we saw this week during the Inauguration ceremonies, there is more that unites us than divides us as Americans, and that is what we should focus on.

Another review of this book can be found here.

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