Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New releases by favorite authors

I've reviewed enough of the books by Mo Willems and Sandra Boynton that I don't feel the need to post new reviews of their latest, however, I did want ya'll to know they were available!

Should I Share My Ice Cream? is part of the adorable Elephant & Piggie series by Mo Willems and is great for emerging readers (or ya know...a 28 year old without children in the house). 

Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton is a new board book perfect for toddlers (or again, an old lady like myself). 

Both are available now!

Thanks to Disney-Hyperion and Simon/Schuster for the review copies. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday: Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships

One word. ADORABLE. The animal friendships featured in this book are completely unexpected, but so much fun to read about. From the orangutan and the tabby cat to the badger and the fox and my favorite, the dog and the cheetah, you'll be "awwwwing" all the way through the book and the kids won't be able to stop flipping through either. 

I loved the inclusion of a short poem on each page about friendship for each animal pair, such a nice touch to the already sweet book. The photographs are gorgeous and the paragraphs on the friendships were the perfect length for younger children. 

More of a fun book to look at and talk about than an "educational" book, the overall lesson that comes across is one of tolerance of differences. Don't get me wrong, great things can be learned from this book, however it's more fun than "fact."

Great as a companion to Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland. Same concepts with more in-depth stories and beautiful photographs. Selling this like crazy at the store!

Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships
Catherine Thimmesh
32 pages
Houghton Mifflin
May 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Sweetness of Tears review

Jo March, named for her mother's favorite character in the classic, Little Women, has grown up in an Evangelical Christian family, with two loving parents and her twin brother Chris by her side. With the help of her high school biology class, Jo discovers that her father is not her biological father and instead, a Muslim man who knows nothing about her is the one who helped bring her into life. Obviously the waters are instantly muddied, not simply because her mother lied to her most of her life, but because a Christian girl is faced with having a Muslim father...something Jo is totally unfamiliar with. 

The book told in parts by Jo, her biological father Sadiq, Jo's mother Angela, and Deena, Sadiq's mother and Jo's biological grandmother, spans years, faiths, and beliefs. Jo, through work with the U.S. government, becomes part of the war on terror, bringing her even closer to the part of her family she's grown up without, while the other main characters each deal with their own faith journeys and process of realizing what family really means. 

I really enjoyed the underlying message of familial sacrifice and redemption and the interwoven stories, as the reader gets a look into the differing perspectives of each character, rather than just Jo. The portions that took place in Pakistan were fascinating and I think Deena ended up being my favorite character for how realistic her part of the story was. And I loved the aspects of bridging cultures and religions, despite what history may have said. 

I did feel that I lacked a connection with Sadiq as a character, though he did have his own chapters and that the overall book was a bit long. A lot of stories were blended into the book and some of them took much longer to get through than others. I did really appreciate Haji's writing style and did enjoy the book as a whole, despite some minor issues. 

A fast read, great for the beach!

The Sweetness of Tears
Nafisa Haji
400 pages
Adult fiction
William Morrow
June 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ashes, Ashes review

I'm a sucker for anything described as "post-apocalyptic" or "dystopian" and the when I saw the cover of this one, I knew I'd be picking it up fairly quickly. I'm a cover-judger, what can I say...

So, Lucy grew up a fairly normal kid, going to high school and dealing with all that comes with being a teenager, and living with her family. When a plague hits the planet, 99% of the population is wiped out, leaving Lucy the only survivor from her family, and virtually all alone, attempting to survive on her own. 

Lucy makes it for over a year, all by herself, before meeting Aidan after he saves her from a pack of dogs. She reluctantly joins up with him and the group he's been living with, knowing that hiding from the Sweepers, a sort of "police-force" that cleans up the dead from the plague and kidnaps the healthy for their own research, may be easier with someone else on her side. They work together to survive and maintain a new normalcy in the midst of a New York City none of us could ever really imagine. 

I was pulled into the book from the cover and with the exception of a couple minor places was held in by the action until the end. I loved Lucy's character, with her strong will and her determination not to give up on surviving, even after losing everything and everyone she's ever known. The romance between Lucy and Aidan was sweet, despite the circumstances, and it was woven into the story well. 

I believe we're looking at a trilogy for this one and though it wasn't my favorite in terms of post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels, I'll definitely look for the others. 

Ashes, Ashes
Jo Treggiari
352 pages
Young Adult
June 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji review

I usually only do picture book posts on Saturdays with my Picture Book Saturday compilations, but this one has so much going for it, it deserves its own day. Storytelling, facts about Indian-American culture, lots of family moments, and FOOD are all included in this story and I loved every minute of it. 

Aneel loves listening to his grandfather's stories from India and after hearing of his Dada-ji's many crazy adventures all fueled by fresh, steaming hot roti, Aneel wants to make some roti too! After eating their hot, hot roti, Aneel and Dada-ji are able to make their own adventures in their backyard. 

Filled with a nice feeling of family and love, the combination of the stories from India, the energy of Dada-ji, and the yummy roti process, this is a fantastic multicultural picture book. Traditional Hindi words and phrases are woven into the story beautifully and all explained in a glossary in the back. 

I do wish a recipe for roti was included, but the love that poured off the page  made up for that, as did Ken Min's bright, fun illustrations. A really great choice for family reading, teaching about other cultures, etc. 

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji
F. Zia
32 pages
Picture Book
Lee & Low Books
April 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, June 20, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday: Oil Spill!

I've been waiting for a great book to be published about last year's Gulf oil spill and Elaine Landau has done a fantastic job with this one. The bold, in-your-face cover is an immediate introduction to what readers will find inside the book, which is chock full of great info. 

The oil spill back in April of 2010 was the biggest spill in the history of the United States and thus deserves an in-depth explanation of how it happened, what trauma it caused, and how it's being fixed. Landau breaks down all the "stuff" into a very readable format, while still including all the essential facts. The text is not at all heavy (very important when it comes to non-fiction for kids) and is mixed in with detailed photographs of the water, the animals, and the cleanup effort. Great illustrations of what went on underwater are also included. 

The book is broken up into 5 chapters, each with a specific theme, following the timeline of the spill. Chapter 1 is all about the day of the spill and Chapter 5 ends up with "What's to Be Done." There is also a section on "Oil's Messy History," explaining a bit about other oil spills, as well as a section on what we can do from our own homes/towns. 

A very nice resource for classrooms and libraries. 

Oil Spill! Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
Elaine Landau
32 pages
Millbrook Books
March 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Picture Book Saturday

Two incredibly visually stimulating books for you all this weekend. Enjoy!

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet by Leslie McGuirk is brilliant in its concept. So brilliant that I wish I had thought of it! 

Taking completely unaltered rocks the author personally found, we are given a simple, yet totally cool alphabet book. The rocks are each in the shape of a letter of the alphabet, as is whatever the letter is standing for. We have "b is for bear," "q is for question mark," "i is for igloo," and my favorite "g is for ghosts." 

At the end, readers are given a neat explanation of how McGuirk came about the idea of this book and how the collection even came to be. I was so glad to see these tidbits included, because I was definitely wondering as I flipped through the pages. 

This one is great for kids AND parents. Visually stimulating and a lot of it just may spawn some ideas for kids starting their own cool collection. 

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet
Leslie McGuirk
48 pages
Picture Book
Tricycle Press
May 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

To Market, to Market by Nikki McClure (also the illustrator of the beautiful All in a Day) has created a beautiful and educational story with a nice story included as well. 

Focusing on the wonders of a farmers market, the pages switch between a story about a family going to visit the market and facts about how different fruits and vegetables end up at the market. We learn about kale, apples, honey, cheese, and even napkins!

The text is paired with beautiful illustrations that are totally unique to this illustrator. I've never seen anything like them before and I've loved staring at all the books McClure has been a part of!

This one would make a really nice book for those wanting to introduce their kids to how great farmers markets are and how we really should be thanking the farmers for providing us with such wonderful produce and other products. 

To Market, to Market
Nikki McClure
40 pages
Picture Book
April 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cool Stuff Every Kid Should Know review

After flipping through these four books that came in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago, I was really impressed with both the series concept and the presentation. Each is based on a city in the United States and uses fact boxes, illustrations, photographs, and lists to inform kids on everything and anything having to do with that area of the county. 

I was able to review the books that were closest to my region of the U.S, including Richmond, Charleston, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Each page is bright and bold and entirely readable. Small anecdotes are included with the photographs/illustrations and the facts are FUN. Nothing dry or boring on these pages! 

My favorite part of each book was the short "Birds and Words" section at the back. These were the facts that I find fun and silly, like a state's bird or a state's official drink. Why do we have an official drink anyways?! Virginia's state drink, by the way, is milk. 

Very cool books, short, yet informative. They would make great additions to any classroom or library. There are 21 books in the series from all over the country!

Just a note on the publisher, Arcadia Kids, they make/print/assembly every single book in the U.S., which I LOVE. And their books are printed on paper from well-managed forests. FSC Mixed Source certified! Awesome job Arcadia Kids!

Thanks to Raab Associates for the review copies. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair review

There's nothing like a good book about reading to make a book lover happy! I knew I was in for a treat when I first received this book in the mail, but it truly was a complete delight from start to finish, even with the heavy subject.

Author Nina Sankovitch's sister passed away after a short, yet terribly painful battle with cancer. Not quite sure how to deal with the grief of losing her sister and get back into every day life, Sankovitch decides to "take a year off" and do something that not only provides pure pleasure, but also allows her to feel connected to her sister in a way unlike any other. Thus begins her journey of reading a book a day for an entire year. 

Being a both a wife and mother to four boys, I thought Sankovitch quite crazy for believing she would be able to pull off a feat as large as 365 books (especially after seeing some of her titles of choice). I can't even manage to read a book a day and I don't have ANY children in my home! The author, however, successfully manages to read book a day, using the literature as her means of comfort and escape from her sadness, all done in her cozy purple chair. 

I was able to feel the emotion on every page, as Sankovitch read through different types of literature and used it to bring to light her feelings on her sister's death, their childhood, and her current state of being. She muses thoughts on the books she reads (adding more than a few to my TBR pile), as well as her family, her emotional state, and her method of truly allowing herself to slow down and live in the moment. We all could learn a thing or two from this woman!

I savored the pages of this memoir and would definitely recommend it for any book lover. Beautifully done!

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
Nina Sankovitch
256 pages
June 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand review

I feel like I'm one of the last people to read this book! For the last few months all I've been hearing is raves about Major Pettigrew and now I definitely understand why readers have been so completely enchanted by this story. I fell in love with it.

Major Earnest Pettigrew is a charmer for sure, though he certainly doesn't realize it! Widowed and now quite set in his independent ways, the Major is taken by surprise when he begins falling for the lovely Jasmina Ali, a beautiful and intelligent shopkeeper in town. 

Though the book's main focus tended to be on the Major's missteps while attempting to woo Jasmina, there are also wonderfully witty side stories seamlessly woven in. Greedy relatives wanting to sell the one possession the Major has always cherished of his father's, a group of wealthy and snooty country club characters managing to wrangle the Major into an upcoming themed event, and Jasmina's strict family all play roles, truly drawing the reader into this delightful story. 

I took this book with me to the beach last month and just could not put it down. I laughed out loud more than once (many times in fact) and really appreciated the rich prose of Simonson, dense with beautiful words and an absolutely charming story. Never before have I been so interested in the love life of an older couple, but I was certainly cheering on the Major and Jasmina. 

This would make an excellent book club many things to talk about! I fell in love with Simonson's writing and I really hope she has more for us soon!

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Helen Simonson
384 pages
Adult Fiction
Random House
November 2010
Purchased copy

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Some inspiration for your week!

Though I do read a fair amount of Christian non-fiction, I definitely don't share a whole lot of it on this blog, more for personal reasons than anything else. I often read these as a form of Bible study and since I don't have conversations about Bible study "stuff" with most of my online friends, I leave a lot of these for word-of-mouth reviews. 

That being said, I really enjoyed these two and wanted to share them with you, in the event that either you or someone you know might enjoy them as well. 

The first, The Fitting Room by Kelly Minter is one of my favorites that I've read in this genre in quite awhile. Using Colossians 3:12 as a focus ("Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.") we are guided through how we can get rid of negative qualities and literally "clothe ourselves in Christ."

I found Winter funny, insightful, and thought-provoking and her message totally relevant to my life. The chapters are short, which made it perfect for a daily Bible study, but they're deep enough that you'll definitely be able to take away a lot of good self-reflection and new knowledge of the word. 

The Fitting Room
Kelly Minter
208 pages
April 2011

The second book I've enjoyed lately is Revise Us Again: Living from a Renewed Christian Script by Frank Viola. The theme is a long the same lines as The Fitting Room, with the idea of revising our lives to become more like Jesus, though this one covers 10 specific areas in a somewhat more serious manner. 

I tend to like a bit of humor thrown in with my Bible study, as it seems to help the information stick. I definitely felt pushed to actually "study" with this one, but I enjoyed being challenged and in the end, came away learning a lot. 

Revise Us Again
Frank Viola
176 pages
April 2011

I was lucky enough to get these for review from the B&B Media Group, so thank you to them. Back to regularly scheduled blogging tomorrow!!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday: Weird Sports

Despite it's unfortunate cover, Weird Sports would be a great addition to a library or classroom collection. I'm always on the lookout for books that will appeal to reluctant readers, as well as to sports fans, and this one has that great combination of being unique, being presented in a readable format, and also including some excellent "weirdness."

Mixed in with brief (and funny!) explanations about all sorts of strange sports are fun fact boxes and tips from the pros of the sports shown in super-bright colors. The page layouts are fantastic and the photographs are clear and really illustrate the sport well. 

The reader will learn about everything from mullet tossing (yep...tossing fish is a sport) to toilet racing and cheese rolling. Some are utterly ridiculous (uhhh...chess boxing?) and some are just plain fun (underwater hockey anyone??). I had a ton of fun flipping through this book!

Again, I have to mention the cover. It totally does not do the book justice and should have been scrapped for a nice bold photograph like those featured inside. Don't let the cover scare you away, it's a book worth having!

Weird Sports
Michael Teitelbaum
48 pages
Beach Ball Books
April 2011

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Picture Book Saturday

Buglette the Messy Sleeper by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Buglette is always picked on for being a very messy sleeper. She's a very neat and organized bug, like the rest of her family, during the day, but at night she has such BIG dreams, that she can't help the mess she makes of her bed. And when her messiness manages to save the family from a hungry bird, everyone begins to view Buglette's differences in a new light. 

The illustrations are super cute and the message of accepting each other's differences isn't too heavy-handed, while still being affective. Don't be afraid to dream big, be different (or be a messy sleeper)! 

Buglette the Messy Sleeper
Bethanie Deeney Murguia
32 pages
Picture Book
Tricycle Press
May 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore and illustrator Howard McWilliam

On the beach one day, a young boy builds a sand castle and a dragon instantly moves in! The boy gets an instant pal, one who toasts marshmallows, serves as a raft, and scares away bullies. Awesome dragon. Problem is, no one believes in the dragon...

Showing us the important power of a huge imagination, this author/illustrator team has created a really cute story with bright, vibrant, attention-getting pictures. The illustrations definitely shine in this one!

A couple of years ago, I fell in love with the book I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll. Same illustrator as this one and the pages are just as gorgeous. I think Howard McWilliam is on my list of faves now for sure. 

When a Dragon Moves In
Jodi Moore
32 pages
Picture Book
Flashlight Press
May 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New graphic novel fun!

Babymouse is back and she's bringing a new friend with her! The 14th book in the crazy-popular Babymouse series, titled Mad Scientist, was just released and in it she introduces us to Squish, an amoeba who has his own graphic novel, Super Amoeba, also out now.

These are great for reluctant readers or for those not quite ready to step into the realm of longer graphic novels. They're short, silly, and adorable. Jennifer and Matthew Holm know what they're doing to get kids reading...I recommend them all the time!

Thanks to Random House for sending over these review copies!