The Quantum League: Spell Robbers

28 Jan

Today’s review is for The Quantum League #1: Spell Robbers, by Matthew J. Kirby, published by Scholastic. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Ben Warner has always felt a bit of an outsider. It’s probably because his eccentric mother is always moving them around to new places. When he’s invited to participate in an elite science camp, Ben decides to check it out. After all he likes science, and it means he won’t have to hang out at his mother’s office in the afternoon. He discovers that the camp is actually part of Dr. Madeleine Hughes’s research into Actuation–the ability to change reality through imagination. Even more exciting, Ben seems to be a natural. When a mysterious group of men show up to the lab one day to abduct Dr. Hughes and a prototype device, Ben and his friend Peter quickly find themselves in the middle of a war. It turns out that the world of Actuation is much bigger than they ever imagined–but will they be able to rescue Dr. Hughes before it’s too late?

Kirby has crafted a fast-paced science-fantasy adventure for the middle grade set. His plotting and pacing are spot-on. I found myself completely wrapped up in the story, frantically turning the pages to find out what would happen next. Every time I thought I had figured something out, I was thrown an unexpected twist that kept me on my toes. This in particular impressed me, because too often middle grade fiction feels predictable. While some aspects of the story feel grounded in common comic book story-lines, it is still refreshingly original.

I was pleased with the range of characters in the book, as well as their development. Ben, the protagonist, is an intelligent boy who cares deeply for his mother, no matter how much she frustrates him. Initially he is excited to discover that he can Actuate. But when the Quantum League wants to recruit him to their organization, he has little interest in getting involved. Even when he learns that he’s one of the most talented people they’ve seen, Ben would gladly give up his abilities to return to his mother’s side. Peter, while jealous of Ben’s natural talent, remains a loyal and trustworthy friend. Few of the secondary characters are quite who they seem to be at first guess–which is fun.

I can’t wait until the next book in the series is released! I’m hooked. This would be a great choice for middle grade readers who enjoy action, comics, and science-fantasy. It definitely has the potential become a new hit series for the 9-12 set. This volume gets a full 5 stars for being awesome. Sure, it has some great themes and messages for kids, but in this case I’d rather just focus on it being a fun read.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

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Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

27 Jan

Today’s book review is for Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence, written by Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Alix Delinois, published by Lerner Publishing. It is scheduled for release on February 1, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Mumbet's Declaration of Independence

While the American colonists were fighting for their independence from British rule, one woman was fighting for her freedom from slavery. Mumbet was a slave in the household of a wealthy Massachusetts man who was involved in the Revolutionary War. She hears him speak of all men being created equal and wonders if that includes her. When Massachusetts drafts its new constitution with those words, she decides to put the new law to the test. This beautiful picture book biography tells the story of the strong, proud woman whose court case set the precedent to abolish slavery in the state of Massachusetts.

Delinois’s illustrations set the tone for the story. The bold, saturated colors create a feeling of intensity. The angular and somber faces tell the audience that this is an important story. Each character’s body language reveals aspects of their personality. In the case of Mumbet, nearly always standing tall and looking out to the horizon, we see a woman of confidence, strength, and vision. I liked that the art wasn’t just visually pleasing, but added depth and nuance to the story.

The story itself is beautifully written. Woelfle was very skilled at paring down the narrative to be accessible to young readers, while keeping hold of the emotion of the story. I liked the way that she was able to make history come alive. While there are no records of precisely what Mumbet thought, writing the story from her perspective gave it a strong impact. Soon after I read it, I found myself sharing the story with my husband, because I’d found it so compelling.

For those who would like to expand their history lesson, there are additional resources at the end of the book. The first is the author’s note which explains how this story was preserved for posterity, what we don’t know about the story, and how Mumbet is now part of historical tours. The second resource is a selected bibliography which provides suggestions for books that might be of interest to readers who enjoyed this story and want to learn more on the topic.

This is a great book for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, a unit on the Revolutionary War, or discussion on the history of slavery in the United States. I’m giving the book 5 stars for being engaging and educational. It’s an excellent resource for teaching kids about history, and it’s a beautiful book to boot. It would be an excellent addition to any library, classroom, or home.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Princess Madeline and the Dragon Blog Tour

25 Jan

Princess Madeline and the Dragon - Tour Button - 3 Kirstin Pulioff

About the Book

Title: Princess Madeline and the Dragon (Princess Madeline Trilogy, Book #3)

Author: Kirstin Pulioff

Publication Date: November 26, 2013

Publisher: Caliburn Books

Number of pages: 135

Recommended age: 10+

Summary

After a season of battle and rebuilding, the Kingdom of Soron is exhausted. With the return of the exiled wizards, the Spring Faire, and her upcoming wedding, Princess Madeline is looking forward to a peaceful season of celebration. When the mysterious green dragon reappears, threatening the kingdom and the king, Princess Madeline and Prince Braden won’t rest for long. Faced with this incredible new danger, Princess Madeline and Prince Braden must find a way to lead their kingdom and secure their future. Can they find the answers hidden within their mother’s cryptic messages from the past, or will the dragon destroy everything they hold dear? Follow Princess Madeline as she embarks on a dangerous new adventure to save her kingdom and her family.

My Review

To be frank, after I read the second book, I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the series. I felt like that book would have been more aptly titled “Prince Paulsen’s Epic Temper Tantrum.” The story fell flat for me. Fortunately, Princess Madeline and the Dragon wasn’t just better–it’s the strongest book in the series.

The writing was far tighter than the previous two books–in terms of both plotting and editing. It was nice to see all of these clues that had been dropped through the previous books all finally come together. There was less purple prose, more character development, and wider scope. In short, Pulioff really hit her writing stride.

It was nice to see some character development in some of the secondary characters. Braden finally had a chance to shine–and the audience got to see him grow from an uncertain prince to a strong leader. Elias was given an even more prominent role, which I enjoyed. Princess Madeline is alright, but I was always most intrigued by the wizards. Even Sophia was given more agency; instead of just being Braden’s kissing partner and Madeline’s maidservant, she had the opportunity to make decisions for herself.

Which connects to why this was my favorite book of the series: it wasn’t all about Princess Madeline this time. She was still the protagonist, of course. But there was so much more going on–history, decoding prophecy, transitions, dragons. There was more at stake than who Princess Madeline would have to marry. And that made me feel more invested in the outcome.

I’ve decided to give the final book 4 stars. It has an engaging story, good world-building, and dynamic characters. Even though I’m not personally a big fan of romance, I think that it’s written in a way that will appeal to middle grade girls. I also appreciate that Daniel is never rude or condescending or otherwise engaging in misogynistic behavior–it’s a refreshing change from heroines falling for the arrogant show-off or the “misunderstood bad boy.” If there’s got to be romance in the story, I’m thankful that it’s modeling a healthy relationship to girls.

And Now For a Guest Post from the Author

Princess Perfect

When you think about fairy tales, what stands out most? The charming story-line, the medieval settings, the magical elements and enchantments? For me, the beauty of the fairy tale revolves around the princess. Pretty, perfect, sweet and demure, the princesses of traditional fairy tales have problems that need to be solved. Maybe it’s something with their sweet nature, or the simple desire for good to triumph, but I am easily swept up in the journey to find that happily ever after.

Let’s take a look at some of our favorite princesses and what makes them so memorable.

Snow White is considered the perfect princess. She is unassuming in her demeanor, sweet, calm, and naïve. Her dreams of love are inspiring, and her gestures of kindness make everyone love her and protect her in return. This is a story about love conquering all.

Cinderella is another classic tale. This is the perfect rags to riches story, as a normal girl finds her Prince. Growing up neglected and abused, it is amazing that she remained as sweet natured as she was. She’s proof that friendship is everywhere around you, even in the animals, and that dreams can come true.

Ariel is one of my favorites. I loved The Little Mermaid for many reasons, but especially for its turn away from the “perfect princess.” This story is an example of teenage rebellion at its finest. Ariel still stands out as beautiful, talented, and royal… but she is also spoiled, disobedient, and headstrong. She shows you how following your heart comes with risks but also the greatest rewards.

Princess Madeline is a modern take on the traditional fairy tale. While she certainly has some traits similar to the other princesses, beauty, charm, and strength, she also has a bit of rebellion and stubbornness thrown in. Balancing a blend of hard and soft qualities, Princess Madeline finds a way to show both strength and vulnerability as she learns lessons about growing up, the dynamics of relationships (family, friend, and love), and finds her inner strength.

So, if you like Disney princesses (and who doesn’t)*, and are looking for a new book, then Princess Madeline series may be a good choice for you.

(* A comment from Destiny: LOL. *raises hand*)

Purchase

Princess Madeline and the Dragon by Kirstin Pulioff

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Smashwords

About the Author: Kirstin Pulioff

Kirstin Pulioff

Kirstin Pulioff

Kirstin Pulioff is a storyteller at heart. Born and raised in Southern California, she moved to the Pacific Northwest to follow her dreams and graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Forest Management. Happily married and a mother of two, she lives in Oregon, and enjoys being a stay at home mom. When she’s not writing, she is busy with her kids and church.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

* $25 Blog Tour Giveaway *

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Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice)

Contest runs: January 13th to January 31st, 11:59 pm, 2014

Open: Internationally

How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, Kirstin Pulioff and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.

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Princess Madeline and the Dragon Blog Tour Schedule (2014)

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Breakfast With Bigfoot

23 Jan

Today’s book review is for Breakfast With Bigfoot, written by Amelia Cotter, illustrated by Charles Swinford, published by Black Oak Media. I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Breakfast With Bigfoot book cover

While young Gretchen is on a camping trip with her family, she decides to go for a short walk in the woods. She notices that the sun is getting low and starts to head back to camp–only to find that she’s lost. She does not, however, lose her wits. Instead, she thinks back to lessons from nature camp and decides to wait until someone finds her. She just never expected that it would be Bigfoot who finds her! This humorous story offers young children sound advice for basic outdoors skills.

This is one of those cases where I’m actually shocked that the publisher printed the book as it exists in this edition. The writing is sound. The illustrations are nice. The book design, however, is terrible. The paper is of such low quality that the text shows through to the other side of the page–which sometimes muddies up the illustrations. The font selection is pretty tacky. And for a target audience of 3-6 year old kids, there is far too much text on each page. At one point, I was tempted to just scan the illustrations and re-design the book for myself. The good news on this front is that a revised edition is in the works. I’ve been told that it will be printed on higher quality paper and will feature some layout changes.

When I started reading the book to my daughter, she was interested in the story. As a parent, I found that the text was fairly easy to read aloud and had a kid-friendly tone. There were a few moments where it felt like narrator asides were talking down to the audience a little. “Oh no! Gretchen is lost!” is one such example. We’ve just heard that she doesn’t think she’s on the right path–the target audience should be able to deduce that she’s lost without it being spelled out. There are other places where the prose could be tightened up a bit. Overall, though, the story flows smoothly and has a good balance of humor and teachable moments.

Swinford’s pencil and watercolor illustrations are fun. I really enjoyed the facial expressions and body language of both Gretchen and Bigfoot. The pictures complemented the text nicely. They made it easier to understand what was happening in the story. My primary complaint with the illustrations was that I wished there had been a few more. For the age group of the target audience, the visual element is important. There were no full-page illustrations–but there were full pages of text. The text and imagery balance was way off for a picture book.

This has been an incredibly difficult book for me to evaluate. Poor design is one of the biggest hurdles for me to get past when reviewing a book. I feel like the book itself earns 2 stars, while the content merits 3 stars. But I’ve got high hopes for the revised edition. I love that Cotter is working to teach young kids basic survival skills–stay calm, stay in one place, don’t eat strange foods. As a parent who already takes her daughter hiking and plans to take her camping soon, too, it’s nice to have a resource like this available. Cotter’s onto a great idea; now she just needs the editorial guidance to help her shine.

You can find more information about this book at Goodreads.

Kid Lit Blog Hop #31

22 Jan

Sometimes time just gets away from you–especially when you’ve been sick for a few days. Suddenly, it’s Wednesday, I’m two reviews behind and wondering how I’ll catch up (not to mention dishes, laundry, and other housekeeping). Fortunately I had Monday and Tuesday’s reviews mostly written, so they should be up later today (Mommy and Me Start Cooking by DK and Jungle of Bones by Ben Mikaelsen). And keep watch for upcoming reviews of Breakfast With Bigfoot, The Quantum League: Spell Robbers, Princess Madeline and the Dragon, Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence and more.

In the meantime, it’s time for another Kid Lit Blog Hop! So, get your links ready and prepare to hop around discovering great children’s books.


Welcome to the 31st Kid Lit Blog Hop where twice per month (the 1st and 3rd Wednesday) we continue to develop a dynamic and engaged community of children’s books bloggers, authors, publishers, and publicists. So, you are always more than welcome to join us by popping in a post and hopping around to meet some of your fellow Kid Lit bloggers and authors!

We are pleased to welcome a new full-time permanent hostess on the Hop, Mia from the parenting and book blog, Pragmatic Mom is joining us! Big welcome to Mia and a big THANK YOU to my fellow hostesses – you are all amazing bloggers and authors.

Happy Hopping everyone and enjoy the Hop!

Kid Lit Blog Hop
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Kid Lit Blog Hop Rules *Please Read*

1. We ask that you kindly follow your hostesses. You can follow us any way you choose (Email, GFC, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Pinterest, etc.), but we’ve added our preferences below. If you could just give us a quick “follow” or “like” that would be much appreciated! Make sure to leave us a message if you are following us (i.e., on Twitter or Facebook or on our websites) and we will be sure to follow you back. Thanks! 🙂

Hostesses:

Renee @ Mother Daughter Book Reviews Facebook * Twitter

Jaymie @ Snacks for Max Twitter * Facebook

Katie @ Youth Literature Reviews Twitter * Facebook

Julie Grasso, Author/ Blogger Twitter * Facebook

Cheryl Carpinello, Author / Blogger Twitter * Facebook

Reshama @ Stacking Books Twitter * Facebook

Stacie @ BeachBoundBooks Twitter * Facebook

Destiny @ Reading and Sharing Twitter * Facebook

Lina @ Best 4 Future: Bringing Up Baby Bilingual Twitter * Facebook

Mia @ Pragmatic Mom Twitter * Facebook

2. Link up any Kid Lit related post. This can be a link to a children’s book review, a discussion about children’s literature/literacy, or a post on a recently-read children’s book or one that you love from your childhood.

* Don’t link directly to your blog, it must be a specific post.*

* For Authors, we prefer you to link to your blog if you have one. Please link unique posts each time ~ no repeats please. *

* Make sure you include an image relevant to the POST (e.g., book cover), not your blog button or photo of yourself.*

* Feel free to link more than one post.*

3. Please visit AT LEAST the TWO LINKS directly ahead of your own and leave them some love in the form of a comment. We are trying to build a community of bloggers, readers, parents, authors, and others who are as passionate about children’s literature as we are so please CONNECT and follow any or all of the blogs that interest you!

4. If you like, grab the button above and put it somewhere on your blog, preferably the post you’re linking up. If you’d prefer, you can just add a text link back to this Hop so that others can find it and check out all these great book links!

5. It would really help us get the word out about the Kid Lit Blog Hop if you would be so kind as to tweet, share, and spread the word about the Hop!

Interested in co-hosting the Kid Lit Blog Hop? Please email renee @ motherdaughterbookreviews (dot) com and put Co-Hosting Blog Hop in the subject line.

Happy Hopping!

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Jungle of Bones

21 Jan

Today’s book review is for Jungle of Bones, by Ben Mikaelsen, published by Scholastic. It is scheduled for release on January 28, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Jungle of Bones book cover

Dylan Barstow has a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas. Ever since his father died, he keeps getting in trouble. But when he steals a car from the junkyard to spin donuts in a field, his mother gives him an ultimatum: spend the summer before 8th grade in lockup or spend it with ex-Marine Uncle Todd. Reluctantly Dylan chooses Uncle Todd. Soon he discovers that Uncle Todd has bigger plans for the summer than early morning jogs–they’re going to take a trip to Papua New Guinea to join a team of 3 other people in search of the wreckage of WWII bomber Second Ace. When Dylan gets lost in the jungle, he finally has to confront the realization that he is not the center of the universe. If he wants to survive, he’s going to have to abandon his assumptions and anger.

Recently I realized that I’d need to push myself to read outside of my “comfort genres” in order to better serve my audience. The synopsis for this title sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a try. It turned out that the story was so engaging, I stayed up well past my bedtime to finish the book in one sitting.

It was the descriptions of Papua New Guinea, the jungle and the struggle for survival that really hooked me in. They were skillfully written. I could imagine the smells and the oppressive humidity. I could picture the shanties and villages. Everything felt so vivid, alive and alien. That sort of powerful description can be hard to master. Some writers over-do it, using purple prose and redundant adjectives. Mikaelsen nails it, though.

Sometimes it is hard for me to get into a book when I don’t really like the main character. And I did not like Dylan very much. That said, I knew him (because he was so much like other young men I’ve met in my life) and I cared about him. He was completely self-absorbed, disrespectful, and a real pain in the behind–but I could also recognize the pain underlying his behaviors and wanted for him to heal and move on with his life.

I could have done with a little less of the heavy-handed jingoism, though. The military history in the story was wonderful. In particular, I found the journal entries in the journal of Dylan’s grandfather to be well-done and informative. I also liked when they visited a veteran in a nursing home and got to hear his story. However, there was also a tone of military worship to the book, and a bit too much “The USA is the savior of everyone” attitude (as though Dylan’s uncle forgot that there were other countries fighting alongside the United States in World War II).

In the final assessment, though, I was able to get passes my discomforts and enjoy a well-crafted story. I liked how it encouraged inter-generational relationships, emotional healing, a respect for history, and valuing cultures that are vastly different from one’s own. It’s a great book for young people who enjoy the genres of adventure and survival. It might also be a good selection for young people who are lashing out at the world after dealing with a traumatic life event. I’m giving the book 4 stars.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Mommy and Me Start Cooking

20 Jan

Today’s book review is for Mommy and Me Start Cooking from Dorling Kindersley. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

Mommy and Me Start Cooking book cover

Mommy and Me Start Cooking is a wonderful first cookbook for school aged children. In addition to introducing children to basic cooking techniques, it also includes detailed information on a number of ingredients. The bold design and use of infographics make for a book that is sure to engage children and get them excited about being in the kitchen.

The first thing that I noticed about this book was the great design. It’s quite visually appealing. Text is presented in fun, kid-friendly fonts that are still easy to read. Illustrations combine elements from photography, clipart and traditional illustration to create a lively visual environment. Most of all, though, I was drawn to the infographics. Infographics such as charts and diagrams make it easier for kids to process new information. Instructions are provided in text, with accompanying photos so children can understand the actions described. There are even warning triangles to indicate steps that should be done either by an adult, or under adult supervision. I was really impressed by how thoughtful the designers were in putting the book together.

The recipes cover all three meals of the day, as well as snacks and desserts. I appreciated the range provided. As a vegetarian, I also appreciated that efforts were made to suggest alternatives to meat in some of the recipes. I was most intrigued by the recipes for star cookies, blueberry sponge, and pea houmous. The star cookies incorporate ginger and orange zest to make them special. Using peas to make houmous was a novel and appealing idea. My only real complaint about the recipes is that I wish they incorporated more vegetables. Getting children to eat vegetables can be a challenge for some parents–but I think if they were encouraged to help in their preparation it might help.

This cookbook offers ample opportunities for teaching moments. There are asides about various ingredients that explain where they come from, how they are harvested, etc. Measuring ingredients for the recipes helps kids develop math skills. For an extra challenge, you could figure out how to double a recipe to serve more people. After observing how ingredients combine and transform, children could read about different aspects of food chemistry. A child interested in geography could research where various crops originated. Or you can simply enjoy learning the basic life skills of food preparation, and enjoy consuming the fruits of your labor.

Mommy and Me Start Cooking is sure to engage children and teach them to appreciate home-cooked food. With great design, fun variety, and age-appropriate content, this book earns 4 stars. And the recipes are simple enough that even parents who lack culinary savvy should be able to execute the recipes with their kids.

You can find more information about this book on Goodreads.

Netta and Her Plant

16 Jan

Happy Tu B’Shevat! Today’s book review is for Netta and Her Plant, written by Ellie B. Gellman, illustrated by Natascia Ugliano, published by Kar-Ben Publishing. I purchased a copy of this book for my daughter’s library.

Netta and her Plant book cover

One Tu B’Shevat (the Jewish New Year for the trees), little Netta plants a seedling at her pre-school. She brings the plant home and cares for it with love and devotion. A seasons pass, Netta and her plant grow up together. This is a touching story about nurture and growth that celebrates the life cycle.

I’ve been working to add more books with Jewish themes to my daughter’s library, to keep her connected to her heritage. When I saw this book while searching on Amazon, I was immediately drawn to it. The cover art was beautiful and the story would give me opportunity to introduce my daughter to a new holiday.

The narrative prose is gentle and easy to read aloud. There’s a nice structure to the writing, too. The story is told in an episodic structure, with a repeated refrain of “The plant grew. Netta grew.” The structure helps to reinforce the idea of the seasonal cycle, growth, and renewal. Word choices are age appropriate and sentence structures are varied. I appreciate that it doesn’t talk down to children.

I fell in love with the illustrations. Initially I had some reservations about the style, but each time I read with my daughter, I find myself liking the pictures more and more. The images look to be drawn in pencil and then colored with heavily textured colored pencil. There are many beautifully rendered hand-drawn patterns on the clothing of various characters. The characters’ wide-set eyes give the impression of kindness and friendliness. Despite their simple facial features, Ugliano manages to convey great emotional depth on her characters.

This book is a wonderful choice for Jewish parents who want to help their children stay connected to their culture and traditions. It’s also a great choice for other parents who want to expose their children to other cultures. At the end of the book there is a small glossary of Hebrew words used in the text, as well as a short explanation of Tu B’Shevat. It’s also a great way to encourage children to value and feel a deeper connection to the natural world. I’m giving the book 5 stars. It’s a beautifully executed work that can be enjoyed by both parent and child.

You can find more information about this book on Goodreads.

Dream Birthday

15 Jan

Today’s book review is for Dream Birthday, by Ruby Ann Phillips, published by Picture Window Books (an imprint of Capstone Young Readers. This book is scheduled for release on February 1, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Dream Birthday book cover

Krystal Ball is a fairly typical fourth grader, except for one thing. She’s a fortune teller. She’s great at predicting the future, but she’s not always so good at interpreting her visions. Her birthday is coming up and she’s ready to have an amazing party. The problem is, she keeps having horrible nightmares. In this installment of a new series for 6-8 year olds, Krystal will learn that even things look grim, there can still be a silver lining.

Phillips does an excellent job in her first person narration of capturing the voice of a nine-year old girl. Initially, I was unsure about whether I liked the narrative style–but as I read more, I realized that it was perfect for the target audience. The voice was believable, friendly and inviting. It is crafted in such a way as to engage young readers and draw them into the mysteries of the story.

I enjoy that Krystal has solid relationships not just with her parents, but also with her grandmother. The multi-generational aspect of the story was nice. Even though Krystal has a special gift, she needs the guidance of her grandmother to understand how to use it. I also like that even though her parents don’t have any psychic abilities, they are understanding of their daughter and encourage her to spend time with her grandmother.

For an early chapter book, I actually found the plot pretty engaging. As a reader you get to see the visions that Krystal has. Which means that you also have the opportunity to try to puzzle out what they mean. Even when you suspect the answer, chances are it’s not going to be quite what you thought.

This is exactly the sort of book that I think I would have enjoyed as a young girl. I remember being fascinated with fortune telling and astrology at that age. And Krystal is such a likable character. I could easily see her being someone’s go-to “book friend.” I’m going to give Dream Birthday 4 stars for fun concept, engaging plot, and appropriateness for target audience.

If you’re still not sure, check out the book trailer:

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

My Grandfather’s Masbaha

14 Jan

Today’s book review is for My Grandfather’s Masbaha, written by Susan Daniel Fayad, illustrated by Avery Liell-Kok, self-published through Author House. I received a free paperback copy of this book through a First Reads giveaway on Goodreads, with the expectation that I would post an honest review.

My Grandfather's Masbaha book cover

My Grandfather’s Masbaha begins with a little boy, Adam, throwing a temper tantrum when his friends all go home and he’s left with nothing to do. As his hyperbole grows, his Jidoo (grandfather) starts to laugh. Then he pulls out a string of prayer beads known as a masbaha to help Adam count his blessings. At first he is reluctant to share his grandfather’s perspective, but by the end he is able to understand.

Like many self-published works, this book would have benefited from an extra round of editing. There were numerous typographical errors, however, it was the writing style itself which I felt could use refining. First of all, the descriptive language has a lot of redundancy–“more and more”, “redder and redder”, etc. These sorts of repetitions don’t add to the story, especially since there is still plenty of other descriptive language. Next, I found a lot of the dialogue to feel stunted and unnatural. In particular, I thought that the lack of contractions in the first couple of pages felt awkward–it made me think of Data in Star Trek. Finally, a lot of the dialogue tags were also poorly written. In an attempt to add variety to her language, the author sometimes made odd word choices such as “chimed Adam.” I think of bells as chiming, but not so much children.

The illustrations were servicable. They were a bit flat and amateurish, but they did accompany the story well. I just wish there had been more dimension to them. The black outline and flat color style just didn’t work for me. Jidoo was depicted with some pretty good facial expressions, but in contrast, Adam’s seemed lacking.

What I did like about the book was that it gives children exposure to Lebanese culture. I enjoyed learning more about the masbaha and how different people use it for different purposes. There is even a page at the end that provides more information about the masbaha. I also liked how the story focused on learning to recognize one’s blessings.

Overall the book had a nice concept, but the execution was lacking. With stronger editorial oversight, higher quality illustrations, and professional design, this could be a great book. As it stands, though, it was a mediocre book whose biggest appeal is unusual content. I’m giving it 2 stars. Kids will probably like the story alright and enjoy being exposed to a new culture, but I don’t think it’s worth the money to purchase it.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.