Tag Archives: 5 stars

Don’t Dangle Your Participle

1 Apr

Today’s book review is for Don’t Dangle Your Participle, written by Vanita Oelschlager, illustrated by Mike Desantis, published by Vanita Books. It is scheduled to be released on May 1, 2014. I recevied an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Don't Dangle Your Participle book cover

“What on earth is a participle and how does it dangle?” That’s the opening question in one of the most entertaining grammar guides I’ve encountered. With clear explanations and amusingly illustrated examples, Don’t Dangle Your Participle helps to demystify a sometimes confusing topic.

Oelschlager begins by laying out a brief grammar lesson for her readers. Her relaxed conversational tone, complete with colloquial language makes the subject accessible to children. It’s a pleasant departure from the traditionally dry language of English textbooks. Oelschlager recognizes that if we want young people to learn, we need to be able to address them in their own language.

The rest of the book is a series of examples. First we are shown an incorrectly formed sentence, then on the following page the corrected form. But what makes it so effective are the clever illustrations of Mike Desantis. The pages with the incorrect sentences will have you laughing. From skateboarding deer to gluttonous cakes on the run, he helps students to see the problems that arise from dangling participles. His ink and watercolor cartoons are lively and engaging.

This is the sort of book that deserves to be in classrooms and on homeschool shelves. It makes a traditionally dull subject amusing and engaging. More than that, though, Oelschlager demonstrates an understanding of how children best learn–not just by rote, but by engaging multiple senses. A solid educational resource, Don’t Dangle Your Participle earns 5 out of 5 stars for its laugh-while-you-learn approach.

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

January Round-Up

31 Jan

It’s the end of the month, which means it’s time to start a new feature here at Reading and Sharing: End-of-Month Round-Up! At the end of each month, I will highlight some of the best books I’ve read this month. I’ll also link to some great reviews that have been posted by others. Feel free to add some of your own favorites in the comments.

FIVE STAR BOOKS

Eddie and Dog

Netta and Her Plant

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence

The Quantum League: Spell Robber

Not My Girl

FROM OTHERS

Look Up! @ Stacking Books

Josephine @ Stanley and Katrina

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy @ Spirit of Children’s Literature

Let There Be Light @ Create With Joy

North of Nowhere @ The Ninja Librarian

What books did you love this month? What reviews impressed you or made you want to pick up a new book? What are you looking forward to reading in February?

Not My Girl

29 Jan

Today’s review is for Not My Girl, written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, published by Annick Press. It is scheduled for release on February 18, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of the book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Not My Girl book cover

In this beautiful picture book memoir, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton recounts her return to her family after spending two years at a Canadian residential school. When Margaret steps off the boat to return to her village, her mother uses her limited English to declare “Not my girl.” This is the beginning of Margaret’s journey of re-integrating to her familial culture after two years of assimilation. She finds that she has forgotten most of her language and fumbles at chores that used to be easy. Even her father’s sled dogs, with whom she used to share affection, treat her as an outsider. This is a moving story that opens a window to a troubling period of history. However, its uplifting ending will reassure children that no matter how much they grow and change–they can always return to the love of their family.

Although I had heard about residential schools for First Nations children, this was my first time actually reading about their impacts. While it seems that the staff at the school treated Margaret with kindness, her narrative reveals that they still caused unintended harm to many children. The pain of facing rejection by their families after returning as outsiders must have left psychological scars. I am thankful that she chose to share her story, thus giving younger generations the chance to learn about a piece of history that seems not to be discussed very often.

The writing has a plainness and clarity to it, which is punctuated by moments of poetic imagery. It’s a style that works well. The narrative voice captures the emotional tone of a 10-year old girl, overlaid with the reflections of a grown woman. Children should be able to connect with the voice of the child, while parents will appreciate the perspective of revisiting the past.

Grimard’s soft illustrations provide a beautiful complement to the story. The abundance of orange-tinted light in her pictures perfectly captures the feeling of Arctic winter, where the sun is always low on the horizon. At the same time it also creates a sensation of familial warmth. Most of all, I loved how deeply expressive the characters were. Every face evoked a strong emotional response. Whenever she drew Margaret as a sad young girl, I felt an ache in my heart. I love when an artist is able to elicit such a reaction.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’m giving it a full 5 stars for being such a powerful and moving work. It provides abundant opportunity to talk with children about history, Inuit culture, assimilation programs, geography, and family dynamics. The book is targeted to readers in grades 1-4, although I think it could be enjoyed by a much wider audience.

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

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.

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.

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.

Eddie and Dog

6 Jan

Today’s book review is for Eddie and Dog, by Alison Brown, published by Capstone Young Readers. It is scheduled for release on February 1, 2014. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Eddie and Dog book cover

Eddie and Dog is a beautiful new picture book about a young boy, Eddie, who craves adventure. One day, he find a dog who wants adventure, too. But Eddie’s mom says he can’t keep the dog, because they’re yard is too small and the dog will be unhappy. Yet each time the dog is sent away, he schemes to return to his friend Eddie. This is a story about friendship, adventure, and ingenious solutions.

I fell in love with this book right away. Maybe it was the adorable red-haired main character. Maybe it was his lust for adventure. Maybe it was the determination of Dog. But probably it was just that all of the elements worked together to produce a stand-out picture book.

Brown’s writing is simple. She uses plain, clear language that 3-7 year old children will be able to understand and enjoy. There’s a lot of repetition to her story, which gives kids a chance to predict what will happen next. For those of us who read aloud to children, the sentence constructions make for a pleasant reading experience. The words flow naturally, and pauses are built into the text.

What turns a touching story into something hilarious, are Brown’s illustrations. Because this isn’t your typical sentimental story about a boy and his dog. While Eddie is a fairly typical young boy, Dog is anything but typical. Dog rides a moped. Dog snorkels. Dog sky dives! Eddie and Dog are adventure loving soul mates. The illustration style is great. The characters are all given simple dot eyes and line features–yet they manage to be deeply expressive. You can feel the excitement and longing emanating from the page.

The cherry on top is the book design. The page layouts are masterfully executed. Art is placed on the page to add another layer of pacing to the narrative. Text is also arranged to enhance the sense of pacing and suspense. Font size is increased at times for emphasis. Even the end papers are beautiful, with outlines of modes of transport arranged in a repeating motif.

It’s not often that you start reading and know right away that you’ve got a 5 star book in your hands. But that was the case with this one. I was at once impressed and enchanted. For anyone who knows a child who longs for adventure, loves dogs, or has a special bond with a pet–I highly suggest you get this book. I’ll be putting it on my own list of requests for the local library.

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

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

30 Dec

Today’s book review is for Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, with illustrations by Yoko Tanaka, published by Random House. It is scheduled for release on January 28, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the published, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy book cover

In this beautiful retelling of “The Snow Queen” we meet unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard, who only believes in things that can be explained by science. She’s a bright, asthmatic girl who has recently lost her mother. When her father is requested to set up a special sword exhibit at a museum, he brings Ophelia and her older sister, Alice, along with him–with the hope that a Christmas vacation to a beautiful city will provide the whole family with a distraction from their loss. While exploring the museum, Ophelia discovers a hidden doorway, behind which a boy is imprisoned. As she works to rescue him, she must reconcile her beliefs with the fanciful stories the boy tells her and the strange things she begins to see in the museum. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a modern day fairy tale that explores themes of friendship, courage, love, and never giving up.

I loved the protagonist, Ophelia. She felt like such a real character, with an authentic personality. She has so much curiosity, but it’s tempered by both skepticism and fear. A lot of young people are still open to the possibilities of things that can’t be explained–but not Ophelia. She’s already joined the Children’s Science Society. Even when presented with things she can’t explain, she tries to convince herself that she’s not witnessing magic. I also liked how the recent loss of her mother impacted her. It added a nice dynamic to the story.

I also enjoyed the narrative structure with its story-within-a-story framework. The shift between the present day of our world and the story of the Marvelous Boy’s journey kept things interesting. In particular, I liked that the Boy’s story wasn’t revealed all at once–but rather unfolded as his friendship with Ophelia developed. At the same time, the pieces are long enough that you can get caught up in it. It creates a pacing that alternates between the pressure of deadline facing Ophelia and the many years of the Boy’s journey.

The museum setting was perfect. Museums already have a feeling of mystery. Some are so vast as to feel like mazes, and it’s easy to imagine getting lost in one, even if it wasn’t magical. It also provided a mirror to the intellectual conflict of Ophelia. A museum is usually a place of science, learning, and rational thought–and yet this one contains things that cannot be explained by logic.

If you’re looking for an engaging fantasy novel that’s perfect for late elementary or middle grade readers, look no further. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is an excellent way to fight off cabin fever this February. I’m giving it an enthusiastic 5 stars for the way that it explores family relationships, friendship, and self-discovery all within the vehicle of a modern fairy tale.

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

The Queen and the Nobody Boy

26 Dec

Today’s book review is for The Queen and the Nobody Boy, by Barbara Else, published by Gecko Press. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy book cover

Hodie is an unpaid odd-jobs boy working at the royal palace of Fontania. One day, he decides that he’s finally had enough and strikes out to the south to start his new life. The problem is, he has a tag-along: 12-year old Queen Sibilla, who is tired of all the gossip about her magical abilities (or lack thereof). She decides that the two of them must reclaim the sack of junk taken from Hodie by visiting dignitaries from neighboring Um’Binnia, even though Hodie doesn’t really care about recovering it. He’d rather go off on his own. But no matter how hard he tries to go off to his new life in the south, Hodie can’t seem to shake the little Queen. Instead he’ll brave new dangers, discover secrets, eat bizarre food, and aid rebellion to save Fontania–and discover himself.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a lively modern adventure fairy tale for children ages 10 and up. Else’s narrative style reminds me a bit of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket. There’s a real playfulness to her language. It’s not just that she’s produced a compelling story, but that she’s also managed to tell it in a style that sucks you in. In many middle grades and young adult novels, the narrative prose is secondary to the story. Typically the only time I really notice it is when it’s not terribly good. In this case, I noticed because it was so refreshingly fun to read.

I also loved the world-building in this book. There’s a lot that you’d expect–palaces and gowns and pouches of gold. But there is a lot that is unexpected and whimsical, as well. There are magical dragon eagles in Fontania, who can talk to a select group of people. Um’Binnia is full amazing inventions, most notably their windtrains–which are innovative and sometimes terrifying. There are strange places with deadly obstacles, such as bridges that can spike you or the caverns where the wind trains travel. There are elaborately moustached men. There’s even a royal swear word (but you’ll have to look in the end notes to discover what exactly it is.) In short, you’ve never visited a literary world quite like this before.

When I was about two thirds of the way through the book, I was looking up something about the author and discovered that this was the second book written about Fontania. If I hadn’t stumbled upon it, I never would have known from reading the book. Which, if you think about it, is pretty impressive. That’s because anything you need to know for the story to make sense is right there, in the book. There’s absolutely no assumption that the audience is familiar with the history of Fontania. So, don’t let that little bit of knowledge stop you from jumping in.

Do you ever get so caught up in a book that you feel compelled to tell your partner or other family members about new plot twists as you’re reading? That’s how I was with this book. I even paraphrased it for my 2-year old when she wanted me to tell her a story. Is it any wonder that I’m giving it 5 stars? I hope that other kids and kids-at-heart will share in my joy of journeying through this strange world with young Hodie and the rest.

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

Lion Vs. Rabbit

16 Dec

Today’s book review is for Lion Vs. Rabbit, by Alex Latimer, published by Peachtree Publishers. I received a free copy of this book in a giveaway held by the publisher.

Lion Vs. Rabbit book cover

Lion is a big bully. He gives wedgies and steals from the other animals. And he gets away with it, because he’s stronger than the other animals. Fed up with his behavior, the animals put up an advertisement for someone to make Lion stop bullying them. When neither a bear, a moose, or a tiger are able to beat Lion, things start to look bleak. But then, Rabbit arrives on the scene–with a clever plan. Lion is sure that he can beat Rabbit at any contest–but instead Rabbit seems to be winning at everything. Defeated, Lion agrees to stop bullying the other animals and never bullies anyone again. Lion Vs. Rabbit is a humorous story about how sometimes a little cleverness can take down even the mightiest of foes.

Latimer writes in clear prose that is easy and fun to read aloud. The dialog portions of the text have the sound of actual children’s conversations–particularly all of Lion’s excuses. I think that any child who has faced bullying will relate to the frustrations of the other animals. Moreover, I think that they’ll cheer as Rabbit wins in competition after competition. Best of all, I think they’ll appreciate not getting bogged down in complicated language or superfluous literary device. In this case, simple and clear is perfect. It keeps your attention on the story itself.

It’s the illustrations that really make this book great, though. Latimer uses a cartoonish style with simplified body shapes and small dot eyes that corresponds to the humorous nature of the story. His little details are a delight. From Buffalo’s underpants to Cobra’s “Medusa” brand shampoo, there are plenty of touches of humor to keep adults and astute children giggling at the pictures.

This was a wonderfully fun book to read with my daughter. Since the first read, she’s requested it several more times. Fortunately, she’s still young and hasn’t experienced bullying–but I think she can still appreciate the theme of someone little triumphing over someone bigger. This book can provide an opportunity to talk about an important children’s issue, or it can be enjoyed as an entertaining story. Either way, it’s a great book and I’m giving it 5 stars.

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