Summer of the Woods
Written by Steven Smith
Illustrations by Melissa Rose
Published by MyBoys3 Press on May 11, 2013
Genre/Topics: Adventure, Mystery
Ages 7-10, 154 pages
Two brothers, eight-year-old Sam and ten-year-old Derek, recently moved to Virginia at the start of summer. They are excited and anxious to explore their new backyard, which happens to be the woods. Their parents trust them to explore the woods alone and the summer they won’t forget begins. Sam discovers an old, worn down coin in the creek and pockets it. After showing their dad the coin and talking with the neighbors they discover that there was a rare coin collection stolen from a local museum. Derek and Sam believe they can discover where the coin collection now hides. However, they don’t often know what to expect within the dark woods and mysteries behind the coin collection. What dangers await the brothers in the woods? Will Sam and Derek discover the old coin collection?
I really enjoyed Summer of the Woods. The story was well written with good descriptions. I could really visualize the brothers’ quest into the woods. It reminded me of the film, The Goonies. The brothers are young explorers who are determined that there is more within the woods. Besides showing their dad the coin, the treasure hunt remains a secret between the two. This is Steven Smith’s first book and I’m excited to read what he writes next. I recommend Summer of the Woods for a fun adventure read.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Written by Carol Rifka Brunt
Published by Random House on June 19, 2012
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, coming-of-age, AIDS, Family
Three Word Review: Friendship, Loss, Renewal
It is 1987, and fourteen-year-old June Elbus feels that her one and only friend is her uncle Finn. Finn recently died to AIDS and June is heartbroken and feels at a loss until she receives contact from an unlikely source, Finn’s boyfriend Toby. Slowly Toby and June form a unique friendship and secretly meet sharing stories about how Finn impacted their life. June learns that some things she loved about Finn were actually from Toby. There are misconceptions and prejudices about AIDS and the family wants nothing to do with Toby who they believe wrecked Finn’s life. Both June and Toby feel they need to take care of the other to fulfill Finn’s last wishes.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home had a unique plot and I felt for both June and Toby. We discover friendships in any situation to fit our need and awaken our spirit. It was also interesting to read a book that dealt with AIDS when society questioned exactly what it was and their fears. I suggest Tell the Wolves I’m Home for a fresh reading perspective.
Written and Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on February 12, 2013
Genre/Topics: Robots, Adventure, Humor
Ages: 4+, 40 pages
Doug is a robot who is plugged in each day by his parents to become the smartest robot. All the information about the city is downloaded into Doug, but then he notices a pigeon outside the window. Doug decides to unplug and ventures into the city. He learns more about the city than the information that was downloaded, such as garbage cans smell, flowers grow out of sidewalks, and fire engine sirens are loud. However, there was one thing that Doug never downloaded. A boy in the park asked Doug if he wanted to play, but he knew nothing about playing. Soon Doug and the boy play hide and seek and other games in the park. Doug made his first friend. He went home to his robot parents who still thought Doug was the smartest robot.
I thought Doug Unplugged was a very cute and humorous book. We’re all fully aware how much time children (and adults) spend on computers and electric devices. Sometimes they don’t even know how to experience the real world. I also enjoyed Doug Unplugged, because the people and robots are bright colors so there’s no race. Go ahead and unplug yourself from all devices and explore the world!
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World
Written by Matthew Goodman
Published by Ballantine Books on February 19th 2013
Genre/Topics: Nonfiction, Travel, Journalism
Three Word Review: Adventure, Exploration, Fun
Imagine that it is 1889, and your only transportation was by steamship or railroad. Two women, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, embarked on a travel journey around the world to hopefully beat Jules Verne‘s fiction story Around the World in Eighty Days. Both women were journalists who constantly fought through gender barriers to write stories beyond social etiquette and fashion. Nellie Bly was a reporter at the World newspaper who left New York City on November 14, 1889, travelling east by steamship. Bly suggested this news story, but it took a year before her editor believed it would promote the magazine and put it into action. Elizabeth Bisland was a reporter at The Cosmopolitan magazine that wanted to challenge the World and sent her traveling west by train. The race had begun, but Bly didn’t even realize it was a race until she was in Asia, and someone stated she was going to lose. Both women were different and their travels reflect. Bly carried only one luggage that she could easily carry, whereas Bisland took several. Along their journeys they encountered numerous troubles and discoveries while proving that women indeed can travel without an escort. Throughout the book, the reader also learns brief information about transportation and journalism. Will they beat Jules Verne’s story of travelling the world in eighty days and who will win the race?
I thought Eighty Days was a fun adventure about a subject in American history. In today’s society we can easily travel almost anywhere in the world in a few days. I think it would be quite an experience to travel without modern transportation and technology, yes even without cell phones. It would be a thrill to receive the news simply by a postcard or telegram. (I researched and telegrams still exist.)
Written by Linda Ashman
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children on March 5, 2013
Genre/Topics: Positive Attitude, Realistic, Weather
Ages: 4+, 32 pages
Two individuals look out their window and see a rainy day, yet they have completely different perspectives about the day to come. One individual is an extremely happy young child who shouts with joy that it’s a rainy day. He cannot wait to put on his frog rain hat and boots. The other individual is a grumpy old man who grudgingly puts on his rain gear. The viewpoints continue on the rainy day as the boy jumps in puddles and pretends to be a frog whereas the old man frowns at others. They both enter a coffee shop and the boy happily eats his cookie while the man drinks his coffee with a frown. The boy accidentally bumps into the older man who yells at the boy to be careful. The negative feeling almost settles on the young boy until he notices the old man forgot his hat. He quickly gives the man his hat. The frown slowly disappears as he jokes to try on the frog hat too. They walk away both with smiles on their faces. This was a very cute and simple book that demonstrates your attitude can make all the difference.
The Light Between Oceans
Written by M.L. Stedman
Published by Scribner in July 2012
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction
Three Word Review: Thought Provoking, Moral Dilemma, Heartache
Tom Sherbourne recently returns home to Australia, after being away during World War I. He wants to forget the difficulties during the war and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper. He is now completely alone and away from society. He marries and brings his wife, Isabel, back to the island. They encounter numerous stillbirths and Isabel is heartbroken until she hears the distant cries of a baby upon the shore. Tom and Isabel discover a washed ashore boat with a dead man and bundled baby. Isabel pleads for Tom not to report the finding in the official log books. She believes the mother must also be dead and wonders what mother would send a baby on a boat. The two raise the child as their own which is easy to hide the truth from family, since Isabel was recently pregnant and they are away for years at a time. When they return to visit the mainland they discover the truth behind the death and baby. The Light Between Oceans constantly ponders exactly what is morally right at the cost of a loss.
I thought The Light Between Oceans was an interesting plot that I questioned what truly is the right and best choice. I quickly finished this book and I think it would spark a good discussion for book clubs.
Written & Illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Published by Roaring Brook Press on January 1, 2012
Genre/Topics: Nature, Color
Ages: 2+, 36 pages
Awards: Caldecott Honor Book 2013
Can a book that focuses on one color be exciting to read? Green is a beautifully illustrated book that displays the many hues of the color green. Some greens are standards such as forest green, lime green, fern green, and pea green. Other greens are more creative with a tiger hiding in green grass, a chameleon in khaki green, faded green on signs, and fireflies with a glow green. Along the book, there are die-cuts giving a sneak into the next green. You can guess the next picture. My favorite die-cuts are the pages with the green fireflies that then turn to red apples on a green tree when you turn the page. There’s a page showing all the green shades. The book also displays pages with no green, such as a red stoplight and a white snow scene. The illustrations appear very lovely like a canvas with bold brush strokes and vivid colors. The last two pages show a young boy planting a tree then shows a grown tree that is forever green.
This is a wonderful book to explore the many shades of green. It’s perfect for younger ages, because there’s only a few words on the page. The book also can be used with older ages to view the unique canvas-like illustrations to then create art. Green is a great book to explore our naturally green world that hopefully stays green.
The Dry Grass of August
Written by Anna Jean Mayhew
Published by Kensington Books in 2011
Genre/Topics: Adult, Historical Fiction, South, Integration
The Dry Grass of August is told from the perspective of 13 year-old June “Jubie” Watts in the South during the 1950s. On a hot August day in 1954, Jubie, her mother, siblings, and their black maid, Mary Luther, travel from Charlotte, North Carolina, towards Florida. Mary Luther has been with the family, since Jubie was five. Jubie feels a closer relationship to Mary who provides care than her own mother. Along the journey to Florida, Jubie notices anti-integration signs and hostile feelings towards blacks. The story switches between present time during the vacation and a past back story to learn more about the family. The reader slowly understands Mary Luther’s role in the family and family tensions. Tragic events occur and Jubie must decide how to act with her feelings.
I really enjoyed The Dry Grass of August. It was a different perspective about a topic that many are familiar with. The reader knows that something happens to Mary Luther in the first paragraph, so you don’t know exactly when and how it occurs. There is some violence and difficult context at times, so I recommend this for adult readers. If you enjoyed The Help, I think you’ll enjoy The Dry Grass of August. It also is a great book for a book discussion.
Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z
Written & Illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Published March 10, 1989 by HMH Books
Genre/Topics: Alphabet, Foods
Ages: 1-3, 28 pages
Eating the Alphabet is a simple alphabet book with no actual story, instead the reader enjoys colorful fruits and vegetables illustrations. Most letters appear either on one or two pages. Every fruit and vegetable is written twice – once in all capital letters and the other all lower case letters. It’s a great way for children to really view how letters are displayed in words. I really enjoyed this book, because most letters are represented with 3-6 fruits and vegetables. It’s not your typical ‘A is for Apple. B is for Banana.’, instead Eating the Alphabet highlights fruits and vegetables that are new to young children and perhaps even adults too. Some examples are avocado, artichoke, cauliflower, eggplant, jicama, kumquat, lime, okra, papaya, and xigua. Does the child need to know each food? Of course not, instead it introduces the colorful world of fruits and vegetables besides apples, bananas, and carrots. It goes beyond a simple food alphabet book and opens discussion about healthy foods, finding the fruits and vegetables in the store, and of course tasting the foods that are in the book. There is a food glossary at the back with brief information about each fruit and vegetable. This is also a great book to teach colors, since the illustrations are so vivid and colorful. I highly recommend this alphabet book in your child’s book collection.
The Trumpet of the Swan
Written by E.B. White
Illustrated by Edward Frascino
Published by HarperCollins Publishers in 1970
Genre/Topics: Animals, Friendship
Ages: 6+, 210 pages
Louis is a Trumpet Swan, however he was born without a voice. His father and mother are concerned, because without a voice he will have difficulty finding a mate in the Spring. Louis is also worried because he doesn’t want to be different from his siblings. Louis’ father takes a risk and steals a trumpet from a music shop, so that Louis will now have a voice. The problem is that his father is in debt from stealing a trumpet and smashing the shop. Louis is grateful for the trumpet, but knows he must help his father repay the debt. As a young swan, Louis met Sam Beaver who is a kind boy and loves animals. Sam takes Louis to school and helps him learn to read and write. With Sam’s help Louis gets paying jobs to play his trumpet and becomes quite famous to repay his father. More importantly, Louis now has a voice and can woo the swan he loves. Although Louis was born different he is determined to be his best and never gives up his dreams.
E.B. White is most famous for Charlotte’s Web, so The Trumpet of the Swan may get overlooked. The Trumpet of the Swan is a sweet book with many powerful messages. There is a fantasy element, since the animals have human-like characteristics and people communicate with Louis however it can still be used as a tool for discussion. Some possible discussions may include being different, never give up, love what you do, friendship, and animal care.
Open Very Carefully: A Book With Bite
Written by Nick Bromley
Illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne
Published February 1, 2013 by Nosy Crow
Genre/Topics: Humor, Animals
Ages 4+, 32 pages
The book begins with the story of The Ugly Duckling, but then disaster occurs when a crocodile interrupts the story. The book challenges the reader to turn the pages very carefully, since there’s now a crocodile loose within the story. Throughout the book, the ugly duckling appears on the pages almost interacting with the crocodile. While the crocodile is in the book it eats letters and gobbles sentences. When the crocodile is asleep then a crayon is used to draw a tutu and bow, so it no longer appears scary. Finally, the crocodile eats through the pages until it leaves the book from an actual hole in the book’s back cover.
Open Very Carefully is a humorous book that connects the reader and book, since the writing continually asks if the book will still be read with a crocodile. There are also pages when the reader needs to shake the book to hopefully get the crocodile out. The end was especially fun, because there are holes where the crocodile ate pages and climbs out the back. The first time reading it could be fun to hide the back so it’s a surprise.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Written by Helen Simonson
Read by Peter Altschuler
Published by Random House Audio on March 2, 2010
Genre/Topics: Adult Fiction, British, Romance
13 hours, 358 pages
Three Word Review: Cute, Humorous, Heartfelt
Major Pettigrew lives in a small village in the English country. He’s now in his early sixties, yet his morals and principles have remained the same. Major Pettigrew’s younger brother just died and he now feels at a lost. The death sparks a new friendship with Mrs. Ali, the older Pakistani shopkeeper. The friendship begins simple with tea and book discussions. Soon Major Pettigrew feels a strong attachment to Mrs. Ali. The small town is filled with humorous characters who think it’s their right to know everybody’s business. Some of the town citizens don’t view Mrs. Ali as Major Pettigrew and only see her as a ‘ethnic diversity’ and ‘low status’ as a shopkeeper. Both Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew have personal conflicts in their lives, yet these problems almost pull them together more. Can their relationship survive in difficult situations?
I thought Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was cute with a fairly simple plot, but it was still enjoyable. You feel for Major Pettigrew as nothing seems to go right for him. Sure this book is romantic but it’s not an overly gushing romance. I think this is because the entire story is from Major Pettigrew’s perspective and his feelings for Mrs. Ali slowly develop. It’s refreshing to read about a relationship that begins completely wholesome as a simple friendship and moves to something more. I listened to Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and it was quite enjoyable. It had a ‘British’ voice without being too dramatic. If you enjoy small town humor and a non-gushy romance then you may like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
Al Pha’s Bet
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Delphine Durand
Published May 12, 2011 by Putnam Juvenile
Genre/Topics: Alphabet, Humor
Ages: 4+, 32 pages
How exactly did the twenty-six letters form the alphabet that we know today? Well, it occurred long ago when a king announced that he wanted someone to arrange the twenty-six letters. A man named Al Pha made a personal bet with himself that he would indeed make the perfect arrangement for the letters. It started with A for his name then gradually everything seemed to naturally fall into place as he organized the letters. When his friend Jay came to visit HI J was formed. Near the middle Al became discouraged, but he told himself NO that he needed to finish. Finally, Al Pha presented his arrangement to the king who then sang the letters. Well of course the king asked Al if ‘this time won’t you sing with me?’ The king loved Al Pha’s letter arrangement and decided it would be known as Al Pha’s Bet.
I absolutely loved Al Pha’s Bet! The writing was fun and humorous with brilliant pictures to match the writing. The alphabet slowly forms on the pages as you read. After reading Al Pha’s Bet you’ll almost agree with how the letter arrangement formed. I’m sure children and even adults will laugh while reading this book.
Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published in 1982
Genre/Topics: Humor, Fantasy
Ages: 6+, 212 pages
Most people don’t even think giants exist and those that do are usually very afraid of them. However, the Big Friendly Giant or the BFG doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Sophie is an orphan who first meets the BFG while looking out her window at night. The BFG notices and reaches through her window to take her away, since nobody would believe her if she said she saw a giant. Soon Sophie realizes that the BFG is friendly and has no plans to eat her, instead he was out at night putting dreams with his long trumpet into children’s ears. It’s not always pleasant, because the BFG is the smallest among other giants who desire to eat human beans every night. When the large and revolting giants are out eating human beans, the BFG captures dreams and stores thousands into jars. Sophie learns where the giants plan to find their next meal and the BFG and her form a plan to stop them before it’s too late.
The BFG has all the standard humor, fun, and zany words that are unique to Roald Dahl. So far I haven’t been disappointed by one of his books. I’m sure you’ll wish you also knew a giant, well at least a friendly one.