Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Wild Country, or "Little Britches"

By Ralph Moody

Ralph Moody wrote this book and it has been published under two different titles, "The Wild Country" and "Little Britches".

Little Britches is the story of a hardworking family in the early 20th century trying to make a living in the Denver area. Ralph Moody brings such energy and life to his writing. Every book (this is the first in a series of 8) is so engaging I want to read them over and over. His descriptions are so clear it makes me think I could build or do the same things he did. These are autobiographical writings.

Excellently done and I highly recommend the whole series.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Return to Me

By Lynn Austin

A new series by Lynn Austin, but essentially a continuation of her series, Chronicles of the Kings - this first book, Return to Me deals with the Israelites' return from captivity, and once again, Ms. Austin brings biblical history to life with the characters she has developed.  Her stories inspire me to further Bible study and remind me of the God who deeply loves his people.  

The author brings ideas about how an Israelite family in a foreign land might have encountered people worshiping foreign gods, which is one of the main themes of the Bible. One of the problems with the Israelites is that they continually worshiped foreign gods. This scenario was very plausible.

It is always difficult to bring history to life through fiction, and deciding what characters and events to guess about is a hard decision. I appreciated that the author chose a secondary family rather than the famous people in the story of Israelites coming back to Jerusalem.

I eagerly await the second book!

This book was provided to me free of cost from Bethany House Publishers. I did not receive any compensation for writing this review.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


By Heather Dixon

Entwined is a rewrite of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale.

I have to say this is the most plausibly explained version of the fairy tale I have read. Some fairy tale premises don't seem to make sense. Why are these princesses dancing? This author really thought a lot about it and made an excellent back story. I really enjoyed reading it.

It is definitely good for ages 13 and up due to some mature material.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Andi Unexpected

TITLE:  Andi Unexpected
AUTHOR:  Amanda Fowler
PUBLISHER:  Zonderkidz

I have a special book review for you today.  My son received this book Andi Unexpected by Amanda Fowler to read and review.  He read it super fast and really enjoyed it.  Here is his review which he dictated to me:

Andi's parents died in a plane crash, and she went to live at her aunt's house.  Her aunt Amelie was excited for Andi and her older sister Bethany to come because she was lonely.  Andi wants to move up to the attic because her sister is annoying.  Andi and her new friend Colin find a trunk in a trap door.  They find out it belonged to a relative named Andora which is Andi's full name.  The trunk is a mystery for them to find out about the other Andora. 

I thought it was cool that Andi and Colin were trying to solve the mystery of the trunk.  It's not a scary book, just a normal book.  It is a chapter book without pictures.  I liked this book and want to read more of this series.  I think it is a good book.  Personally, I think people who like mysteries or good books will like to read this.  It is for boys or girls. 

The book was sent to us from the publisher for our honest review.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

By Vivian Vande Velde
ISBN: 0439305292

From the back: What was with that bizarre fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin? Why would a miller claim that his daughter could spin straw into gold? Why would the king believe him? And why would an odd little man that can spin straw into gold do so in exchange for a tiny gold ring? The story is just silly. In an attempt to make sense of this wayward fairy tale, Vivian Vande Velde provides six alternate versions of the classic account, each of which is far more intriguing and revealing than the original.

I really enjoyed reading this short book. I agree with the author, that the original story is quite bizarre. I thought her six alternate versions were each really fun and different. A couple of them were a little macabre, but what fairy tale isn't?

For this reason I recommend it for ten and up.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Out of My Mind

I have finished the most amazing book!  I checked it out from our local library after seeing it on the shelf at the school library while volunteering.  They cover caught my eye.  The librarian there told me what a great book it is, and I've looked forward to reading it.  She was right, it is wonderful.  I think all teachers should have to read this book.  It is such a touching story and very eye opening to me.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is the story of Melody, an 11 year old girl who is extremely smart. She has never spoken a word though.  She has cerebral palsy and is in a wheel chair.  Everyone...teachers, doctors, and classmates.... assumes she is not capable of doing anything.  She has a few people who believe in her though and a couple of good teachers who see her potential. All Melody wants is to be normal and do things like the other kids she sees at school instead of being stuck in the "special" classroom all day.   

This is such a touching story, and one I will always remember.   (I was nearly crying at the end, and I don't cry over books!)  There are so many lessons that can be learned from Melody's story, both by young people and adults.  I highly recommend this book to you. The AR level for the book is 4.3. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

39 Clues Medusa Plot

By Gordon Korman

I had not read any of the previous 39 clues books but picked this up on a whim. My daughter (9) really enjoys them.

I was happy that the plot didn't seem too confusing to a newbie to the series. I really enjoyed the pacing of the story and the plot. I was a little concerned at the level of violence; while nothing ever really bad seems to happen to the main characters, there was a fair amount of violence and suspense to other characters in the book. For that reason I don't think I will be allowing my daughter to move on to the second series right away, and I will want to go back and read a couple of the original series to make sure they're not too violent.

I found the plot to be refreshing and enjoyable. While the kids are independent of adults, it's not because the adults are incompetent, as can be seen in other books, rather that the mystery is for kids.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


By Kathryn Littlewood

The Bliss family owns a magical bakery. When the parents leave town, the kids are in charge. A new aunt comes to visit and the question then becomes: "Is she really part of our family, or not?"

My favorite part of the book was how everyone worked together and how the Bliss family wants to use their powers for good.

There was an interesting intrigue throughout the book about whether the new aunt was really related to them. I like the overt thinking about how we decide to trust someone.

My 9 year old daughter absolutely loved this book and wanted to get more just like it.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Just Grace and the Flower Girl Power

by Charise Harper

Just Grace has a wedding in her life! Her friend is getting married, and Grace wants to be sure that everything goes just perfectly. I loved reading about all of the wedding adventures Grace went through.

I am really impressed with the Just Grace series in general, and this book was no exception. Grace is a sweet, likeable girl that any mom would be happy to have in her home. Yes, she finds a few mishaps along the way, but they are innocent and cute.

My daughter also really enjoyed reading this book.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Just Grace and the Trouble with Cupcakes

By Charise Mericle Harper

This is the newest Just Grace book.

My 8 year old son said: He liked the game ideas provided.
My 10 year old daughter said: She liked the cupcake theme.

Just Grace's class is having a school carnival, and the class is divided into teams to plan their games. Just Grace has a difficulty with her best friend and has to learn how to fix friendships and get along with others. But that is not the most fun part of the book. The best part is that there are probably 10 cupcake game ideas, a cupcake recipe, and more ideas that kids can use for a birthday party, carnival, or just a fun time with their family. My son said he loves the ideas that Just Grace books give.

If you want a fun, clean story mixed in with excellent game ideas, this is the book for you!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

American Girls The Care and Keeping of You, Volume 2

The Care and Keeping of You 2

I was very impressed with this book, Care and Keeping of You (2). I had heard excellent things about the first volume, and haven't gotten around to purchasing it for my 10 year old.

This book is written for a 10+ year old girl who has started to have early signs of puberty.

One of my favorite things about this book is that while it explains almost everything about puberty, it doesn't go into the mechanics of sex. I don't want my daughter to have all the details about how that works yet, even though she is definitely becoming more physically mature.

I felt that the topics addressed and the detail given was very spot on. My daughter is almost 11, and she has started to have early signs of puberty. Topics like moodiness, smelly armpits, starting your period, and other self-care thoughts are covered in a very matter-of-fact way, while always encouraging the girls to go talk to their parents or another trusted adults, and emphasizing that parents are on your side, and they are there to trust.

I was a little sad to see that there had to be a short section on cutting and eating disorders, but I realize that is a major part of our world right now, and that it's better to address it on a small scale and let kiddos know to talk to their parents about it, than for them to learn from their friends.

All in all, a great book that my daughter wants to read, and that I would like her to read as well.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Help for Billy

Help for Billy
by Heather Forbes

If you regularly interact with a child who has problems coping with consequences, and you are at your wit's end trying to "get them to behave" or "just do their homework", this is the book for you.

The premise of Beyond Consequences is that there are some children who, for various reasons, do not have the coping mechanisms in place to handle adversity. This might be because of adoption, early trauma, long term illness, autism, or a host of other things.

This unfortunately means that when they are presented with a problem, they do not respond to "traditional" methods of "If you don't do this, then x will happen." In fact, traditional methods of consequences and behavioral modification will actually often make the problem worse.

Forbes introduces the idea that working with these children on a logical level will not work because they are farther away, in a primitive "fight or flight" mode almost all of the time. Her strategies focus on how to help these children calm down and learn how to feel safe in stressful situations, with a long term goal of them being able to learn the strategies and be more regulated on their own.

I picked up this book on a friend's recommendation. She has a child who was constantly in trouble at school and could not handle regular life the way a child her age should be able to. Thankfully my friend found this resource and after 8 months has been able to change her daughter's entire life.

This book is highly recommended for:

Parents, teachers, or close family friends of children who are not coping well with normal life adversities because of earlier life "traumas". I will be recommending this to anyone and everyone.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What makes a "Good Book"?

This is a guest post from one of my good friends. I 95% agree with what she says here. I have just never taken the time to lay it out there.

Based on her post, here are a few of my all-time favorite books:
Flower Garden by Gene Stratton Porter
The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

And here are her words:

And now for a deceptively easy question:
“Is this a GOOD BOOK?”

The answer delves into the purposes of reading.

Is this a good book? could mean:
Will I enjoy it? –  Does it conform to my tastes?  ((Other things also make books enjoyable - see footnote))

Is it non-poisonous? Will it be safe for my children to read? – profanity, graphic violence, sex: these obviously make it unsafe, but what about ideas? How does it portray adults, children, strangers? (Are there adults present? are they relevant? clueless? trustworthy? evil? the enemy? Are other kids to be trusted? what about rule-breaking? What about friendship and loyalty? what does it say are the standards for when to keep and when to break a secret? Many books relegate adults to the perimeter and have kids work out their own (frequently adult-caused) problems or suffer from the absence of adults (Lord of the Flies, anyone?).   How are ideas presented, explored, resolved?  What ideas are there?

What does the book teach me to laugh about? Is the laughter innocent or shamed? Is the laughter free or malicious? Is it thankful or proud? Am I laughing because I feel superior to the peon-humans or because I recognize the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”?

What does this book say about reality? Not, does it portray the nitty-gritty dirt of what we call “realism” (see “realism” footnote)
What does this book say about reality? – does it call good, “good,” and evil, “evil.”? (Not, is it a goody-goody airy-fairy nobody-does-anything-but-smile-and skip-over-the-rainbow book? ) Are good and evil portrayed as a struggle, not an alliance? What about choosing sides and why the choice is made? What about the consequences of choosing sides and the danger of not choosing sides?
What does this book say about people? Are good guys totally good? Are bad guys totally bad? Do we applaud the good guys or the bad guys? Does anybody change and what caused the change? What in the book delineates the sides? What will I understand from reading this book about human nature and redemption?

How does the book present a message? A book does not have to have an explicit message – the story can be the message, but if it has an explicit message, is it clear, coherent, courageous and courteous?

Will it darken my mind or bring me light? – will I be weakened or strengthened in my choices for truth and justice and mercy and generosity from reading this book? Does this book show hope as well as sadness? If it's a tragedy, will the wound fester or is it a lancing of a boil that needed to be ripped open?

“The problem with trying to make yourself stupider than you are is that you so very often succeed.” – Will this book make me leak brain cells?  Inanity is a crime, too.

Is this book well-written? Do the sentences flow, march, leap, kick, vault heights, soar to the clouds? Are the characters believable, sympathetic, multi-dimensional or purposely one-dimensional? Is the plot worth reading, interesting, strongly executed (or did it expire 2/3 of the way through with scarcely a whimper?)? Does it perpetuate grammatical atrocities? Does it drop homonym bombs unintentionally? (Really, if the “mantel” of greatness falls on my son I would expect bruises! The “mantel” belongs over the fireplace, and ours is rather nondescript. And a “palette” is a painter's tool, while a “palate” is a part of the mouth or the sense of taste.) (Should we be homophon-ophobes? ) What is the literary quality of this book? And did it need a better grammar editor? (Salutations to the Grammar Goddess!)

Is this book a spark for imagination? Does it give a door to another world or another set of friends? Sometimes the presentation of an idea or image can spark an imaginative adventure. Apparently many people found this in Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia. In it the two main characters have a secret place across a river where they imagine lots of things. Paterson does not go into a lot of detail on their adventures. (SPOILER: I did not come away with warm fuzzies, rather cold. muddy flood-puddles. The girl drowned and her friend was sad. I never really got over that. It's not a happy book for me. In this rare case I would take the movie over the book since it brought out the land. I never saw such a beautiful place in my imagination reading the book! (I'm a Narnian, myself).)
The Rainbow fairy books probably have this sort of draw for the under 10 set, though they lack much literary value, being tedious, flat-charactered, repetitious, etc.   But little girls see “fairy” and are transported.

footnote: "enjoyable"  -- 
We read for entertainment, escape, to be reminded of a more innocent time, to look forward to a better time, to meet characters who we like to associate with and learn from, to laugh, to have “aha!” moments as we learn and think. It turns out that we enjoy a book for various reasons, too.  Since these relate to the other reasons and questions for reading I'll try to cover them there.

footnote: “realism” (Why we call “realism” that literature that treats only sordid and harsh physical details and leaves out love and pity and hope and laughter is another question entirely! That type of literature would be better called “limited-perspective materialist pessimism” since they only look at the depressing things going on in the physical world and deny not only that there is any relief in the present bleakness or any hope for change in the physical circumstances, but more importantly that there is meaning in the present and hope of an afterwards. A definite (and sordid and depressing) example of this is Zola's Deluge. Eurgh.) –

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Just Grace Star on Stage

Just Grace is an engaging character. My kids both enjoy her books. The stories are fun and exciting without being offensive or upsetting.

The best part about Just Grace books is that they teach kids about different life experiences that they might encounter, with easy language and cute drawings. This particular book is about being in a school play.

All of the important parts about plays, including auditions, projecting, choosing which part you want (and maybe getting another part instead), understudy info, etc, are all in this book.

Thank you, Just Grace, for giving a great example of a nice 3rd to 5th grade student.