Thursday, June 28, 2012

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do
By Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook
Illustrated by Andy Robert Davies

This is a fun book and a fun concept! The reader gets a peak at a clothesline hung with a few pieces of clothing and a short rhyme that asks the question, "What job does this person do?" The next page tells the reader whether his or her guess was right. Jobs described in this book include mail carrier, farmer, chef, artist, carpenter, firefighter, and astronaut. I appreciated the fun pictures in this book, as well as the fact that the various characters with their various occupations wandered in and out of the pages of this book. This is an excellent read for preschoolers and I hope we can put it to use in our library!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Monkey Colors

Monkey Colors
By Darrin Lunde
Illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne

As I read this book, my mind was already busy trying to find a way to fit it into our preschool programs in the coming year. The story is simple: there are many monkeys throughout the world and lots of colors are represented in those monkeys! Through simple phrasing and bright clear pictures, children learn about the variety of monkeys throughout the world. In the back of the book, all the monkeys pictured previously are listed with a small picture and more detailed information. Monkey Colors is well worth a read!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Out on the Prairie

Out on the Prairie
By Donna M. Bateman
Illustrated by Susan Swan

After spending most of my childhood summers tagging along on my dad's field ecology classes out west near the Badlands National Park, I may be just a little bit biased toward any book written about the vast beauty of this area. However, I think any objective observer would agree with me in saying that this is a worthwhile read.

Out on the Prairie is a counting story, in which readers are introduced to a new animal and its babies, in ascending number from the first page. Animals that children will be introduced to include bison, pronghorn, and meadowlarks, among others. (If you've never listened to a western meadowlark's call, you can find an example here. I love this call!) Sprinkled in among the animals are western North American plants, such as snakeroot, gramma grasses, and wheatgrasses.

This story is fun, but it's the illustrations that take me back to western South Dakota and make me smile. Beautiful. Detailed. Bright. Accurate. All of those work to describe the digital paper cut illustrations in this book. 

This book would work great for reading one-on-one with a child or in a group setting. I think first or second grade would get the most from this lovely little book!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Presidential Pets

Presidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary, Strange Animals That Have lived in the White House
By: Julie Moberg
Illustrated by: Jeff Albrecht Studios

Did you know that President John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator? I certainly didn't, but I do now; I learned that and more in this book!

This delightful book, as you may guess, tells readers about the wide range of pets that have called the White House home. Starting with George Washington and ending with Barack Hussein Obama II, each page spread is devoted to one of the presidents. Each spread starts with a quirky poem about that president's pet(s) and has additional information about the pet, presidential stats, and accomplishments of the president. The reader will also be drawn to the vibrant cartoon illustrations on every page spread!

I really appreciated the way information was arranged in this book. Readers are not overwhelmed when they open up this book. They can pick and choose. If they just want to read a fun poem, they can do that. And then they can read a little bit more about the pets when their interest is piqued. And then a little more about the president's stats... and then his achievements... This book is great for readers ages 9-12 and anyone who enjoys obscure historical data!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Can You Tell a Cricket from a Grasshopper? Can you Tell a Gecko from a Salamander?

Can You Tell a Cricket from a Grasshopper?
By Buffy Silverman

Can You Tell a Gecko from a Salamander?
By Buffy Silverman

I learned so much about crickets, grasshoppers, geckos, and salamanders in these two books! Both books are filled with bright up-close photos and interesting facts. I thought the facts were made even more interesting and memorable when one animal was compared to another. (Did you know that a grasshopper's ears are located on its abdomen but a cricket's ears are located on its front legs? I didn't!)

I also appreciated that even though this book targets young readers, it is still set up like a nonfiction chapter book, complete with a table of contents, chapters, index, glossary, and citations for further reading. I love books that give kids a good taste of (fun) nonfiction!


*This book was sent for review purposes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eight Days Gone

Eight Days Gone
By Linda McReynolds
Illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke

Eight Days Gone tells the story of the Apollo 11's first trip to the moon in 1969. The story, told rhyming verses, is fast-moving, interspersing excellent vocabulary along the way, like 'sprawling,' and 'module.' The pictures are fun and manage to be bright, clear, and crisp. I was a little bit disappointed with the story-- I wish there had been a few more details to tell such a fascinating story! However, over all, I did enjoy Eight Days Gone. Great for a read-aloud and to spark conversation about space travel!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Vivaldi's Four Seasons

Vivaldi's Four Seasons
By Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel

Even if you don't think you know 'Four Seasons by Vivaldi, chances are good that you will recognize it when you hear it. If you watch the first 10 seconds of this video, you'll probably start thinking to yourself, "Oooh, that's what that piece is called!" Go ahead; listen to just a little bit of it:

Recognize it?

What you heard was the first movement, 'Spring,' on which this little book is based. I've always appreciated 'The Four Seasons' by Vivaldi, but this book gives my appreciation for the movement entitled 'Spring' a whole new depth!

Written by a professor of music at Georgetown University, Vivaldi's Four Seasons tells the story of how Vivaldi taught and came to love the orphaned girls of the Ospedale della Pietá. Suddenly (or at least, it seems sudden to the reader) Vivaldi is asked to leave the orphanage. He continues to miss the girls at the Pietá. Eventually he is asked to write pieces for the girls to play, although he is not asked to come back to teach the girls. As a surprise to the girls, he comes back with the first piece, 'Spring,' and narrates it while they play.

I enjoyed learning the history behind this famous piece of music! Celenza's story is fun and her characters are lovable. I do recommend reading the part of the story where Vivaldi narrates 'Spring' either after listening to the accompanying CD or while listening. I read without listening and found it a little confusing.

Though this book has lovely, colorful illustrations, I recommend this book for a slightly older crowd: around 9-12 years old. There's so much meat to this story and reading about what the music means is abstract enough that I'm afraid a lot of it will be lost on younger readers.

Over all, a very fun story!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Charlesbridge Publishing | Anna Harwell Celenza | JoAnn E. Kitchel

Friday, June 15, 2012

This is the House that George Built

This is the House that George Built
By Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Rebecca Bond

When I picked up The House that George Built, I thought to myself, "Hmm. That almost sounds like the poem "This is the House that Jack Built." I realized when I started reading that the connotation was intentional!

In this clever little book that plays off of the old poem, "This is the House that Jack Built," readers get an inside look at the construction of the White House: how the design was decided upon, the materials that were used, and how the structure of the building went up. I was amazed at how... difficult construction of a building of that size sounded! I must really take for granted all the machinery we have to work with that George Washington and the people helping him did not have! 

Although I thought the rhymes in this story often come across as awkward, I still thought the poem was a fun idea. Readers can choose to read just the simple poem or a more detailed description of the construction project. I also loved the detailed watercolor pictures.

The House that George Built is a great little book from Charlesbridge Publishing that deals skillfully with a little-known part of American history!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ghost Knight

Ghost Knight
By Cornelia Funke
Illustrations by Andrea Offermann

Cornelia Funke has written a variety of novels for young readers. Ghost Knight, her newest, is a treat. Jon Whitcroft, a Harry Potter wannabe, is banished to a boarding school where he meets a variety of people, only some of which are alive. He likes to think that he's a martyr for being sent to a boarding school, but some friendly roommates, a new best friend, and a surprise encounter with his soon-to-be step-father reveals that his perspective is a little skewed.

Some teenager or preteen characters are frustrating; I don't like being inside their heads. Funke did an excellent job of balancing irrational preteen behavior and thoughts with redeeming character traits in Jon Whitcroft so that even though I shook my head at him a couple times, I also really liked him.

This mystery is a lot of fun, with a lot of twists and turns. This delicious ghost story has enough suspense to make it a quality ghost story but doesn't cross over into being a horror story. I was also pleasantly surprised to find, upon completing Ghost Knight, that I had learned some interesting history while reading. William Longspee, the ghost who plays the biggest role in the story, was actually a real person and the places described in the book that have to do with him (most notably his sepulcher in Salisbury Cathedral) are real.

I appreciated the beautiful illustrations in this book. The ones that are of real places are accurate (which I only found out through Google after finishing the book). I like it when chapter books for young readers include a lot of pictures. I think reading becomes a more gratifying experience for young readers, especially those who struggle, if they are able to see pictures and turn pages a little more quickly. I remember reading Great Illustrated Classics when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade. The stories themselves were fascinating, but I also appreciated that there were as many pages with pictures as there were pages with pictures.

Funke left one big gaping hole that I was unsatisfied with: How did Alesiter Jindrich, the chorister ghost, find William Longspee's heart the first time, when he was still human? I thought that the story was building up to a treasure hunt for Jon and his friend Ella, but the treasure hunt fizzled and readers are never gratified with an explanation as to where Longspee's heart had been hiding.

Overall, I sincerely enjoyed Ghost Knight. I wonder if Funke will write a sequel. I enjoyed Jon and Ella and their story enough that I kind of hope she does! Check it out! But if you do, save it for a misty gray day, when you can sit by a low light and drink some hot chocolate while you read.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The China Study

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health
By T. Collin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II

My dad is a ground beef guru. When he was living the life of a graduate school research student out in the boonies of Idaho, his specialty was to mix a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, potatoes, ground beef, and ketchup. This gourmet entree includes most of the foods my dad considered palatable. 

His tastes have always been a bit... limited?

So, when my father, who holds a PhD in biology and has done his own share of research, read this book, which touts a diet rich in plant-based foods and low in animal products and processed foods, he vowed to change his eating habits. I was astounded. I just had to read it too.

In our society, it pays to be cautious when reading about nutrition. Anyone who has spent time reading about nutrition has experienced the endless perplexity from the myriad of studies that triumphantly spout a wide variety of contrary findings.

I was cautiously impressed by The China Study, however. Dr. Campbell describes a variety of studies he performed on lab rats (which I was less impressed with and less interested by) and then he goes on to describe a monumental study that he conducted, comparing the diets of people in different parts of China. This worked fairly well because in the more urban areas of China, more people are eating a typical Western diet (high in animal products, high in fat, high in sugar). In most rural areas, people had been living in the same area all their lives and eating a variety of mostly plant-based diets. Nothing Western about them.

Campbell's findings are intriguing and what you might expect: the more Western the diet, the more heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, and obesity. Surprise, surprise. 

Campbell then combs through the research to find other studies that deal with nutrition and these devastating Western diseases. The results he finds begin to get more and more uncomfortable, until he slaps the American midwest hog/beef-based economy in the face by broadcasting outright his realization that animal products are overall bad for us. Not just meat, but dairy and eggs as well.

What? No cheese? No butter for my toast?

Yep, that's exactly what he's saying. 

But I've got "Got Milk?" ingrained in my head. I've been told all my life that I need those dairy products to be strong and healthy. What do you have to say to that, Dr. Campbell?

Quite a lot, actually. The second part of the book was especially interesting and frustrating at the same time. Dr. Campbell goes into detail about how science, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and the economy are all involved, to some extent, in a complex web of nutrition deception. 

I left the book feeling fairly convinced that I need to start making changes in the amounts of animal products I eat (though I can't imagine changing to plant-based foods and only plant-based foods all at once; I have no idea how to cook that way). I had to labor through some of the research findings. All of the studies and summaries of studies and numbers made the research credible but did not make for an easy read. I started reading faster when I got to Part 3 of the book.

I'm glad I read this book. I'm hoping to make some gradual changes to my husband's and my diet. My husband is cautiously supportive. 

I don't want to discourage you from reading this book, but I'll warn you now that you will probably be uncomfortable when you read it. My husband and I already eat a mostly vegetarian diet, and I was still uncomfortable! However, discomfort can be a really good thing, so I'm going to give this book five bright shiny stars and recommend it to all!

Friday, June 1, 2012


By Myra McEntire

I’m not sure what inspired me to pick up this book when I have a reading list about as long as a roll of toilet paper. But I did. And I’m still trying to decide what I think.

Hourglass is an intriguing conglomeration of super hero, time travel, romance, and raw grief. Emerson can see people from the past. Not ghosts, exactly, but definitely not ignorable. The strange phantoms seemed to have popped up around the time of her parents’ death. Now, as she continues to wrestle with grief, she also just wants to be normal. In walks Michael, the uncharacteristic therapist Emerson’s brother has hired to help her deal with her ‘visions,’ and walk through the grief. Emerson never expected to have a therapist who was so good-looking, but neither did she expect to have a therapist whose close proximity made light bulbs burst and outlets short. Emerson soon finds out that Michael isn’t just there to help. He wants her help – needs her help – to prevent a death that took place six months ago.

I loved the cover. I’ve decided. I think that’s what made me pick this book up. Between the covers, though, is an only-okay story. I appreciated the original, fascinating plot twists that kept me guessing until the end. The flow of the story, however, lurches from fast to slow, and my review’s going to spiral down into a thin-lipped critique from here.

I sort of got to know Emerson as a character, but I had a hard time liking her. She’s dealing with the death of her parents, displacement to her brother and sister-in-law’s apartment, and strange phantom-sightings. She has a lot to sympathize with. However, the author did an excellent job of making her sound like a bratty self-centered teenager, even amid all of the real struggles in her life. I don’t think that’s what the author was going for.

I was especially disgusted to read that every female character who played an important role in this story was drop-dead gorgeous, sensuous, and extremely attractive. Really. Who can identify with that? Don’t girls get enough of that kind of pressure from Hollywood? Give me Hermione Granger and her frizzy hair any day! All the main male characters were also apparently the hottest thing since toasted bread. And, much to Emerson’s surprise, since she has never had a boyfriend in her life, all of these stud-muffins are vying for her attention. Please.

I was also frustrated by the thick aura of romantic ‘chemistry’ that clouded every chapter of the book. (Can you see my eyes rolling?) I like a little romance, I really do, but this was a bit much. And complaining from a strictly romance standpoint, I was frustrated by the way the story ended.

Most of the characters were flat, uncomplicated, including Michael, the supposed male protagonist. The male character I felt that I got to know really well and care about, Kaleb, was not the person Emerson ended up loving. As a reader, I was left feeling cheated. Definitely not a good set-up by the author, in my opinion.

Because the premise and plot twists in the story were interesting, I was able to suspend my critical thoughts enough to finish the book.  Dissatisfied and cheated, maybe, but I still finished.

The sequel to this book is coming out in about two weeks. I hadn’t planned on reading it (as you can probably tell from my less-than-glowing review), but now I think I almost have to. I kind of want to see if the author can redeem herself a little bit and resolve this extremely irritating love triangle or at least convince me to love the main characters a little more.

I’m not sure if I would recommend this book or not. You’ll have to decide for yourself on this one!