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The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam

Published by Owlkids Books

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story: Lam, Thao: 9781771473637: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Thao Lam and her family escaped from Vietnam in 1980 when she was two years old.  This wordless book shows her family’s journey, starting with a dinner in their Vietnam home where they’re planning their escape.  The author’s note explains how, as a child, her mother used to rescue ants from the sugar water left in the house to trap them.  When her mother was lost in the tall grass during her escape, a trail of ants led the family to the river and their escape boat.  The illustrations show a parallel journey of ants escaping in a paper boat as the family is traveling in a larger ship.  One of those ants crawls into a meal that turns out to be Thao Lam’s family dinner in their new apartment in Canada.  Includes an author’s note giving more information about her family’s experience and her mother’s story about the ants.  40 pages; grades 2-7.

Pros:  The cut paper illustrations do an amazing job of telling this refugee family’s story, cleverly bookending the tale with two family dinners, and weaving the story of the ants in seamlessly.

Cons:  Reviews I read recommended this book for kids as young as 5, but I think the nature of the story and the way it’s told make it more of an upper elementary and middle school book. I wish the author’s note had been at the beginning to help me understand the story before I began.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

Published by Jimmy Patterson Books (Little, Brown)

Becoming Muhammad Ali - Kindle edition by Patterson, James, Alexander, Kwame, Anyabwile, Dawud. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Summary:  Round One: Cassius Clay’s friend Lucky and the rest of Cassius’s friends and family are awaiting the results of the 1958 Golden Gloves championship.  16-year-old Cassius is in Chicago, 300 miles from his home in Louisville, KY.  The phone rings, and the story shifts to Cassius’s voice, told in verse.  Clay didn’t win that championship, but he relates how he got there: the friends and relatives who influenced him, the events that led him to boxing, the unflagging discipline and confidence that helped him in his training.  By the time we get to Round Nine, Cassius is ready to return to the Golden Gloves competition and become a champion.  Lucky introduces each round, then finishes with a Final Round, in which he tells what happened to Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, during the rest of his career.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Apparently, Kwame Alexander has been a Muhammad Ali fan since he read Ali’s autobiography as a kid, and he uses his considerable poetic talents to bring the boxer life.  I wasn’t sure I liked Lucky’s prose sections at first, but they did flesh out the story, setting up the action for the poetry parts. This is sure to be an enormously popular choice for kids.

Cons:  I’m curious about the collaboration James Patterson, who seems more like a brand than an actual author these days.  I would have preferred this to be the sole work of Kwame Alexander, whom I’m sure could have pulled it off without any help.

If you would like to buy this on Amazon, click here.

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Review: The Map From Here To There

The%2Bmap%2Bfrom%2Bhere%2Bto%2BthereThis coming of age novel centres on the last year of high school for Paige Hancock and her friends.

Paige seems to have it all mapped out – she has a part-time job she loves at the local cinema, the perfect boyfriend in Max and her close friends.

Everything seems so perfect, Paige doesn’t want anything to change, but of course that is when it all does.

Her job at the local cinema allows Paige to save for her college tuition. Except her divorced parents who are currently dating (in a bizarre dark comedy sort of way) have expectations of where Paige will be going and studying.

Paige knows things need to change but wishes it could stay the same forever.

A chance workshop in English allows Paige to explore screenwriting and encourages her to think she may have a future career; instead of being the English teacher which is expected of her. Changing career paths means applying to film schools in New York and Los Angeles – that wasn’t in the plan.

Another chance meeting at a screenwriting workshop introduces her to Maeve who eventually becomes her writing partner and adds another level of complexity to the decisions Paige is making – should they apply to the same film schools?

Her perfect boyfriend Max, who has just returned from spending the summer in Italy already knows that he will be studying pre-med just like his parents. However, he unwittingly puts pressure on Paige by declaring he wants them to get married, when she baulks at the idea, they split – sending Paige down a rabbit hole of emotions.

Paige is then involved in a near fatal car accident and everything spins out of her control.  Paige begins to experience panic attacks and anxiety, feelings she thought had been dealt with a long time ago. The rest of her life relies on these decisions, what if she makes the wrong one?

Seeking help, Paige is diagnosed with traumatic grief which stems from the death of her previous boyfriend Aaron who drowned in a freak accident. How Paige deals with these life changing decisions, her counselling sessions and the direction life takes her is a rewarding read.

This story highlights the stress and life changing decisions that all teenagers face when catapulted into adulthood. While author Emery Lord depicts the tumultuous feelings, expectations and decision making that happens in real life, she also offers hope and clarity. Life never goes to plan, but there are always new opportunities to explore and embrace.

Title: The Map From Here To There
Author: Emery Lord
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, $14.99
Publication Date: 31 March 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781526606648
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction

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Review: None Shall Sleep

none%2Bshall%2Bsleep

Emma Lewis and Travis Bell are both teenagers who have had survived encounters with serial killers.

They are therefore recruited by the FBI to interview a convicted teenaged serial killer in order to gain some clues about an ongoing investigation into another serial killer, who is targeting teenagers.

The jailed killer, Simon Gutmunsson, is a sophisticated and charming genius who develops a rapport with Emma and throws her tantalising cryptic clues that may provide some insights into the mind of the killer.

Or maybe he’s a clever psychopath playing her in order to gain changes in his incarceration which may offer him a way to escape.

As I started reading, I was wary of this story, as the set up sounded very close to The Silence of the Lambs.

There were other similarities – just as Lechter taunted Clarisse about being motivated by her failure to save the lambs, so does Gutmunsson taunt Emma about her failure to have rescued the other two girls who had been held hostage with her some years earlier.

And that no matter how successful she may be, she would always bear the load of her guilt.

Thankfully, the storylines diverged enough to save the book from being hurled across the room. I liked that even though Emma was working with Travis, she was the stronger character who made important decisions and kept her nerve. I liked that – unusually for a YA story – there was zero hint of a romance. I was also grateful that it lacked the shocking and bloodthirsty climax of Harris’s novel. However, it was not lacking in gory details, so those who enjoy a thriller will not be disappointed.

Overall, it was very well written, fast paced and had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. Despite the publisher recommending this for readers aged 14 – 18 years, I would suggest caution for the younger end of this range, due to its graphic description of murders.

Title: None Shall Sleep
Author: Ellie Marney
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, $19.99
Publication Date: September 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760877309
For ages: 14 – 18
Type: Young Adult Fiction
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Catching Emotions by Artun Bekar

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 CATCHING EMOTIONS
by Artun Bekar
Middle Grade Fantasy
92 pages
ages 8 to 12
Willy, a very rational boy, is forced to grapple with his unpredictable emotions on an adventure with a classmate. On a journey through a nearby forbidden forest, he discovers nine primary emotions that put him in hazardous situations, then help him overcome them. Each emotion appears in the form of a colorful light.

On his way to school, he meets his first emotion, Happi, and soon after Wonder drags him into the forest. He struggles with Panicky after getting scared by something following him, but his pursuer ends up being his classmate Mia, who was trying to make sure he was safe. Because Mia scared him so badly, Willy unleashes his darkest emotion Fury, and he verbally attacks Mia for scaring him, demanding that she leave him alone.

But after she leaves, Shame and Melancholy visit Willy, and he regrets that he was so mean to Mia. He decides to stand up to his emotions and selflessly focuses on finding Mia. Courage appears as Willy tries to make things right, and even though Willy gets physically harmed during his search for Mia, he still manages to find her. She had tripped and fallen over a cliff and is clinging to life by her fingertips curled around a tree root.

Willy tries to rescue her but accidently lets her fall. His assumption of her death hits him hard, and he feels an unbearable pain in his heart. However, Mia hadn’t fallen the whole way down but onto a ledge a little farther down from the surface. Willy uses Fury, Lovely, and Courage to find the strength and brevity to pull her up.

While trying to find a way out of the forest, they come across a mysterious old man playing the violin who lives in a nearby cabin. At first, doubting the intentions of the old man, they pretend they are not lost. Shortly after knowing more about him, they become friends, and the old man takes them to his cabin for some water and to wrap Willy’s wounds. In the meantime, he mentors them on emotions and promises to direct them back to their school.

However, on the way back, the old man takes them on a detour. He takes them to an old factory that leaked poison and destroyed the nearby environment and wildlife. These horrible surroundings cause Willy to meet his most repelling emotion: Disgusty. The old man gives them a vital lesson about the environment by connecting basic human behavior and emotions.

When they finally get back to school, they find a bunch of people looking for them. Willy’s father furiously blames the old man for all the trouble and pushes him to the ground. Lying on the ground with his broken violin, the old man does nothing but show empathy. He then departs back to his cabin. By the end of this coming-of-age story, Willy has changed into someone who cares much more about his emotions and has more control over them.
 

MY TIDBITS

Emotions come to life in this intriguing tale about learning to understand ones self and others. 
 
Willy sees a man jump into the road after a dog and is able to tell the bus driver to stop before a terrible accident occurs. While the man is safe, Willy begins to wonder what caused the man to be willing to leap into the road and put himself in danger…for a mere dog. That’s when the first emotion appears and explains what its purpose is and how it affects others. While Willy is meeting all sorts of different emotions, he finds himself in the forest after school and has a nasty run-in with a classmate. And that’s where the adventure really takes off.
 
The idea behind this book is very intriguing and definitely shoots off in a new direction. Willy is a boy, who needs to learn about his emotions. It’s not clear why he seems to have difficulty understanding emotions  (the reader can slide by that although I would have loved more background!). Willy meets emotions face-to-face. Literally. Little balls of color appear, each with a fitting name like Happi or Panicky and so forth. They speak to Willy, not only explaining themselves, but leading him to act in different ways. 
 
It’s an interesting push and pull between Willy and the emotions, and allows readers to learn more about why they sometimes feel the way they do and how these emotions affect others. Now, this entire emotion personality might sound weird…and it is original (as said) but I was surprised how well the author got it to work. The emotions had clear personalities (like little creatures) and were a bit quirky, at times. Of course, some of it was a bit awkward. The emotions explained what they do and such…which…okay, it will work for younger listeners, I guess. Older ones will roll their eyes. But the emotions are also endearing, cause a little trouble, and came across better than I feared they might.
 
All of this is packed into a fast-paced adventure, which does keep the pages turning. Willy finds himself in some difficult situations, and it’s hard not to wonder what will happen next. The emotions are tricky, and he has to learn how to deal with them…in more ways than a reader might first think. This entire tale is put into less than a hundred pages, which makes it something even reluctant readers might be willing to pick up. Of course, the adventure also allows the possibility to discuss more about emotions and can be used in a group situation to address this topic. The beginning did start off without much introduction into Willy and who he is (which I found rather unfortunate and missed), and some of the vocabulary used in the dialogue didn’t fit the natural word choice of kids that age. But despite these small stumbles, the book is well done and readers are sure to enjoy it.
And here he is…

 

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Artun Bekar was born in Turkey. Raised in Switzerland and Ukraine. He studied International Relations in the United Kingdom. He is currently living in Shanghai and working in the healthy snacks industry. He became interested in writing children’s books when he realized that in modern educational paradigms there isn’t enough environmental and emotional teaching for kids. After extensive research on emotions and the environment, he started writing stories for children. His latest book Catching Emotions focuses on emotional and environmental awareness. He strongly believes it is necessary to teach about emotions at a very early age. To protect and preserve the environment, he strongly advocates to introduce today’s environmental challenges to kids as early as possible. Retrospect, the best way to accomplish this task is through well composed stories that can raise questions in children’s minds.
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Millionaires for the Month by Stacy McAnulty

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Millionaires for the Month: McAnulty, Stacy: 9780593175255: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  When Felix and Benji find a wallet belonging to billionaire Laura Friendly, they return it–after first “borrowing” $20.00 to buy themselves hot dogs and ice cream.  As a reward/punishment, Ms. Friendly offers the boys $10 million.  But there’s a catch: first they have to spend $5,368,709.12 in a month (the amount you’d have by starting with a penny and doubling it every day for 30 days).  There are some rules: no real estate, no vehicles, no charities, and no gifts.  At first, the boys are thrilled to buy whatever they want, but they soon learn the ancient lesson that money can’t buy happiness.  The “no gift” rule makes them look selfish, and spending millions just on themselves proves increasingly difficult.  When tragedy strikes, the boys realize that many of the best things in life have no price.  The end finds them wiser, but no richer…well maybe just a little bit richer.  336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This improbable but fun tale taps into our love/hate relationship with money, and could lead to some interesting discussions.  Sure to appeal to upper elementary and middle school kids.

Cons:  I was expecting some sweeping revelation about Laura Friendly, but there was nothing spectacular.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Don’t Judge Me by Lisa Schroeder

Published by Scholastic Press (Released November 10)

Don't Judge Me by Lisa Schroeder

Summary:  When Hazel finds an abandoned pet tortoise, she discovers that the two of them are alike in some ways.  Both want to hide when they are scared, and Hazel finds herself feeling anxious about almost every aspect of middle school.  She’s shy and wants nothing more than to blend in, but her best friend Tori wants to perform in the talent show and make new friends.  When Hazel finds a notebook belonging to Tori’s older brother Ben, she’s horrified to discover that it contains pages for many of the girls at school with other boys’ comments about their appearance.  The notebook, combined with a dress code targeting girls and a new friend, Dion, who’s being bullied by other boys, finally forces Hazel to stick her neck out and speak up about the injustices and sexism she sees all around her.  Hazel is amazed to learn what power her voice has; while her school still has problems, she and her friends are able to bring about real change with their activism.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Another great addition to the growing list of 2020 books that address feminism, dress codes, and toxic masculinity.  Many readers will recognize themselves in Hazel and her friends and may be inspired to speak up about issues they see in their own schools and communities.

Cons:  While Hazel’s dad is pretty cool, it would have been nice to see some other men helping out the girls and women.  The principal seemed like a real dud.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

 

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Love Is Powerful by Heather Dean Brewer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Published by Candlewick

Love Is Powerful: Brewer, Heather Dean, Pham, LeUyen: 9781536201994: Amazon.com: Books
Love Is Powerful by Heather Dean Brewer, LeUyen Pham |, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®

Summary:  Mari and her mother get out crayons and poster board to make signs: “Be Kind”, “Love Is Powerful”.  From their apartment, they can see crowds gathering in the streets.  Mom explains that they are sending a message to the world.  “How will the whole world hear?” asks Mari.  “They’ll hear because love is powerful,” her mother tells her.  Mari thinks about friends and family members who are also demonstrating around the world as she and Mom ride the elevator down to join the crowd.  Her mother lifts Mari up on her shoulder.  When Mari shouts the message on her sign, “Love is powerful”, others around her pick up the chant.  The illustrations show hearts swirling around the crowd and up into the sky.  Includes a note from Mari that explains how she felt when she participated in the first Women’s March in 2016.  32 pages; ages 5-8.

Pros:  An inspiring story of activism told from a child’s point of view.  The Women’s March is portrayed very positively with lots of empowering signs and happy people marching together.  LeUyen Pham’s illustrations are adorable and capture the spirit of the story.

Cons:  As I sit here on the morning after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, pondering what is going to happen in the next few months, it’s hard for me to feel the happy optimism of this story.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Review: Ten Sleepy Sheep

ten sleepy sheep

Ten Sleepy Sheep is an adorable board book set on a farm in the Australian bush.

Gently counting animals who are ready for bed down from ten sheep to one snuggly, sleepy joey, this new book from Renée Treml is as sweet as they come. Each spread features a group of gorgeous, very sleepy animals to count, including puppies, foals, calves, ducklings, lizards and more.

I adore the Australian farm themed illustrations, featuring delicately drawn line art of flora and fauna with soft pastel background colours, they set a dreamy sense of open space and rich night skies.

Ten Sleepy Sheep is perfect for babies and toddlers learning about counting, animals, farms, Australia and of course those who are or should be sleepy. With durable board pages, it’s strong and ready for repeated use by tiny hands.

Renée Treml is an Australian author and illustrator, some of her other books include Roo Knows Blue, Sleep Tight, Platypup, and The Great Garden Mystery.

Title: Ten Sleepy Sheep
Author/Illustrator :  Renée Treml
Publisher: Penguin, $14.99
Publication Date: 4 August 2020
Format: Board Book
ISBN: 9781760896768
For ages: 0 – 3
Type: Board Book

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Review: 1,001 Creatures

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1,001 CREATURES
by Laura Merz and
Alino Jarvinen
Translated by Emily Jeremiah
Merkat Press
Yonder
Picture Book Non-Fiction/ Zoology
64 pages
ages 4 to 8

 

From the dung-beetle to the blue whale, no creature is too humble or huge for Finnish author and illustrator duo Laura Merz and Aino Järvinen in 1,001 Creatures, a gorgeously illustrated, interactive exploration of the natural world.

 

Under the sun, the moon, and the stars
all the creatures of the world, big and small,
carry out their own tasks
as part of nature’s great balance.

 

Have you ever wondered how a crocodile keeps its teeth clean? Or why herons like to sit on the backs of water buffalo? What exactly does a giant blue whale eat to get so big? In 1,001 Creatures, Aino Järvinen and Laura Merz playfully investigate the complex and awe-inspiring world of twenty-six fascinating insects, reptiles, and mammals.

With fun facts and captivating illustrations, 1,001 Creatures explores the diversity of the animal world and its ecosystems. Interactive questions allow readers to take their curiosity and imagination off the page and into the real world with prompts to create their own artwork, imitate a camel’s unique walk, and discover the ways in which all creatures are connected in the world. Järvinen’s humorous style and Merz’s unique watercolor illustrations painted from memory using non-traditional materials, enhance the central message that we’re all in this together–human, squid, and penguin alike.

MY TIDBITS
 

This book originated in Finland and has now been translated into the English language. Honestly, I enjoy getting my hands on such literature and love how it opens up the variety of the world.

In these pages, the authors present many various creatures on our planet. A few tidibts concerning habits, diet, characteristics and such are presented—always interesting and sure to lure young listeners in. The text is a bit playful, which is great and makes this so much more interesting than a dry textbook. And the information is unique enough that several things will stick in listeners minds, ones they won’t forget easily again. The vocabulary is just right for the age group and at a good length for a read-aloud. At the end of each two-page presentation, the authors leave off with a question for the listener, which makes them consider a certain aspect of the animal and brings everything down to a more personal level. They’ve really done a lovely job at writing in such a way which does hold listeners’ attentions.
The illustrations are a treat. They’re in simple colors and very artistic. Everything from water colors, to prints, to ink and more is used. It keeps the environment playful and yet, presents each creature in a unique and usually recognizable way. There were a couple creatures, which were more than a little abstract and not so easy to identift, though, and I’m not sure what I thought of these, since this is to teach younger readers about various creatures and increase their knowledge and appreciation. I as an older reader did appreciate the artwork quite a bit.
This is a wonderful way to let young readers/listeners learn more about some well-known and lesser known creatures in our world in a way which entertains and delivers information at the same time. I think it would make a great read-aloud and definitely open up some fun discussions.

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Review: Piper Picks the Perfect Pet

piper picks the perfect pet front

Piper’s dilemma is which pet to choose. So many types of dogs: ones that prance, others that dance, one that is flouncy or another that’s bouncy.

Or perhaps a cat? A tabby? A Persian? A Manx or Siamese? One that sleeps all day long, or the kind that are poetry in motion.

What about other pets? Small or large? A snake or donkey, an insect or fish?

Should she choose a pet that will impress her friends? One that will win prizes?

How does one choose the perfect pet?

But dad tells her to use your heart and not your head.

What will Piper choose?

The best pet for her, of course!

With assonance and rhyming verse, Piper Picks the Perfect Pet is ideal for reading aloud.

Continue reading Review: Piper Picks the Perfect Pet

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Peter’s War: A Boy’s True Story of Survival in World War II Europe

Published by Holiday House

Peter's War: A Boy's True Story of Survival in World War II Europe: Ruelle, Karen Gray, Durland DeSaix, Deborah: 9780823424160: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Peter was born to a wealthy family in Berlin, German in 1930.  All that changed when Hitler rose to power, and his Jewish family had to escape, first to Belgium, and then to France.  In the summer of 1942, Peter’s parents sent him to summer camp.  While he was there, they were arrested and taken away.  He got two postcards from them, then never heard from them again.  He spent the next two years living in children’s homes and a boarding school, using his German language skills to spy on the Nazis.  When rumors started circulating that the Germans knew one of the school’s students was a spy, a group of French resistance fighters arranged for Peter’s escape.  On May 22, 1944, he managed to cross the border into Switzerland, where he spent the next two years before joining his aunt and grandmother in the U.S.  Includes an epilogue with photos; notes with additional information about each two-page spread; a bibliography, and an index.  40 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A good choice for upper elementary students interested in the Holocaust and World War II history.  Although it’s revealed in the epilogue that Peter’s parents both died in Auschwitz, the focus of the narrative is mostly on Peter’s courage and survival skills.  The extensive bibliography will guide readers to more resources, and the book list gives recommendations for appropriate age groups for each.

Cons:  The story was so brief that I felt like I never really got to know Peter or any of his family members.  Half the book is back matter, so Peter’s story, covering over a decade, is told in 20 illustrated pages.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.