Sunday, February 28, 2010

Runt Farm: Beatrice and Blossom

The second book in Amanda Lorenzo's Runt Farm series is called Beatrice and Blossom. Beatrice is a bunny who is quite small for her age. She gets lost when being transported to the market, and runs into Cletus and Tooth. Beatrice is quickly adopted into the fold at The Runt Farm, where she learns that being small isn't so bad after all.

Soon after, Beatrice comes across a little squirrel named Blossom. She brings him back to Runt Farm to join their family. The two start playing and fighting together like a typical brother and sister pair. Each one becomes bossy when playing games and tries to cheat. They learn a great lesson about playing fair, caring for friends, and listening to adults.

This book is similar to the first one in its simplicity of storytelling and design. The lessons learned in this one are more on a social level, yet easily understood by young children. Again, my students loved hearing this book, and cannot wait for book number 3 to come out!

This book also includes a glossary in the back, to enrich the vocabulary of the both the reader and the listener.

I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

Purchase Beatrice and Blossom (Runt Farm, Book 2)

Runt Farm: Under New Management

The first volume in the Runt Farm series by Amanda Lorenzo is Under New Management. The Brunt family has abandoned their old farm, leaving behind Kitten. He doesn't care, because now he has the entire farm to himself. He goes around, naming different areas, including renaming the farm Runt Farm.

Kitten quickly amasses a collection of new friends, who have also been abandoned, or otherwise need a home. Peep is a duckling, whose varying exclamations of "Peep!" are easily interpreted by Kitten, much like the word "smurf' has many meanings. Cletus and Tooth are two brilliant mice who have run away from a research facility. The unlikely comrades become fast friends, and almost a sort of family.

Their adventures are simple and mischievous. The biggest lesson comes when Kitten sneaks into the barn to smoke cigars, and it catches on fire. But the simplicity of the story is what makes it so appealing. The fact that the characters are animals help engage young children, who don't really need the bells and whistles so commonly found in modern books.

The illustrations are simple black and white drawings, that are full of expression, and would pale considerably if they were to be colored. This old-fashioned style perfectly fits the simplicity of the story.

I tested this book on my class of full-day students, who are ages 4-6. They loved every bit of the story, and looked forward to having it read to them each day. We also read Book 2, Beatrice and Blossom. They would love to hear Book 3, when it comes out!

Stay tuned for an interview with author Amanda Lorenzo.

Keep up with the Runt Farm books on Twitter @runtfarmbooks.

Purchase Under New Management (Runt Farm, Book 1)

I received a copy of this book from the author, for reviewing purposes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Red Red Car

I love the story of The Red Red Car. He's red and always full of anger. Because he's so full of anger, he has complete disregard for the rules. He knows traffic laws, but rarely obeys them. He'd rather do whatever he wants, and just honk whenever someone asks him to do something.

He gets sent to the mechanic for a makeover, as obviously there is something wrong with him. But it didn't work. He joins a race, and because he doesn't follow the rules, he gets extremely angry, and overheats. His anger has made him horribly sick, and he goes unconscious.

When he awakens, he realizes that his anger has not only been hurting him, but others, as well. He also realizes that he will never win a race if he stays so angry. So, he learns to stay calm, and to follow the rules, so that he can be a true winner.

All of us know people, children and older, who are like the Red Red Car. No matter what, they are always angry, and basically getting in the way of themselves. They have no regard to any cautionary advice given to them and end up in trouble. Sometimes it takes something relatively drastic to get them to pay attention to their feelings and to learn to calm down again.

The Red Red Car is a book that adults can learn from, reminding themselves to take a breath once in a while and to calm down. It's also a book that children will relate to, especially those whose motors seem to often be running high. Parents and teachers can use it often to help younger children remember to slow down, to take a deep breath, and to "put on the brakes".

I also love the look of The Red Red Car. The print and the illustrations are reminiscent of classics from the 1950s and 1960s, such as those by Margaret Wise Brown, and White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt. Also, words such as "red" and "angry" and "hotter" are often printed in larger, red letters, to give visual emphasis to their meaning.

I only have two minor problems with the book, and I am hoping that perhaps they are artistic license. In the title of the book, on the book cover, the first "red" is not capitalized, while the rest of it is. Throughout the rest of the book, he is often described as a red [printed in red] Red car. I am assuming that author Manjula Naraynan is trying to emphasize how the car is red and angry.

Then, a little ways into the book, one line reads, "For, he was an angry little red Red car, who never used his breaks." Technically, the word should be "brakes" as "brakes" are for stopping cars, and "breaks" mean taking a time out. The way that the pages read in this area, which is talking about following the directions of the stoplights and stopping in general, "brakes" would have been an appropriate choice. However, perhaps the author means to indicate that the car should be taking a time out?

My eye tends to catch these types of errors quickly. Again, I am hoping they were intentional errors to add to the artistry of the story, because I truly adore this book.

Purchase The red Red Car

I received a copy of this book via my association with BookPleasures.

Masterpiece Creation


Masterpiece Creation by Timberly Robinson is her attempt at empowering young girls, to give them higher self-esteem and to love themselves for who they are. She has even dedicated it to her Girl Scout Troop in Detroit, MI.

Young girls are prone to questioning why they are so different from their friends. They are rarely happy with how they look, and wish that they had various features that belong to their friends and peers. Robinson's message to them is simple: God made everyone different on purpose, and loves you more for your differences. If you were exactly the same as all of your friends, you wouldn't be you!

This message is one that we have been trying to get across to our girls for hundreds of years. Robinson decides to take it from a religious point-of-view, and by likening each one of us to a masterpiece painting. Each feature was very carefully determined and placed, to make us unique and special. She also compares each girl to a beautiful diamond ring, that is cherished and cared for.

There are a few illustrations, and they are of the expected rainbows and smiling girls variety. They do fit the text and message quite well. I think that the text could have been organized a bit differently, to better fit the accompanying text, or perhaps broken up a bit more.

This book will work well one-on-one with younger elementary girls, to start laying the foundation for self-esteem. Perhaps even kindergartners will enjoy hearing the story in a small group or one-on-one setting. For older children, it could be used as a teaching tool, or a springboard for discussions in small groups in a religious setting.

Purchase Masterpiece Creation

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author for the purposes of reviewing.

The Mudhogs

It's not often that an 8 year-old will write and illustrate his own story, let alone get it published. Dalton James has accomplished this feat three times! He was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book, The Mudhogs.

The story is told by Fangs, a tick who lives on the leg of Piggy. Piggy is the short, fat, smart pig who is the leader of the Mudhogs. Piggles is tall and skinny and likes to read. Piglet is little and sweet.

The Mudhogs like to hang out at the Barnyard Break to roll around in mud. But there hasn't been any rain in so long, that there is no more mud. The Mudhogs hold a meeting and decide they are going to do whatever it takes to make it rain. When dances and spells don't work, they decide to travel the world, looking for mud. For weeks they are on a quest for mud, in all of the towns, states and countries of the world. When they still cannot find any mud, they return home, only to discover that it has been raining the whole time they were gone.

The moral of the story: "Sometimes all you are looking for is at home if you just wait for it."

The story and pictures are very cute. Dalton demonstrates talent in both his writing and his illustrating. While they are obviously the work of a child, they are entertaining enough to interest other children. Older children and adults will get a kick out of all of Dalton's puns on location names, such as "Snortessee" and "Piggselvania".

The fact that the story has such a good moral to it also demonstrates a maturity in Dalton that isn't always found in other 8 year-olds. It may be a little too abstract for the younger set, but I think that it is a lesson well-remembered.

Other books by Dalton include The Heroes of Googley Woogley and The Sneakiest Pirates. It will be interesting to follow this young man over the next several years!

Purchase The Mudhogs

I received a copy of this book via my association with BookPleasures.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'll Fly My Own Plane


I'll Fly My Own Plane is the third book in the "Joe Joe in the City" series by Jean Alicia Elster. This installment of Black History takes Joe Joe to the skies, as his friend and librarian, Mrs. Morgan, gives him a book about the Tuskegee Airmen. They were a group of African-American pilots who flew with the US Air Force during WWII.

Joe Joe's struggle in this book is that he loves airplanes, which is why he was given this book to read. He would love to have his own model airplane, but he can't yet afford one. Working for Mr. Booth in the store doesn't pay a lot of money. His friend Tyrone keeps bugging him to go work for Cecil, because he could make a lot of money. But Joe Joe knows that Cecil does something shady, and his parents have told him to stay away.

He tries to focus on the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Bessie Coleman had to travel all the way to France to learn how to fly, but because the first black woman in the world to earn a pilot's license. Eugene Bullard was also forced to go to France. By joining the French Air Force, he became the first African American to become a military pilot.

In 1941, the first black American soldiers were finally allowed to train to become military pilots. They trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, to become the 99th Squadron, a segregated unit, and received the nickname "Tuskegee Airmen". Each of these men had earned college degrees. They were treated poorly by the Air Force. But the airmen kept their heads held high, and continued to work hard, to prove that they could. Their perseverance paid off to open doors to future aviators.

As Joe Joe is reading this, he can hear Tyrone playing with his airplane, and he feels the pull to try to work for Cecil to earn money faster. At the same time, he is working extra hard for Mr. Booth, and keeps hearing the echoes of his parents and grandmother in his head.

This book is yet again another great resource for Black history, and for life lessons to children. It demonstrates the inner struggles felt by children living in the city, torn between doing the right thing and fitting in. It also provides good role models to these children, which unfortunately many are lacking. This book, and the others in the series, should be shared with children of elementary age. The lessons contained within are important, both historically and social-emotionally.

Purchase I'll Fly My Own Plane (Joe Joe in the City, 3)

Disclaimer: While I did receive a copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions contained within this post are completely honest.

I Have a Dream, Too!


I Have a Dream, Too! by Jean Alicia Elster is the second book in the "Joe Joe in the City" series. This contribution to the study of Black History has ten year-old Joe Joe learning about Mary McLeod Bethune, for whom his library was named.

Joe Joe walks into his library, beaming with pride as he just received his report card with all A's and a B in handwriting. Mrs. Morgan, the librarian who is his friend, hands him a book about Mary McLeod Bethune to read. On his way out, Joe Joe tells his friends that he has aspirations to go to college, and will write his paper about his dream for the future about it. His friends make fun of him, because kids from that neighborhood never go to college.

That night, Joe Joe starts to read about Mary. Her parents worked hard to earn money as sharecroppers to eventually earn their own 35 acres of land. They were also illiterate. Mary had a strong desire to learn how to decipher those markings within the books she saw, including the family Bible.

A teacher went around the county seeking African American children to educate. Mary's parents willingly let their daughter go. She was a quick study, making her way all the way through high school. She then attended a two-year college in preparation for missionary work in Africa. Unable to make the trip, because there was no space for an African- American to go, she chose to instead start her own school, which eventually became a four-year college. Bethune was also given a special position in the National Youth Administration by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As Joe reads the story of Mary McLeod Bethune, he goes on his own personal journey of figuring out how to be as successful. He begins to work for the shopkeeper, Mr. Booth, to start saving money. He tries to ignore the taunts of the other children in his neighborhood. He tries to find the same strength and determination within himself that Mary was able to find in herself.

Though written as an inspirational book for Black History, the lessons contained within this book can apply to children of any race. Kids need to set their goals high, and do whatever it takes to get there, while following ethical ideals. Success is dependent on hard work, and there will be people trying to bring you down. A good support system at home, at school, and within the community can help you achieve anything.

Again, this book is more appropriate for the elementary sect, but is a beneficial addition to the collection.

Purchase I Have a Dream, Too! (Joe Joe in the City)

I received a copy of this book from the author.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Just Call Me Joe Joe


Just Call Me Joe Joe by Jean Alicia Elster is the first book in a series known as "Joe Joe in the City". In this book, Joe Joe Rawlings is a ten year-old boy who has a strong love of baseball. At the beginning of baseball season, he visits his local library, where his special friend, librarian Mrs. Morgan, gives him a book called The History of the Negro Baseball Leagues.

It's a book about the history of African-Americans in the sport of baseball. The Negro baseball leagues formed in the early 1900s, so that the blacks could play in a game that they loved. In the late 1800s, a few integrated leagues existed. Moses Fleetwood Walker, known as "Fleet", had signed onto a major league team in Toledo, OH, making him the first African American to do so. But the major leagues quickly changed their minds and did not renew the blacks' contracts, thus causing them to have to create their own. Some of the best baseball was played on those teams.

Life on the Negro leagues was not easy. They had little to no money, so supplies like bats were old and beat-up, and buses kept breaking down. But the players took great pride in what they were doing. One talented player, named James "Cool Papa" Bell, started playing in the winters in Cuba and Mexico, where there was no segregation on baseball teams. But in the summers, he always came back to the States to play with his home teams. He may not have always been treated right, but he felt good doing what he loved.

Learning about the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues inspires Joe Joe to take pride in himself. He had gone into Mr. Booth's store to buy paprika for his grandmother, when a gang of other boys came in and trashed the place. Mr. Booth mistakenly assumed Joe Joe was a part of that group, and banished him from the store. Joe Joe is hurt, because he was innocent, and feels unjustly treated. Dad tells him that he needs to go into the store and make it right. Reading about people like "Cool Papa" Bell makes him feel strong enough to do so.

This book is a great one to read when teaching black history. It provides the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues, including lots of facts and real photographs. This is a part of American history and baseball that is often overlooked. It can also be inspirational to children of any race, to teach them to stand up for themselves and to take pride in themselves.

Accompanying illustrations of Joe Joe and his family are quite well-done and provide a visual insight into their lives.

Though this is a picture book, the story is long and mature. It is much more appropriate for the elementary years, than kindergarten and younger. But it is one that I would recommend to elementary teachers and to families to share with their children.

Purchase Just Call Me Joe Joe (Joe Joe in the City, 1)

Disclaimer: I did receive a copy of this book for reviewing purposes; however, the opinions expressed within this blog post are my own.

Monday, February 15, 2010

With These Hands: For All the Children Around the World

It appears that Grace Girdwain wants to spread peace and love around the entire world by emphasizing simple things children can do with their own hands in her book With These Hands: For All the Children Around the World. Ideas range from practical life ideas to those that are more abstract. When outside, children can help plant a garden or take care of animals. Inside they can use their hands to brush their hair and teeth. Hands are also used for praying for health and happiness for selves and others.

I like the ideas presented in this book, as they seem to be written in a way that children will understand them. However, I felt like there were too many examples, and they were sometimes redundant. There also wasn't a logical flow that I could find. Perhaps the books could have been organized differently? I also wish there would have been more tying in of the title, explaining how children do all of these things in different lands.

Grace Girdwain also did all of her own illustrations in the book. Each illustration is simple, with its own caption. I think that they could almost stand on their own as an adequate book.

Unique to this book is a simple little song at the beginning, complete with notes, for the music-reading reader. Following the book is a prayer that children can learn to say together with each other and special adults in their lives.

With These Hands: For All the Children Around the World by Grace Girdwain does provide a good foundation for children who are learning how to use their hands for good, instead of hitting. The ideas presented within are good for children to learn, and can provide a springboard for multiple conversations and activities.

I received a complimentary copy of With These Hands as a member of the    
    Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team.  Visit
    to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

Get your own copy by visiting the store at

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stop It!


Stop It! by Sally O. Lee is about a bully. His name is George. George likes to pick on his big sister Anabel by stealing her dress-up clothes and harassing her cat. The day that George picks up Lulubell the cat by her tail, Anabel has had enough and screams, "STOP IT!" She tenderly picks up her beloved cat, loves her and caresses her. George is shocked and returns Anabel's princess wand to her, as an apology. Anabel accepts George's apology, anoints him as king, and he never bullies her again.

I love the illustrations in this book. Sally O. Lee has created her own watercolor paintings. They remind me a lot of those in Kevin Henkes' books.

As for the story, I think that it will speak to really young children. In some respects, I feel that calling George a bully for picking on his sister is a little extreme, as that is just being a stinky little brother. But hurting an animal is definitely not okay, and I believe this part is what truly makes him a bully.

I like that Anabel stands up for herself and her cat, quickly regaining composure after her explosion. She demonstrates love and compassion by taking care of her cat, giving little to no attention to George's antics, other than to distract him from hurting her cat. And I like how she quickly forgives him and boosts his self esteem by making him the king of the domain.

Young children are going to enjoy this book and probably relate to it. It also provides a great springboard for discussions, either within the home, or within the classroom, about bullying, being friends, and forgiveness.

Purchase Stop it!

I received a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

Escaping Into the Night


Escaping into the Night by D. Dina Friedman is a different kind of Holocaust story, at least different from ones that I've read before. In this book, Halina Rudowski lives in a Polish ghetto. She barely escapes with her friend Batya through an underground tunnel, after losing her mother to a raid.

Halina and Batya are forced to live in a secret encampment in the woods, with other Jewish refugees. Supplies are running low and fuses are high, which causes them to fight amongst themselves. Halina is forced to give up so many of her belongings and learn how to fight and scrounge, just like the men do. She narrowly escapes capture.

Halina quickly forms new friendships with Reuven and his brothers, as well as others hiding in the encampment. She also falls in love with Eli, one of the guards, who loves the way that she sings. These relationships become steadfast, providing Halina with a new sense of family.

Loyalties are challenged when uprising threatens amongst those who are hiding. Danger ensues as the group runs low on supplies, and the Germans approach. Halina has to look within herself for newfound courage and strength to survive.

This fictional account of fighting for survival during the Holocaust is well-researched, loosely based on real events. There is enough suspense to keep the pages turning, but it isn't so scary that upper elementary children can't handle it.

Further appeal lies in a relatively unknown aspect of the Holocaust. Most stories are those of hiding in a home, similar to the Anne Frank story, or concentration camps. The encampments in the woods seem to be basically untouched, at least as far as middle-grade fiction is concerned.

Purchase Escaping into the Night

A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of the author.

Mom's Story: A Child Learns About MS


Mom's Story: A Child Learns About MS by Mary Jo Nickum is told from the point of view of young Amy, whose mother is about to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). She notices that there is something wrong with her mother, as Mom starts falling, dropping things, forgetting things, and finally starts to lose her eyesight.

A rushed trip to the hospital and a barrage of testing by a neurologist reveals that Mom has MS. Dr. Miller provides a detailed explanation of the condition to Amy and her siblings. Together, the family researches MS, and orders a bunch of resources. They also begin to share information with their friends.

The story, itself, demonstrates some of the fear and confusion felt by children when dealing with medical uncertainty with parents. The reactions and calm approach of the parents provides a good role model for those who are going through this diagnosis. Also beneficial in the story is an extensive list of MS resources for families.

Following the story is a wealth of information. In the chapter where Dr. Miller explains MS to Amy and her siblings, many of the medical terms are boldfaced as they are defined. The glossary in the back of the book provides even more definition. Next are more facts about MS: the types, the symptoms, and an explanation of an MRI. Finally, there is a list of organizations, books listed by age of the intended audience, and a few DVDs.

While this book is not the ultimate guide for the family dealing with a new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, it is a great foundation. Families can read it together, then follow the lead of the characters and embark upon researching together, using the provided resources as a starting point. It's also at an appropriate level for children in elementary school.  I would love to see some follow-up books by this author, who was diagnosed with MS, herself, over 20 years ago.

Purchase Mom's Story

An advance reader's copy was provided by the author, via my association with

Mom, I Fired the Babysitter!


Mom, I Fired the Babysitter! is a children's book by Colleen H. Robley Blake that captures the feelings of a young child who is forced to put up with the evil babysitter. At the tender age of 8, Alex is not yet old enough to take care of himself. It also isn't a good idea to have him stay at home alone with his big brother. He still needs to have a babysitter. But, Alex thinks he can take care of himself.

Alex becomes that stinker child who is the bane of the babysitter's existence. He runs around the house screaming, tells the babysitter she isn't the boss of him, locks her out of the house, and gets into candy instead of eating his snack. On the other hand, the babysitter is constantly nagging, eats all of the food, and naps instead of paying attention to the kids.

To be fair, Alex is more likely to be extra stinky because he has such a poor relationship with his babysitter. He begins to think of ways to get her fired, or to make her quit, but to no avail.

Finally, Dad realizes that the babysitter is terrible, and joins in the conspiracy with the boys. At last, Mom decides the babysitter is no longer needed, and everyone is happy.

Children can relate to the misery of having a babysitter when they feel like they are growing big enough to take care of themselves. And honestly, babysitters can appreciate the shenanigans of young Alex.

This story is more appropriate for the elementary age, instead of the younger preschool and kindergarten set. It's a fun read, set completely in rhyme. And the illustrations are amusing, as they show Alex's plotting in his mind.

Following the story is a series of comprehension questions for the reader. They require the reader to understand what he has read, as well as to apply his own opinions to the story. These are great for doing either at home, or as part of a classroom activity.

Purchase Mom, I Fired The Babysitter

A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the author for reviewing purposes.

Living with Mom, Spending Time with Dad


Living with Mom, Spending Time with Dad by Colleen Robley Blake is a children's picture book that truly gets into the head of a child whose parents are getting divorced.

Alex has fond memories of the happiness his parents shared with each other, with him, and with his brother Stephen. When Dad is forced out of the house by Mom, Alex is confused, hurt, and angry. He also can then remember their fighting, the frustration, and the fear.

To help Alex feel better, his family tries to give him gifts and have him speak to a therapist. It doesn't help that Stephen is feeling the upset, as well. Mom also tries to reassure Alex that he isn't the only child who has had to go through this. But it doesn't seem to help.

As time goes on, the separation from Dad becomes a little easier. After all, the boys can still talk to him on the phone and see him on weekends, holidays, and birthdays. But Alex never stops hoping and praying that his parents can make it all work out and get back together. He longs to have his family in tact.

This book is written in an easy-to-read rhyming format that lends itself to being read aloud. The verbiage speaks to the true feelings of a child whose parents are divorcing. The illustrations vividly portray the sadness and confusion of the child of a divorcing couple. One of my favorite illustrations has Alex standing in the middle of a swirl of memories, fading in the background. Another has him standing between two trees, staring off into the sunset. These clearly demonstrate the swirling confusion and feelings of isolation felt by these children.

This is a book I would recommend for children whose parents are getting a divorce, or even for those who have gone through a divorce. These children will easily relate to the story and emotions.

Another plus to the book is the series of reading comprehension questions found at the end. The questions will engage the reader with the story, making him think about what he is reading, as well as reinforcing good reading habits. Then, the follow-up questions about advice a child would give to Alex, as well as writing a response to the reader's feelings about the story, can be a great way for a child to work through his own problems.

Purchase Living With Mom, Spending Time With Dad

A review set of galleys was provided by the author.