Book Review: Famous Phonies by Brianna DuMont

Famous Phonies cover imageFamous Phonies: Legends, Fakes and Frauds Who Changed History by Brianna DuMont should put to rest any notion that history is boring. In twelve chapters focusing on historic figures, DuMont sets about answering questions such as: Did a female pope ever sit on the throne in Rome? Did Homer really write The Iliad and The Odyssey? How did Confucius become a legend? Was George Washington a good general?

The people DuMont highlights include those above as well as Shakespeare, Hiawatha, Pythagoras, Gilgamesh and more. In each case she looks in depth into the tales surrounding the person, in some cases even showing that the person of legend never existed. But DuMont also points out how the stories about the famous people often inspired others to go to war, change the rules, or even create new inventions. For instance, The Turk, a famous chess-playing autmaton from the 1700s, helped inspire inventors who started the Industrial Revolution. And a planted dead body helped the Allies win World War II.

Famous Phonies is full of interesting tidbits that will have you thinking critically about other legends you take for granted. It’s fun to read, with several pull-out facts and supporting sidebars included with each chapter. The result is a fascinating read for those who love history as well as those who think they don’t. I highly recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12 and their parents.

The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh

The Truth About Twinkie Pie cover imageSince their mom died when GiGi was a baby, her big sister DiDi has taken care of her. DiDi works hard to make sure GiGi gets what she needs to excel in school and prepare for college. So when she wins a lot of money in a contest, she decides the two of them should move to Long Island where GiGi can attend a challenging prep school.

GiGi sees it as an opportunity to reinvent herself without leaving the things she likes about her life behind. She makes waves as well as friends and enemies in her new town. But her desire to find a special present for her older sister’s birthday will lead her to a shocking discovery about her family.

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh is about family, friends, and making a better life for yourself when the opportunity arises. As GiGi tries to figure out to fit into her new, upper-class environment, she learns that people can have troubles no matter what their situation in life.

Sprinkled with recipes from the girls’ trailer park, South Carolina roots, it’s an endearing story that will have you whipping up the dishes described even as you ponder the life situations they serve. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 to 16.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: One Witch at a Time by Stacy DeKeyser

One Witch at a Time cover imageA harsh winter has taken its toll on Rudi’s village of Brixen. Carrying a portion of his dairy farm’s dwindling supply of cheese and butter, he sets off for the market in a nearby town to trade for food, taking the pesky daughter of a friend along. But when Susanna Louisa trades a whole cow to a pretty foreign girl for a handful of beans, Rudi’s troubles truly begin.

One Witch at a Time by Stacy DeKeyser reimagines the Jack in the Beanstalk tale, expanding and updating it for modern readers. Here, a whole community surrounds Rudi. When he sets off with Susanna Louisa to visit the witch who lives in the mountain and set things right, he begins an adventure that will have him figuring out how to return things where they rightfully belong, address injustice for oppressed villagers, and earn the respect of those closest to him. It’s a tall order for a 13-year-old, but Rudi shows he’s up to the task.

While the basics of the tale are well known—a boy, a giant, a beanstalk—DeKeyser creates so much more by providing rich detail about the place and the people in it. She also makes a few changes that will delight young readers. Rudi’s town of Brixen, the far-off icy village of Petz, two magic witches, and one clever grandmother all combine to make One Witch at a Time a compelling book for kids to read on their own or for parents to read to them. I highly recommend it for young readers and mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 8 to 12.

You may be interested in watching the book trailer: Also, check out Stacy DeKeyser’s previous post about what makes a good story and a give away of One Witch at a Time and The Brixen Witch.

The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author Stacy DeKeyser Talks About What Makes a Good Story and a Book Giveaway

Today I’m taking part in a blog tour for Stacy DeKeyser and her book, One Witch at a Time, the sequel to The Brixen Witch, which received two starred reviews and was a Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Pick.

As a stop on the tour, Mother Daughter Book Club has a set of books to give away to a reader with a U.S. address: The Brixen Witch in paperback and One Witch at a Time in hardcover. Just leave a comment below (before midnight PST on Wednesday, February 25), and tell us about your favorite kinds of stories to read.

DeKeyser is also the author of the young adult novel, Jump the Cracks and two nonfiction books for young reader. She lives in Connecticut with her family. To learn more and to download a free, CCSS-aligned discussion guide for One Witch at a Time, visit

Read on to hear what DeKeyer thinks makes a good story and how those stories can have an affect on young readers. Check back tomorrow for my review of One Witch at a Time. And don’t forget to comment for a chance to win these great books for young readers.

What’s the Story REALLY About?

By Stacy DeKeyser

Stacy DeKeyser photo

Stacy DeKeyser
Photo by Michaela Ristaino

What makes a good story? An exciting plot? Characters you care about? A satisfying ending?

Of course, all those things (and a whole bunch more) are important to making a book memorable and worth passing along to friends. As a writer, I love stories that operate on two levels at the same time. Call them the external story and the internal story.

The external story is pretty obvious, right? It’s the action on the page. It’s where the magic happens (literally, in some books!). In One Witch at a Time, the external story can be summed up like this:

“A kid named Rudi joins forces with his new friend Agatha to return magic beans to a vindictive neighboring witch, before the foreign magic causes trouble at home in Brixen.”

And then there’s the internal story.

The internal story is what’s going on in the characters’ hearts and heads. It’s what drives the characters to act the way they do. You might say that the internal story is what any good story is REALLY about. The internal story of One Witch at a Time can be summed up like this:

“A kid named Rudi commits some innocent but serious errors in judgment, and sets out to repair the consequences of those errors so that he can redeem himself.”

One story, two very different things going on at the same time. Think of it like this: The external story is what keeps you turning the pages, but the internal story is what makes you care about the characters.

And when you care about the characters, you can more easily put yourself in their shoes. So that reading about the imaginary troubles of two kids in a fantasy world can equip a 21st-century kid to deal with his or her own internal struggles.

A kid today may never have to deal with witches, giants, or magic beanstalks. (Let’s hope not, anyway.) But she WILL make errors in judgment from time to time. We all do. And if that kid reads or hears enough stories, she might remember that kid in some book, who messed up pretty badly, but still managed to redeem himself. And she might think: “If Rudi refused to be defined by his mistakes but instead by his honesty, resourcefulness, and courage in owning up to them and rising above them, then maybe I can, too.”

That’s what a good story is really about.


Book Review: Love Lucy by April Lindner

Love, Lucy cover imageLucy spends the summer before she starts college backpacking around Europe. In Florence she falls in love with the people, the food, the sights…and a guy named Jesse from Philadelphia. She thinks it’s probably just a summer flirtation. But back at home she tells herself she needs to move on and forget about him, but she can’t help hoping that their relationship was more than just a short-term thing.

Love, Lucy by April Lindner is a sweet story about a girl stuck between two worlds, one where she longs to follow her dreams and the other that’s a more practical path to her future. Complicating the issue for Lucy is that she wanted to study acting in college, but her dad has refused to let her major in anything but business. He paid for the trip to Europe in exchange for her agreement to follow the path he chooses for her.

In the end, Lucy has to decide how to be true to herself without alienating her parents. Teens on the cusp of leaving home and establishing their identities on their own should be able to identify Lucy’s dilemma.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Kids Want to Be Read To, Even After They Can Read On Their Own

When many obligations compete for the precious time families spend together outside of work and school, it’s easy for parents to relegate reading to a kids-only activity once kids can read on their own. But Scholastic’s recently released Kids and Family Reading Report for 2014 shows that many children clearly want reading aloud to continue, even after it stops. The question on the survey read, “When your parent or family member stopped reading to you, were you ready for it to stop, did you want it to continue, or did you not care either way?” In response, 48 percent of 6 to 8 year olds and 34 percent of 9 to 11 year olds said they wanted it to continue.

When children were asked why they liked being read to, four responses emerged as the most important:

  • It was special time to be with a parent
  • It was fun
  • Being read to before bedtime was relaxing
  • They got to listen to books that may have been too hard to read on their own

If you decide to dedicate more time to reading aloud in your household, hear are a few tips you may want to consider to make it more enjoyable for both parents and kids.

  • Find a quiet time when you can both put everything else aside. Times of transition, like just before bedtime or when she gets home from school, are often good times to read.
  • Get comfortable. Snuggle up together in bed or on the couch, and make sure everyone can see the pages. A lot of the action in picture books takes place in the illustrations. And once children learn to read, they often like to follow along with you.
  • Choose books you love. If you’re bored, it will come through in your voice and your body language, and you’re less likely to hold your child’s interest.
  • Read with expression, and don’t be afraid to be silly. Adopt a funny voice or an accent to match the character. Slow down when something scary is about to happen, and speed up when the pace picks up.
  • Feel free to stop and talk about what you just read or ask questions like, “Why do you think Charlotte (from Charlotte’s Web) wanted to help Wilbur?” The answers you get may surprise you and lead to a conversation that gives you insight about your child.
  • If something is funny, laugh. It’s an easy way to show your child that you’re engaged in the book, and reading to him is fun for you, too.


Book Review: Teenagers 101 by Rebecca Deurlein, Ed. D.

Teenagers 101 cover imageAs a teacher for many years at both public and private schools, Rebecca Deurlein has seen her share of teenagers. And while some people may wonder at how she could spend years in a classroom dealing with teen behavior, she says she loves teenagers. It was her desire to help them and their parents that led her to write the book Teenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kid Succeed.

Writing from the perspective of someone who has both raised children and interacted with thousands more, Deurlein has insight that is sure to help parents in dealing with their own teens. Topics she covers include how to motivate kids, how to encourage them to persevere when technology supports instant gratification, how to get kids to accept responsibility, and more. She has the unique perspective of seeing not only how kids behave, but also how parents sometimes unwittingly undermine the behavior they hope to encourage.

Before reading Teenagers 101 I was a bit worried that Deurlein would sound too smug in her observations and recommendations, but I found her writing to be straightforward and helpful. She gives examples based on her experiences and the experiences of other teachers she knows. Throughout, it’s easy to see that she cares about teens and wants to help them become successful adults.

While the book doesn’t address every issue that may come up as you are parenting teens, I found it to be a supportive guide on a variety of issues and recommend it for parents of teens and pre-teens.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Home for Dinner by Anne K. Fishel

Home for Dinner cover imageAnne Fishel believes in the positive impact family dinners can have on parents and children. She’s so passionate about the idea that she cofounded The Family Dinner Project and wrote a book called Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids. Fishel recognizes how difficult gathering everyone around the dinner table can be these days. Parents work, kids have sports, music lessons and other after-school activities.

But Fishel is also aware of the studies that tie “shared meals to increased resiliency and self-esteem in children, higher academic achievement, a healthier relationship to food, and even reduced risk of substance abuse and eating disorders.” With all of these benefits, connected to one simple activity, how can parents not make it a priority? The trouble is figuring out how to make it work.

Home for Dinner provides the blueprint. Certainly there are recipes for easy dinners in the book. But Fishel recognizes that the food is sometimes the least important part of a family meal. So she gives tips for conversation starters, ideas for making mealtime less stressful, and other suggestions to get the whole family on board with the concept.

Fishel doesn’t talk down to parents or scold them for not doing well enough; instead she gives them helpful support to make meaningful changes to daily family life. I highly recommend Home for Dinner for any parent who struggles to put healthy food on the table night after night.

You may also find helpful this slide show featuring some of the recipes in the book.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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