Book Review: Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick

Absolutely TrulyTwelve-year-old Truly Lovejoy is truly unhappy to move from Texas to New Hampshire so her dad can take over the family bookstore. But her grandparents needed to retire and her father needed time to heal and look for a new occupation after a war injury changed his physical abilities.

So once again Truly is starting over at a new school trying to make new friends. Not an easy task when she towers over all the other middle schoolers. But when she discoveries an unusual note in a rare copy of Charlotte’s Web, she finds that the hunt to solve the mystery helps her settle into the community in unexpected ways.

In Absolutey Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick (author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club series) brings together a variety of story lines to create one satisfying tale. There’s the large family with a wounded war veteran dad who’s having difficulty adjusting to life as an amputee. There’s a girl who feels awkward before she’s so much taller than most of her peers. There are the benefits and drawbacks of living in a small community where most people know each other. And there’s the mystery of the note, which helps broaden Truly’s circle of friends as she involves them in figuring out a series of clues.

Fans of Frederick’s mother-daughter book club books will find a lot to like in Absolutely Truly. As in that series, the story here unfolds gently, letting readers get to know the characters and appreciate their quirks along the way. Truly is also a strong role model for young girls: smart, active, respectful, and a good friend. Her struggles with schoolwork and interactions with her siblings make her easy to relate to. I highly recommend Absolutely Truly to mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

Gabriel Finley cover imageIn the old days, ravens and humans were friends and traveled together, communicating and helping each other. Then a rift occurred, separating the two forever, except for a lucky few. Gabriel Finley is one of those lucky few, a fact he discovers on his 12th birthday. When he makes the connection with the raven chick Paladin, together they work to discover the mystery of his father’s disappearance and restore communion between humans and birds.

Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen is full of mystery and riddles. The story is interesting, and the riddles in the book are fun to work at solving. It also gives readers a lot to think about the nature of friendship. Gabriel loses his friend across the street after the friend moves, but the new girl, Abby, is an even better friend. His aunt takes in an old high school friend when she needs a place to stay, even though the friend is not so easy to live with. Even some of the villains, a school bully and a con man, get chances at redemption through friendship.

It’s an interesting look at human nature and how given the chance, even people who don’t seem the best on the surface can come through in a clinch. There’s a lot to like and discuss in Gabriel Finley in the Raven’s Riddle. I highly recommend it for readers and members of mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Parenting With a Story by Paul Smith

Parenting With a Story cover imageOften the best way to help our kids learn something we think they should know is to tell a story that helps them see how others faced life situations. The trouble is, we often can’t think of relevant stories when the need arises. Paul Smith hopes to change that, with his book, Parenting With a Story: Real-Life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share.

Smith has a background of finding success through telling stories. He is the author of Lead With a Story, which is geared to business people who are seeking success at work. Parenting With a Story moves that concept from the business world to the family. Exactly 101 stories are included in the book, culled from Smith’s acquaintances to match life lessons in more than 20 areas—humility, respect for others, and friendship, for instance.

In each case, Smith talks about the value or character trait and illustrates it with a couple of examples. I found all of the stories interesting and relevant, and found myself wanting to share them with my husband and daughters as I read. The challenge is remembering those stories and also coming up with real life examples from your own life when you find yourself needing to impart wisdom. Smith has suggestions for that too.

At the end of the book is a chart listing the subject of each chapter and the stories that illustrate the lesson. He also gives ideas for discovering stories of your own, which I think is particularly helpful.

Like Smith, I really believe telling stories is a more lasting way of getting a point across to your children than telling them what you think they should do. Anything that opens up conversation between the two generations, no matter how old they are, is likely to lead to more understanding and the passing on of wisdom and knowledge. Parenting With a Story should be a good resource for you to turn to over and over again.

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

Book Review: A Little Women Christmas by Heather Vogel Frederick

A Little Women Christmas cover imageIt’s Christmas Eve and although the March sisters and their mother have little money for presents, they gather to give simple gifts and be thankful for their health and their happy home. Their thoughts are with their father, away fighting in the war, and they hope for his safe return. Little do they know that the best surprise of all will be delivered before the evening ends.

Adapted from Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s classic book, A Little Women Christmas by Heather Vogel Frederick is a book to read and treasure during the Christmas season. Bagram Ibatoulline’s beautiful illustrations glow with a warmth that reflects the tender thoughts of the family and their love towards one another.

For anyone who has read Little Women, the story is not a surprise, but by focusing on the Christmas Eve story in the novel, Frederick is able to shine a light on the message that resonates during this season: having family, friends and health is the most special gift of all.

A Little Women Christmas makes a great addition to any collection of Christmas books to read aloud during the holidays.

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

Book Review: Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin

Fleabrain Loves Franny cover imageIt’s 1952 and Franny Katzenback is recovering from polio, undergoing painful physical therapy and wondering if she’ll ever walk again. During her illness she imagined she was being tended by angels, so when she starts to receive letters from a flea who lives on the tip of her dog’s tail, it seems like just another part of the strange, magical time in her life. Fleabrain comforts Franny as she frets over losing her fiends and her formerly active life. But eventually she finds that she must re-engage with the world despite her new circumstances.

Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin portrays the unlikely friendship between a girl and a flea. It captures well the days before the polio vaccine, when those with the disease suffered because of their new disabilities and because they were ostracized by friends, who were afraid to catch it. Franny loves the story of Charlotte’s Web, and Fleabrain becomes her Charlotte, her personal champion.

Franny’s is a story of having courage in the face of adversity, finding friendship in surprising places, and learning when to speak up and act on injustice. Those are all interesting issues to discuss in a book club as well as the historical time frame. I highly recommend Fleabrain Loves Franny for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future cover imageOn the cusp of graduating from high school, Glory O’Brien is in the midst of a crisis that only she knows about. Her mother committed suicide when she was four, and Glory worries that even though she doesn’t feel depressed about her future, somehow she is destined to follow in her mom’s footsteps. She’s having a hard time communicating with her best friend, who mostly wants to talk about herself anyway. She’s frustrated that no one really talks about what happened with her mom, and everyone expects her to move on.

Then one day Glory can see the past and future of everyone she looks at. The future looks bleak, with a second Civil War started in the U.S., and the rights of women curtailed. As she searches for herself in those future visions, she finds a way to move forward in the present.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King explores the pressure teens feel to have things figured out for themselves by the time they finish high school. Glory’s situation is complicated by the tragedy in her family and the fact that she doesn’t feel like she can talk about it. The magical realism of Glory’s visions of the future add another layer to her confusion and the pressure to get things right in the present.

As in her other books, author A.S. King is not deterred from taking on big issues: how suicide affects family members, society’s expectations for women, and sexual activity among teens. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future can inspire thoughtful conversations about those issues and more among book club members aged 16 and over.

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

Book Review: The Biggest Burp Ever: Funny Poems for Kids by Kenn Nesbitt

The Biggest Burp Ever cover imageKenn Nesbitt firmly believes that reading funny poems helps kids learn to read by making them laugh and want to keep turning pages. If that’s the case, then his newest book, The Biggest Burp Ever: Funny Poems for Kids, should create new bookworms by the droves. Every poem delivers a chuckle, a giggle, or a guffaw, and kids (as well as a few parents) are likely to see a little bit of themselves in the poems too.

In a sign of the times, many of the poems are about kids and other family members using technology, like this poem:

im rlly gd @ txting

im rlly gd @ txting.

i do it all day lng.

im spedy on the keybrd

n my thms r supr strng.

Other poems are about kids trying to get out of homework and stay home from school, kids dealing with family members, and kids and pets. Illustrations by Rafael Domingos are simple and playful, like the one of a pirate in a tutu doing a pirouette with a raised sword to go with the poem, “I’m a Pirate Ballerina.”

The whole collection is fun and funny, and you and your kids will be inspired to read them again and again.

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

Book Review: The God of Sno Cone Blue by Marcia Coffey Turnquist

The God of Sno Cone Blue cover imageWhen Grace thinks back on her childhood, she sees it split into two: the time before her mother got sick and died, and the time after, when the letters her mother wrote to her started to arrive. Before, even though she was the child of a preacher and felt the pressure of being considered a “goody two shoes,” Grace felt like she knew what to expect of the world. After, her mother’s letters reveal stories from her own teen years and the events that set her on a path to become a preacher’s wife. The letters reveal things Grace never expected to know about her mother, information that sends her on a journey of discovery that will change the rest of her life.

The God of Sno Cone Blue by Marcia Coffey Turnquist is a story of mothers and daughters and the profound impact they can have—both good and bad—on each other’s lives. Grace’s mother, Sharon, tells stories of her own mother, a woman with no tenderness to show her children. Astrid is a mother to be feared rather than loved, and Sharon vows to be different. Dying young, she wants her daughter to truly know her, so she writes the letters and directs that they be delivered over time, as Grace turns from a pre-teen to a teen.

The God of Sno Cone Blue brings up many issues to discuss in book clubs with teens aged older than 15 or those with adults only. Why does grief often make people question their religious faith? How does knowing someone with physical or mental challenges change peoples’ perspective of others who are challenged? How important is the image we create of ourselves and the person we believe ourselves to be? What defines a family?

I purchased my copy of this book from the author.

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