Book Review: The Universe by Matthew Brenden Wood

The Universe cover image

People have always looked into the night sky and wondered about what they were seeing. Over the centuries our understanding of what’s out there has changed as observers and scientists have gained greater ability to look further as well as study heavenly bodies relatively near to Earth. Young readers curious about finding out more can learn from a new title in the Nomad Press Inquire & Investigate series called, The Universe: The Big Bang, Black Holes, and Blue Whales by Matthew Brenden Wood.

The Universe starts with a timeline that began 13.8 billion years ago, with the Big Bang, and it explains the theory using diagrams, comics, sidebar facts, QR codes that can be scanned, and more. Each chapter uses that same format to cover galaxies, stars, planets, and the living Earth. There’s also a chapter on what’s currently predicted for the future of our universe.

Key vocabulary words get attention and there are also hands-on science projects. For instance, there are instructions for how to build a sunspot spotter, complete with ideas for supplies and step-by-step actions. An extensive glossary as well as further resources are included at the back.

Illustrated by Alexis Cornell, The Universe is a great book to engage readers aged 12-15 who are interested in discovering more about what goes on in the space where Earth spins as well as the ground under their feet.

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

Book Review: Escape the Mummy’s Tomb by Philip Steele

If you’re looking for a fun-filled family read-aloud, escape-room-type activity book, history lesson all in one, Escape the Mummy’s Tomb by Philip Steele delivers on all counts. My daughter read aloud in our family while the rest of us followed along with clues to guess the best action to help the main character escape after accidentally falling into a tomb in ancient Egypt.

The main character is a 13 year old living in the village of Set Maat near Thebes. The text doesn’t identify the character as male or female, instead encouraging the reader to personalize for themselves by using second person even from the beginning. For instance, the setup reads in part: “It is another hot day, and your father has left for work. Be he forgets to take his lunch! If you are quick, and take a shortcut through the Valley of the Kings, you might catch up with him. You are a fast runner, and you speed through the dust and the rocks. But as you turn a corner in the valley, you trip and fall.”

The subtitle says this is “a puzzle, information and story book in one,” and indeed there are many questions to be answered and clues to follow, some of which have readers turning a wheel built into the front cover to tell them where to turn for more clues. It’s a fun way to engage young readers to learn about ancient Egypt and the tombs built during the period.

I highly recommend Escape the Mummy’s Tomb for readers aged 8 to 12.

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

Book Review: M*mmy Cusses by Serena Dorman

M*mmy Cusses cover image

If on your journey through motherhood you find yourself making mistakes, messing up, and generally going through phases of just needing to get through another day, M*mmy Cusses: Inspiring Profanity and Stimulating Sarcasm For Mamas Who’ve Seen It All could be the book for you.

Serena Dorman has created a little gem of a book designed to help moms get through the tears and tantrums, the messes and mundane with humor. Each page can be read in anywhere from five seconds to three minutes, which is sometimes all the time a stressed out mom has for a humor break.

I laughed out loud while reading it, and couldn’t resist sharing some of the pages with my adult daughter, who, not being a mom yet herself, couldn’t quite see what was so funny. Here are a couple of quotes:

“Parenting is a lot like that party game where they blindfold you, spin you around, guide you in a general direction, and laugh.”

“When I’m old, as payback I’m gonna giggle uncontrollably, squirm, and go all sack-of-potatoes on my son when he tries to get me in the car.”

There’s lots of profanity, which I won’t share here, but there’s also a lot of genuinely felt, poignant observations that provide emotional support for what moms may be experiencing. I recommend M*mmy Cusses for new moms as well as those who have been in the trenches for a while.

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

Book Review: Exploring Gotham City by Matthew K. Manning

Exploring Gotham City cover image

A stunning guide especially for Batman fans but impressive to anyone, Exploring Gotham City: An Illustrated Guide is filled with little-known facts and secrets about the history of the dark knight’s home. The more than 300 original illustrations by Studio Muti are gorgeous and detailed, lending extra depth to locations such a the batcave, Wayne Industries, Wayne Manor, Gotham City neighborhoods and more.

Author Matthew K. Manning breaks up the facts into small bites, perfect for piecing together the varied villains, heroes and other players in the Batman story that have appeared over the years. Each location has a dedicated two-page spread in an oversized format packed with details and tidbits that are great to linger over and return to again and again.

Exploring Gotham City inside page

I particularly liked the way so many of the Batman characters are explained with their backstory, encounters with Batman himself, and other facts that help readers connect the whole saga. When I got my copy in the mail, I could only say, “Wow,” and admire the detail of the cover for a bit before I even cracked open the first page. This gorgeous book is sure to please Batman fans of any age.

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

Book Review: The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself by Susan Hayes and Penny Arlon

The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself cover image

Parents looking for environmentally friendly activities they can do with their children will find inspiration, instructions and materials in The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself. Authors Susan Hayes and Penny Arlon present a variety of projects that appeal to kids’ curious nature about the world around them while also feeding an interest that many have for conserving that nature.

The book says that every page can be cut up, folded, torn, and reused, including the cover and spine. Even the pages that don’t include projects, like the intro pages, have notes at the bottom that say things like, “Don’t Throw This Away! Use this page to make a seed pouch for project 17.”

Projects fit many ages and work in many places. For instance, “Have a Litter Pickup to clean up our shared spaces” talks about everything you need to organize a litter pickup event. The page has six invitations on the back that can be cut out and sent to people who may participate. “Save Water to make sure we all have enough” offers tips on ways to reduce what comes out of the tap and includes instructions on using the back of the page, which has a pretty, printed design, to make a raindrop mobile.

In all, the book features more than 30 family-friendly activities. The whole concept is fun and invites more exploration about the topics covered. And some, like planting wild seeds, will bring more benefits later. The Extraordinary Book That Eats Itself can provides hours of fun and shared activity time for families of all types. I highly recommend it.

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

June Akers: Riley Madison Books Help Kids Get Organized

June Akers and her daughter Riley

Have you ever had one of THOSE days with your kiddos where you have gone to bed exhausted thinking of so many ways you could have been a better mom? I am a mom of four. I have had way more than just ONE of THOSE days. One particular night though as I lay in bed reevaluating our day and praying for wisdom and asking why children did not come with a guidebook for their exact DNA… I felt in my heart that I needed to write my daughter’s story. At that time, I had no time to write her story, but I knew that someday her story needed to be told. Eight years later that someday finally arrived.

The real Riley Madison, my daughter, is a super fun, hyperactive little girl with a brilliant mind. However, getting that mind to focus and complete any sort of task when she was little was a miracle. She struggled in school with remembering all the steps to assignments or just remembering to do assignments in general. She usually could complete one direction task after I repeated it no less than three times. I realized that my daughter needed some special tools or as we named them in our book “superpowers” to help her. After having more children, three little sons, and working with kids as an elementary school teacher, I realized that ALL kids could benefit from the “superpowers” Riley and I discovered.

Riley and I just published the first book in the Riley Madison serious this past December. The Riley Madison books are fictional, funny kids chapter books. The first one has turned out to be a page turner for kids. Some of my favorite comments from parents is that their child didn’t want to put the book down and that they loved hearing their kids laugh out loud while reading this book! The cool thing about our book (this summer soon-to-be books), is that kids get a fun story to read, but they also learn a life skill that they can use forever. The first book focuses on the “superpower” of making lists. I am an adult and lists happen to be one of my “superpowers” too. 😊

It has been a dream come true to work with my daughter on these very special books inspired by her. I love writing the stories, and she loves drawing the pictures. If you would like more information please check out our website .

Book Review: Curls by Ruth Forman

When Ruth Forman’s daughter came home from pre-K saying she didn’t like her curly hair, the author wrote an ode to loving your hair that became the board book Curls.

With sturdy pages perfect for small hands to grab and turn, Curls highlights the ways that Black girls can find the fun in living with curly hair, including braiding, beading, up and soft or shining big. Either way the most important thing for each of the four friends highlighted is to enjoy life and playing with each other while loving who they are.

Illustrations by Geneva Bowers are bright and energetic, helping to tell the story of curly hair and friendships along with the few words. Curls is a fun book for mothers to read with their daughters, and a great way to get across the concept of self-love.

Curls inside art

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

John Shay on How Panda Demick Helps Kids Learn About Coronavirus, Plus More

My name is John Shay and I live in Seattle, Washington. I am the author of a new children’s picture book titled, Panda Demick.

I became a grandfather on March 13, 2020, two days after that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. That stark juxtaposition of familial joy and global health threat got me thinking about my grandson’s life and the world that he will be inheriting. It inspired to write Panda Demick to give caretakers a way to explain the pandemic to children in an uplifting, life-affirming manner.

John Shay photo
Author John Shay

In brief, the story is about a Panda, named Demick, who is just like any other panda except that he has the unique ability to talk to other animals, humans, and even itsy-bitsy viruses. His ability to communicate with the Coronavirus provides him with the knowledge he needs to help his friends and those in need.

From the very beginning, I knew that the story of Panda Demick needed to be bigger than the Coronavirus. It needed to offer insight into how a tiny part of nature emerged and how its arrival was a reflection of ongoing environmental imbalance.

That larger context for the story is tied directly to my early career as an Earth scientist. I hold degrees in both chemistry and geophysics. My first jobs out of college were working for The Greenhouse Gas Project and the Deep Sea Drilling Project at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. It was while working at Scripps that I met my wife, Joan, who holds a doctorate degree in oceanography. As a result of those early jobs and my marriage, I have had a front row seat to the hard-fact science behind climate change and its impact on ecosystems worldwide for over 40 years.

Panda Demick cover image

Beautifully illustrated by my good friend Jenny Zandona, the book shows the environmental imbalance that preceded the arrival of the Coronavirus through the eyes of Demick. Demick is saddened when his animal friends tell him about the environmental struggles facing the animal kingdom. Within that struggle, the coronavirus emerges and tells Demick what needs to done to keep all of his friends safe.

While following Demick’s lead, daily life is forced to slow down and families pull together to help each other. The story illustrates how the pandemic is forcing us to rediscover what’s truly important. It provides context for what children are actually experiencing and how good things can come from difficult times and that new beginnings are possible.

The book is very much a collaborative effort that was greatly aided by input from my wife, son, and daughter. In order to accelerate the availability of the book, Jenny and I, co-founded Itsy Bitsy Publishing and elected to self-publish the book. Panda Demick was released on election day, roughly 7 months after the idea first came to me while helping my son move home from Golden, Colorado, where he had been attending Colorado School of Mines.

Panda Demick inside illustration

Writing a children’s book about an ongoing global health crisis was not easy. While the daily tragedy brought about by the pandemic remains very real, the urgent need to provide caretakers a way to talk to children about it is also very real. I believe, now more than ever, that art and literature can have a profoundly positive impact on a child’s life.

The book was written in loving memory of those lost worldwide to COVID-19. To help drive that message home, one of the illustrations contains an empty pair of white nurse shoes as a tribute to the doctors and nurses lost to the pandemic. Their unwavering courage and sacrifice will always be part of the COVID-19 story. Feedback from healthcare workers around the nation has been very positive and heartwarming.

My wife, Joan Oltman-Shay, remains active in the sciences as president of an Earth science thinktank in Redmond, Washinton. My daughter Dana is a contract manager, overseeing critical Earth science research. My son David completed his mechanical engineering degree during the pandemic and is now working for an early-stage company building farming robots in Seattle, Washington.

You can learn more about the book by visiting the Panda Demick website at Signed and inscribed copies of the book are available on the Panda Demick shop on Etsy. Signed copies include a postcard that readers can mail in to gift a free copy of the book to a healthcare hero or community organization.

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