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 www.juneakers.com .

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 www.pandademick.com. 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.

Book Review: My Name Is Layla by Reyna Marder Gentin

Layla dreads starting 8th grade, another year, she assumes, of mediocre grades and the feeling of just getting by. Life at home has difficult moments too: her dad’s been gone since she was a baby, her mother juggles single-parenting with night-shift work at the hospital, and her older brother spends a lot of time gaming. But 8th grade is destined to be a time of big changes for Layla, a time when she will be challenged in her school and home life in ways she never could have imagined.

My Name Is Layla by Reyna Marder Gentin delves into several important issues faced by many teens and pre-teens: learning disabilities (both diagnosed and undiagnosed), friendship, honesty, integrity, economic stress, divorced parents, and more. Layla keeps a lot to herself, and she makes quite a few mistakes, but with the guidance of a helpful teacher and the love and friendship of those closest to her, she finds a way forward.

I recommend My Name Is Layla for readers aged 9 to 12. Read on for more information about the author.

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

Reyna Marder Gentin lives with her husband and children in Westchester County, New York. Reyna’s first novel, Unreasonable Doubts, a romantic legal thriller inspired by her work as a public defender, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for debut fiction. Reyna studies at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College and her short stories and personal essays have been published widely online and in print. Find out more at reynamardengentin.com.

Here, the author answers a few questions:

What inspired you to write My Name is Layla?

I’ve taken numerous writing classes at Sarah Lawrence College, and in each one I have been inspired to write in a different genre. In 2017, I took a workshop on writing for children and I wrote My Name Is Layla during the course of that workshop. I was excited to experiment with writing for a different age group and to develop a voice that would speak powerfully to kids.

What advice do you have for children with learning disabilities?

I think the most important advice is not to give up on yourself; many children will have challenges, either mild or severe, over the course of their school years. And many of the learning issues can be improved, but it’s critical to remain positive and demand the attention that you need from those in a position to help. In my book, Layla learns to trust her teacher, Mr. McCarthy, and lets him help her achieve more. She also relies on her family and friends so that she’s not alone.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Don’t be afraid to try! I went into writing after a long career in the law. I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what I wanted to write, and I had no knowledge of the process of writing a novel or of publishing and promoting one. But what I did have was discipline, a supportive family and writing community, and the desire to tell a story to the world.

Book Review: Eat That Frog! For Students by Brian Tracy

Eat That Frog cover image

High school and college students today have a lot to juggle as they work to succeed in school and set the tone for success in life. With so many demands on their time, it may be difficult for them to figure out how to efficiently and effectively get the most important things done in a timely manner. That’s where Eat That Frog! For Students: 22 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Excel in School can help.

Eat that Frog! starts with a note from author Brian Tracy about why he wrote the book, how he came up with his advice (hint: culled from years of trial and error to learn what techniques are most effective), and information on how to best access the suggestions. Each chapter is precise and easy to digest and ends with a summary of the most important points.

I won’t give away exactly how Tracy defines the frog to be eaten, or even what he describes as eating the ugliest frog, but I will say that his methods are practical and easy to put into practice in a way that can significantly impact young adults if they are serious about taking the advice. The tips and ideas are also useful for parents, who may want to read it along with their teen and then apply the suggestions to their own work and personal lives.

Eat That Frog! can be a guide to a more productive life in general, which can lead to achieving more of what anyone, teen or adult, wants to achieve. I recommend it for ages 14 and up.

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

Book Review: Big Wishes for Little Feat by Cheryl Osten

Big Wishes for Little Feat cover image

Lafitte De Muze is a smaller-than-usual Belgian Warmblood show horse, rejected by potential owners because of his short stature. Ella is a lonely girl separated from her parents who longs for a friend. When the two meet, magical things happen for them both.

Big Wishes for Little Feat, written by Cheryl Olsten, is a children’s picture book beautifully illustrated by Paolo D’Altan. Depictions of Little Feat, as the horse came to be known, and Ella have a dreamy quality, particularly in the parts of the story focusing on constellations in the night sky. The story itself is part reality/part fantasy, and it’s focus on wishing for dreams to come true makes it a great bedtime read.

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

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