Review: Yumbo Gumbo by Keila V. Dawson

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Annabelle is excited to go to her grandparents’ house and learn to cook gumbo, one of her favorite things to eat. But when they get to Mami and Papi’s, no one can agree on what kind of gumbo to cook. Some want okra, some want chicken. They vote to decide but come out with an even number for each.

Annabelle keeps suggesting new ways to decide, until they all agree and get to work cooking. They’re all happy with the delicious result.

Yumbo Gumbo by Keila V. Dawson sneaks in a bit of math with a family story of figuring out how to compromise with meals. And there’s also the mouth-watering description of gumbo, which also happens to be one of my favorite dishes.

A glossary at the end explains some of the Louisiana creole expressions used in the book, and an author’s note explains more about the origins of gumbo and how the dish evolved with the input from many cultures. Illustrations by Katie Crumpton are whimsical and add bright tones throughout.

Yumbo Gumbo also has a few exercises in the back to help children figure out how to be fair when deciding among competing options. All in all it’s a fun picture book that parents and children will want to read again and again. Preferably when they have time to work in the kitchen.

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

Review: The Princess Protection Program by Alex London

When Rosamund is woken with a kiss after being asleep for 100 years, her first instinct is to flee. With her prince in pursuit she opens a door and steps from her story into the protected haven of Home Educational Academy, where princesses find refuge from their fairy tales.

The young women (and one prince) at the academy all had their tales go awry in some way, and Vera, the headmistress of the school, promises to educate them and protect them before sending them on their way. But Rosamund finds that all is not right at the school. For one thing, the lessons are always the same. For another, no one seems to leave. Is the HEA just another place to be trapped in a story?

The Princess Protection Program by Alex London puts a modern twist on classic fairy tales and reimagines what happily ever after could look like. Rosamund is a spunky character who makes friends quickly in her new world, but she also likes to question why things are the way they are and what would happen if a story changed. She also has sympathy for the prince she left behind, who can’t move on but must wait for her to come back.

It’s fun and thought-provoking and has a few surprises as the story goes along, which is just the kind of tale that can engage young readers and keep them turning pages until the end. I recommend The Princess Protection Program for ages 8 to 12.

The author provided a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Our Story Book Review: Fatima Al-Fihri

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Our Story books seek to shine a light on historical figures who accomplished great things. Fatima Al-Fihri is one of those. In 859 CE she established what has become the world’s oldest university in the city of Fes, Morrocco.

Born in Tunisia, Fatima was the daughter of a wealthy merchant who migrated with his family to Fes. When he died young, he left a fortune to Fatima and her sister. They each spent their inheritance building a mosque. But Fatima also firmly believed in the importance of education, so she expanded the role of her mosque to also be a center of learning.

Fatima’s story has gorgeous illustrations by Emanuel Colban, who incorporates symbolism from Fatima’s country as well as the continent of Africa in the artwork. Activities at the end promote discussion in a way that young children will be able to relate Fatima’s actions to their own lives. There’s also a fun craft activity for parents and caregivers to conduct with their children. A glossary of terms and pronunciation guide help introduce new words and concepts. I recommend Fatima Al-Fihri’s story for ages 4 to 8.

Review: My University of the World by Neill McKee

Today I’m taking part in a blog tour through Wow! Women on Writing for Neill McKee’s book, My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film & Media Maker. For other stops on the tour, check out the complete list following my review.

As a young man, Neill McKee volunteered to be a high school teacher in Malaysia through an agency then called Canadian University Services Overseas, or CUSO. Little did he know that that one small action would eventually lead him to finding the woman he loved and a decades long career making educational documentaries. My University of the World is McKee’s account of the impact his work had and the challenges he faced both personally and professionally along the way.

Early in the book McKee says of one of his assignments, “I can’t say taking this job was a completely wrong choice, for I have always found whatever choices you make, you usually learn something new, and something about yourself, which leads to personal growth.” This outlook pervades throughout his story, and it led me to ruminate on how lives unfold from one event to the next without us knowing how things will turn out until time has passed.

McKee’s work focused at times on issues that affected agriculture, forestry, education, health, and more in developing countries. Through his story, I learned about efforts to educate girls especially, and to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as other health issues.

Sometimes, though, I felt the narrative got bogged down with specific details, particularly the names of people McKee worked with on projects, which made reading slow-going until I gave up trying to remember most of them.

I did enjoy reading about how McKee met and wooed his eventual wife, Beth, and the stories of how she adapted to the many moves the family made throughout McKee’s career. All in all, My University of the World provides a first-row seat and personal perspective to some recognizable challenges the world faced in the 1970s, 80s, and beyond.

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

Review: I’m Trying to Love Germs by Bethany Barton

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Germs are everywhere. And when most of us think of them, we think of bad germs. Like the ones that cause us to feel nauseated, or have diarrhea, or get a cold. But there are also good germs that help us stay healthy. Bethany’s Barton’s cute and fun picture book, I’m Trying to Love Germs, helps teach kids about different kinds of microbes and what they do.

told by a talking germ, the book is a great way to get children interested in science. It defines microbes as “teeny-tiny living things” that can be helpful or harmful. Pathogens make people sick. Microbes help keep us healthy. So do things like fungi, good bacteria and viruses, and protozoa. Many words are in large print, so it’s easy for young readers to follow the story. And the illustrations are often squiggly and wiggly and colorful.

A page in the back talks about how washing hands is one of the easiest ways to protect us from bad germs. I’m Trying to Love Germs is the kind of picture book that can be read over and over for new understanding as kids grow. And it may even inspire some of them to think about being a scientist who studies germs when they grow up.

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

Review: The Zoo-Choo Train by K.B. Otto

The Zoo-Choo train is bringing sleepy animals back to their homes after a long day at play. There’s a lion and giraffes, hippos and zebras. But where are the penguins? Only one of five shows up. So the engineer backtracks to all the other stops he’s made until they’re all accounted for.

The Zoo-Choo Train by K.B. Otto is a cute bedtime read about tired, sleepy animals. The muted colors in RUi RUi’s illustrations evoke evening, and many of the animals look like they’re ready for bed, as they have closed or droopy eyelids. It’s a cozy feel until a slight worry near the end that all works out fine.

Trains and animals are always a hit with young readers, and when you combine the two in one story, they’re sure to like it.

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

Review: Meet Claude Monet

Books that highlight famous people of the past are great for introducing children to all kinds of concepts. Meet Claude Monet, part of the Meet the Artist picture book series, helps budding artists learn how Monet used broad brushstrokes to create the illusion of detail.

The illustrations highlight small pieces of famous paintings on one page and asks young readers if they can figure out what it represents. Then it shows the full picture on the next page.

For instance, one page shows what looks like a blob of color, made up of green and blue and white and pink paint. The character of Claude Monet says it’s a sky, and he asks readers to consider why he would paint sky like the that. The next page reveals a foggy scene with buildings outlined against that sky.

Monet asks readers to consider the colors he used and how he could create full figures with just a few brushstrokes. Two paintings at the end ask questions about what’s in the scenes, and there are two craft options in the back.

I would have liked to see more information about the artist, perhaps with a bio in the back or more info along the way. Text says when Monet was little his family lived in Normandy, but it doesn’t specify that he spent the majority of his life in other parts of France. Also, I felt some of the activities, like identifying different types of brushstrokes on a post-card-sized painting, wouldn’t fully engage children.

Overall, though, I found Meet Claude Monet to be an interesting look at the artist and his techniques. And I can see how it would inspire children to experiment with their own art.

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

Review: Too Many Interesting Things Are Happening to Ethan Fairmont

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When we last saw young inventor Ethan Fairmont and his friends, they were finishing up a summer of adventure and surprises. They had helped an alien friend, brought people in their neighborhood together, and set up a space where kids could gather to create things.

Now, with school starting again, Ethan faces new challenges, both good and bad. First, he discovers that his alien friend Cheese has left him a device that may help the two communicate. But he can’t figure out how to work it. Then, a new girl shows up at his school, and she’s an inventor too. With patents! Ethan can’t help but feel competitive.

Another new kid snoops around asking questions about aliens in town, and Ethan thinks he may be having deeper feelings for his friend, Di. Add some mysterious goings on to the mix, and Ethan finds lots to stress over and be confused about.

Book 2 of the Ethan Fairmont series: Too Many Interesting Things Are Happening to Ethan Fairmont, by Nick Brooks is a quick, fun read. Young readers aged 9 to 12 will find it easy to relate to Ethan, who at heart is a normal kid facing changes he’s not sure how to navigate. As he works to solve the mysteries he faces, he learns that opening up to family and friends can help him solve all kinds of problems

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

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