Book Review: Secret of the Shadow Beasts by Diane Magras

Secret of the Shadow Beasts cover image

When Nora and her mom have a close encounter with shadow beasts, deadly creatures like the ones who killed her father years ago, she vows to do something to help eradicate them from her homeland of Brannland. When she was younger she was identified as a potential knight, someone immune to the bite of the beasts until she became an adult. But her father wouldn’t let her train in the elite corps that helps to eradicate them. Now 12, Nora decides the time to fight has come. The question is, will the knights still want her?

Secret of the Shadow Beasts is a fast-moving adventure tale that will have young readers turning pages anxious to see what happens next. Nora has heart and courage as well as natural ability, all characteristics she needs to fit in with the other knights who have been training for years. Throughout the story she learns about herself and what she’s capable of. She also learns more about her dad and why he wanted to keep her from joining the knights. There’s an underlying message about caring for the Earth and the lasting effects of pollution.

I recommend Secret of the Shadow Beasts for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Dear Dana by Amy Weinland Daughters

Dear Dana by Amy Weinland Daughters is somewhat of a story within a story. A tale for our lives now that started when the author realized that someone she knew as a teen, and who she was friends with on Facebook, was suffering a personal tragedy. The realization that she could only claim superficial knowledge of the people she called friends, launched Daughters on a journey that would have wide ramifications for her life.

The subtitle of the book, “that time i went crazy and wrote all 580 of my Facebook friends a handwritten letter,” is intriguing enough, but it doesn’t tell all of the story. Daughters was inspired to begin her quest of personal letter writing after she had written many letters of support and offered continuous prayers for her friend from summer camp, Dana, and Dana’s family.

The book chronicles how Daughters felt called to reach out to Dana even though the two hadn’t been in personal contact in years. It also details the parameters of her writing project. Letters would be handwritten, two pages long, and she would do her best to find addresses without asking for them outright. Names would be chosen at random from slips of paper drawn from a box.

Reading Dear Dana is a bit like listening to a friend talk about a major undertaking in her life. Daughters is down to earth, and she’s honest about the times she didn’t get things right. But overall Dear Dana is a testament to the power of prayer and the ability we each have to make a difference in someone’s life as well as be intentional about the people we call friends.

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

Book Review: Lettuce Get in Trouble by Linda Kuo and Mariana Rio

Sara Little Turnbull was a designer who liked to question the way things had always been done. She believed colors and shapes and spaces can be arranged in pleasing ways to enhance many things about the way we live.

A new picture book called Lettuce Get in Trouble by Linda Kuo and Mariana Rio introduces Sara and her ideas to children, particularly around the idea of what children will eat. While The Ministry of Food proposes having children eat what they are told to eat, Sara wants to ask them about what they like. What follows is a child-designed gathering where children from all over bring good things to share.

While I liked the general feel of the book, I found there to be too many ideas to promote in one picture book. For instance, it covers the concept of food types looking good placed next to each other on a plate, the importance of eating fresh food, and creating a zero-waste meal by making plates and utensils from the food items themselves while also talking about children planning a potluck meal with participants ballooning in from all over the world.

And some of the story included things I wouldn’t want to say to children I know about food, like Sara proclaiming that it’s important to eat vegetables because they’re colorful, and different colors bring different kinds of energy (green for peace, red for love, yellow for joy). But the illustrations are fun and the idea that children should have a say in what they eat is a good one.

Lettuce Get in Trouble is intended as the first in a picture book series from the Center for Design Institute, which has a mission to educate and enhance the public’s knowledge of design and further the education of underserved women and girls. And it’s helpful to know that profit from the book series will support that work.

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

Book Review: The Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams

Ava is Jewish and Nadeem is Muslim. They’re also cousins who live in a loving, interfaith extended family. When Nadeem is bullied at school, Ava jumps in to defend him. But her own friends advise her to avoid the bullies by staying away from Nadeem, something she won’t do.

The children bring their troubles to their grandmother, Granny Buena, who shows them a special button box handed down for generations in their family. She begins to tell them the story of a Jewish ancestor who helped a Muslim leader. But Granny Buena decides to take a rest before she finishes the story. The curious cousins investigate on their own and find themselves in a time-travel adventure.

The Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams is a page-turning historical fiction story that will have young readers cheering for Ava and Nadeem as they unravel the mystery of their family’s past. Their unique outlook, coming from two different religious backgrounds, helps them navigate an unfamiliar world.

I recommend The Button Box for readers aged 8 to 10 who like adventure, time-travel, a little bit of mystery, and the wisdom of grandmas.

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

Book Review: The Epic Mentor Guide by Illana Raia

The Epic Mentor Guide cover image

What if girls could get advice from some of the most experienced and respected women working in their fields in the U.S. today? The Epic Mentor Guide: Insider Advice For Girls Eyeing the Workforce From 180 Boss Women Who Know by Illana Raia provides just that, with insights, words of wisdom, actionable recommendations and more for girls who wonder how they can prepare for the working world.

The women who answer questions are not necessarily widely known, but they are all standouts in their fields. They work in sports, journalism, tech companies, fast food, investment firms, nonprofits and more. Each person is asked a question and they respond.

For instance, Michele Ghee, the CEO of Ebony and Jet, was asked, “What’s the first thing we should do before asking someone to be our mentor?” She responded, “Offer to be of service before you ask for anything. That’s how you build lasting relationships.”

Ashley Lynn Priore, founder of The Queen’s Gambit, answered a question about how chess strategies are useful in the work world with this quote: “The strategies we lean in chess don’t only teach us how to solve problems, but they teach us how to find problems, come up with various solutions to move forward, and decide where to go next effectively and quickly….It’s all about life skills!”

With nearly 200 boss women quoted, The Epic Mentor Guide is sure to be inspiring and thought provoking no matter where a girl’s interests lie. I recommend it for readers aged 14 and up.

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

Book Review: Dear Student by Elly Swartz

Dear Student cover image

Dear Student by Elly Swartz opens on Autumn’s first day of sixth grade. Even though her dad has left their home for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, he still offers her a suggestion: get involved in one thing. Autumn believes that one thing may be Dear Student, the advice column of their school newspaper. She’s always been told she gives good advice. And since the author is anonymous, she won’t have to worry about kids thinking what she says is weird.

But Autumn also has a lot to worry about. Her best friend moved across the country over the summer, and to save money, the family left their home for an apartment above her mom’s veterinarian business.

If that upheaval isn’t enough, she’s navigating how to be friends with two new kids who don’t get along with each other. She wants to help them both, but figuring out how to do that while remaining true to herself is complicated. In the end, Autumn realizes that even if she can’t solve everyone’s problems, she can be honest and authentic about her own feelings.

Young readers will cheer for Autumn as she works to find her voice and gain confidence in herself. I recommend Dear Student for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: The River Between Hearts by Heather Mateus Sappenfield

The River Between Hearts cover image

The River Between Hearts by Heather Mateus Sappenfield starts on the first day of summer after fourth grade, when Rill Kruse follows her cat Clifford into the woods and to the family tree house. The one her dad helped build and the family was happy in. But then her dad left to go kayaking just over a year ago and didn’t come back. Rill hasn’t been to Fort Kruse, as they call it, since. But when she climbs the ladder this time and opens the trap door, she finds a girl inside.

Rill recognizes Perla from school, remembers her being bullied. Slowly, as she earns the girl’s trust, she finds out that Perla’s family has been taken into custody by immigration agents and Perla has nowhere to go. Rill decides to bring her food and let her stay in the tree house out of sight.

As the two become friends, Rill discovers more about the families who come from Mexico to work in her town than she ever knew. She also is finally able to face the truth about what happened to her dad and find a way to move forward despite her grief.

Rill’s story is moving and thoughtful, touching on issues of loss, family, friendship, and more. I highly recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Turtle: Overcoming Hurdles Female Athletes Face Through The Power of Reading

Guest post by Pamela Jouan-Goldman and Julia Goldman

Pamela Jouan-Goldman and Julia Goldman photo

What started as a pandemic project morphed into something more for my daughter and I, inspired by her own journey as an athlete. As a mother of a 12-year old who has been running since she was five, it’s easy to see how we collected so many stories about running, meets, coaches, and team interactions over the past seven years. Rolling them into TURTLE, a Middle Grade fiction sports book and the first in the Run Like A Girl series, was a wonderful exercise in memory-gathering and organizing. The result is a story about a fifth-grader who moves to the Lowcountry and after some social drama finds herself part of a competitive running club. As Emma Jackson pushes herself to discover who she is and what she is made of, the power of team sports becomes obvious.  

The sad reality is that by the age of 14, girls traditionally drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys (Women’s Sports Foundation). As their bodies change, their attention pulled in many directions, and their minds challenged, it’s easy to see how it happens. The Run Like A Girl series is a challenge to all female athletes to stick with it. With a subtle girl power theme that gets bolder as the Run Like A Girl series progresses, TURTLE takes a first step to address the stigma of girls in sports by first planting a seed about what team running can offer them: confidence, leadership, community, purpose, self-discipline and a realization that running like a girl is something to aspire to.

Because we owe a lot to the running community, TURTLE was also a way to give back. Starting with our own local running club, Mount Pleasant Track Club, we started to use book sales to raise money for female athletes to fund travel expenditures to high-profile meets. Next we turned to other female-empowering organizations such as Girls on The Run to raise awareness and money. We are currently in the process of reaching out to track and running clubs around the country with a similar plan. Writing a book never felt so right as we stick to the mantra: inspiring young runners to read and young readers to run.

You can find Turtle on amazon. For more information about Pamela Jouan-Goldman and Julia Goldman, go to

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