Book Review: The Civil War by Judy Doge Cummings

More than 150 years after it’s conclusion, the American Civil War provides an ongoing topic of discussion and dissention. Was it begun over slavery? Were state’s rights the biggest issue? Were the military tactics that targeted civilians justified? Judy Dodge Cummings addresses all those questions and more while providing hands-on learning for 12 to 15-year-old history lovers in The Civil War: The Struggle that Divided America.The Civil War

The book, part of the Inquire & Investigate series, is chock full of content that encourages thought and further investigation of the people and events of the conflict. The timeline at the front starts with the advent of slavery in the 1600s in Jamestown, Virginia, and follows major milestones leading up to the 1860s.

It contains numerous sidebars that provide more information on key people, laws, places, and other important events. Each chapter highlights a list of vocabulary words and gives opportunity for further research on the internet or hands-on projects, like the salt dough recreation of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The combination of narrative and activities helps teens learn proactively and in some cases come to their own conclusions based on their research. Appropriate for a classroom or a home library, The Civil War can open up great discussions and inform thinking about this important moment in history.

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

Book Review: Lost Stars by Lisa Selin Davis

Lost Stars cover imageSince Carrie’s sister died she’s been spiraling downward, drinking and using drugs with Ginny’s old friends. Her mom has left, her dad doesn’t know what to do, and her younger sister is frightened of her. Carrie resents being forced to enroll in a summer work camp for teens, but as she works to build something new, she slowly reconnects with her old self, the one who liked being smart, the one happy to be an astrophysics nerd.

Lost Stars by Lisa Selin Davis examines a family coping with tragedy. Carrie’s parents, dealing with their own grief, aren’t available to help her process hers. She doesn’t know how to step off the path she chose after Ginny’s funeral, and she’s not sure how she’ll cope after her sister’s friends leave for college.

Carrie feels hopeful about a potential relationship with Dean, who is spending the summer next door with his aunt. Dean has his own personal demons, and Carrie

Teens and mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 15 and up will find lots to consider and discuss in Lost Stars: finding resilience in the face of tragedy, the consequences of engaging in risky behaviors, being true to yourself in spite of peer pressure.

**Spoiler alert: while I think there are plenty of issues to examine in Lost Stars I was bothered by Carrie’s conviction that getting a boyfriend would solve all her problems. I would have preferred to see her find a way out of her troubles without looking for acknowledgement of self-worth through a guy. I also thought it inappropriate that Dean was 20, and in college. As a man older than 18, he possibly committed a crime having sex with Carrie, who is 16, even though she consented. Teen girls face real dangers from sexual predators; I believe it’s inappropriate to normalize a relationship between an older man and a teen.

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

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Book Review: It Ain’t So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Duman

It Aint So Awful Falafel cover imageWhen Zomorod’s dad gets a job helping to build an oil refinery, her family moves from Iran to the U.S. The first thing she wants to do is change her name to something that won’t make her feel so different, so she chooses to be called Cindy, after the character Cindy Brady on The Brady Bunch. Making friends isn’t easy at first, but once she meets Carolyn and joins a Girl Scout Troop, she starts to enjoy living in California.

Then unrest in Iran leads to a change in government, and as relations between that country and the U.S. deteriorate, hostages are taken at the U.S. embassy. Cindy goes from feeling like an ordinary girl to worrying about her family back home and fending off harassment from neighbors and strangers alike. Plus, she fears that she will be forced to return to Iran, where her family may face danger.

It Ain’t So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas provides a humorous and serious look at the challenges of being an immigrant from a country in conflict with the U.S. Even in the best of times, Cindy works hard to help her parents, who struggle with learning English, and to correct misconceptions people have about her and her culture. In the midst of a crisis, stereotypes lead to misunderstandings that can quickly escalate. It’s difficult for a middle schooler to navigate it all.

Dumas notes that the book is semi-autographical, which means parts of it really happened to her, and that all the historical facts are true. While the story takes place in the late 1970s, it resonates with current events as well.

I recommend It Ain’t So Awful Falafel for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Cici’s Journal by Joris Chamblain and Aurélie Neyret

Cicis Journal cover imageCici knows she’d like to be a writer when she grows up. “My trick for telling stories,” she says, “is to observe people, to imagine their lives, their secrets.” To hone her skills at observation, she keeps a journal to capture her thoughts about the people around her. What she finds often turns into a mystery to be solved.

Cici’s Journal: the Adventures of a Writer-in-Training by Joris Chamblain, is about a spunky 10 year old who is curious about the world around her. With the help of her two best friends and a famous writer who lives in her town, she investigates when she notices unusual events.

The book is divided into two stories. In the first Cici works to figure out why a mysterious man disappears into the forest in the morning with buckets of paint and comes back out at the end of the day with paint splattered clothes. In the second she wonders why a woman keeps renewing a library book so no one else can check it out.

In both cases, Cici wants to find out what’s going on, but she also wants to help the people behind the mysteries. The trouble is, she neglects her friends and lies to her mom in pursuit of her stories.

The graphic novel, beautifully illustrated by Aurélie Neyret, uses several styles to tell the story, including panel action, journal entries, newspaper clippings, postcards, and Cici’s drawings and photographs. Cici’s Journal, which also contains advice on how to compose stories, should appeal to aspiring writers and young mystery lovers. Recommended for ages 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Strimko Book 1 by the Grabarchuk Family

Strimko Book 1Strimko Book 1: 150 Easy-to-Master Number Logic Puzzles showcases a new type of puzzle invented in 2008 by the Grabarchuk family—Serhiy, Tanya, Peter and Helen. What is Strimko? The Grabarchuks describe it as a logic number puzzle based on the idea of Latin squares. Never fear, they explain how to solve them in the first few pages of the book.

As a puzzle fan, I found Strimko to be an interesting approach to a number puzzle. And I appreciated the guide highlighting nine different methods to solve the grid-based puzzles as well as an example of how it all works.

I liked working on the easier puzzles right away. The progressively harder grids present a challenge, but that’s part of the fun. This easy-to-carry book is perfect to keep in the car for those times I end up with extra minutes before an appointment. The puzzles are also great to work on in other spare minutes throughout the day.

Answers are in the back in case anyone needs to check that they are on the right track. I recommend Strimko Book 1 for ages 7 and up.

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

Book Review: The Moonlight Meeting by Tracey Hecht & Rumur Dowling

The Moonlight Meeting cover imageYoung children can find inspiration to read through Grow & Read, an early reader program that spins off from The Nocturnals series. The first book, The Moonlight Meeting by Tracey Hecht & Rumur Dowling, introduces the main characters while also revealing a bit about their real animal characteristics.

Tobin is a shy pangolin who lets out a stinky gas when he’s startled. Bismark is a brash sugar glider who’s a bit aggressive and quick to take offense. Dawn is a fox, a thinker who comes up with solutions to conflict. The three meet and figure out a way they can all be happy sharing one juicy pomelo.

The Grow & Read program was created under the supervision of reading specialists and that shows in the way the book is structured. It lists a level on the front that corresponds generally to an age group, and there’s light copy accompanied by illustrations on every page. Chapters are short, and the story includes well known words as well as more challenging ones to increase vocabulary.

The Moonlight Meeting story is cute and the whimsical illustrations by Waymond Singleton should help budding readers follow along and be encouraged to learn new words as they turn pages. Fun facts at the end should satisfy the interests of kids who are drawn to nonfiction.

I highly recommend The Moonlight Meeting for readers aged 6 to 8 and their parents.

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

Saturdays With Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger

Saturdays With Hitchcock cover imageLife is complicated for 12-year-old Maisie. Her uncle has moved in with her family after getting injured while filming a movie in Hollywood. Her grandma is showing signs of dementia. She finds out that a boy “like” likes her. And her best friend reveals a secret that she doesn’t know how to respond to. Changes are even afoot at the movie theater where she loves watching old films. Her own keen eye for details, combined with some wise advice from her uncle, just might help her navigate the uncertain times.

Saturdays With Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger delves into the pleasure and the pain of living through transitions. Maisie wishes everything could be simple and uncomplicated, the way it was before things started to change. But life isn’t static, and changes can be both good and bad. She discovers that having strong friendships and family ties are what’s most important when you need to adapt to unexpected circumstances.

Maisie is a strong character with keen observations about the people around her. She’s relatable because she often doesn’t know how to respond when new things come her way. She needs time alone and time talking things out before she decides what to do. In the end everything doesn’t end up neat and tidy, but she has a clear idea of how to move forward. I recommend Saturdays With Hitchcock for mother-daughter book clubs and readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Red Again by Barbara Lehman

Red Again cover imageA boy is riding his bike when he spies a red book on the sidewalk. He takes it home, climbs to the top story and reads about a boy fishing. The fishing boy spots a red book of his own and opens it to see a boy reading in the city.

Red Again tells a story with only illustrations, no words. It’s a great way for author Barbara Lehman to get across a message about the power books have to connect us in unexpected ways. Through books children are able to make friends and get to know each other.

Because there are no words, there is opportunity to make up a story to go with the illustrations, and children should have fun bringing their own imaginations into play. The story also continues with a girl finding a red book of her own and so the adventure goes on.

With its glossy red cover and simple watercolor illustrations, Red Again will have children and their parents flipping pages back and forth to see where the stories of the children in the book connect and wanting to see how the book ties them together.

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

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