Book Review: Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

Pay Attention Carter Jones cover image

On the first day of sixth grade Carter Jones opens his front door to find a butler, sent to help his family as part of a bequest in Carter’s grandfather’s will. And the family certainly needs help. Carter has three younger sisters, a dad deployed in Germany, and a mom trying to keep everyone organized. Plus, the family is still grieving the unexpected death of Carter’s younger brother, Currier.

The butler, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, brings much needed authority and organizational skills to daily life, and he soon has the household running smoothly. But he also introduces something new to Carter and his fellow classmates at Longfellow Middle School: cricket. As Bowles-Fitzpatrick gathers a team and teaches them the rules, he also teaches Carter how to step up in the game of life.

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt has both light-hearted and serious moments as it tells the story of a boy trying to find his way during a confusing time. He knows he’s at the bottom of the social ladder as a sixth grader in middle school, but he finds a way to stand out through cricket. He knows he needs to help out at home more, but he’s not sure how to do it until Bowles-Fitzpatrick guides him in making good decisions. And by taking things one step at a time, he figures out how to move forward even though life isn’t turning out the way he expected. It’s a great look at how children can confront grief, overcome obstacles, and navigate whatever life throws their way.

I recommend Pay Attention, Carter Jones for readers aged 10 to 13.

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

Book Review: The Giver (Graphic Novel) Adapted by P. Craig Russell

Both of my daughters loved reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a story of a future world where only one person in society takes on the role of keeper, the person who remembers what life used to be like when it wasn’t regulated by the government: there was pain, and war, and disease, color, birdsong, and joy to be found in simple pleasures. Each generation the keeper becomes the giver, when he transfers those memories to someone new. The book is a much-beloved classic that has also become a play and a movie. Now it is also a graphic novel.

P. Craig Russell adapted Lowry’s story for the graphic novel format. He also created the illustrations. The result is a beautiful rendition that stays true to the story while also creating new ways to appreciate it. The format is likely to attract new readers as well as please those already familiar with the tale.

A Q. and A. at the end with Lowry gives insight into how she feels about her story becoming a graphic novel. Another Q. and A. with Russell uncovers the challenges he faced adapting the original. He also talks about the technique he used to make his black and white illustrations more visually interesting to readers.

This graphic novel adaptation of The Giver is a great edition to keep on your bookshelf to read over and over again, finding something to discover and appreciate in the story and illustrations each time.

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

Book Review: Herstory by Katherine Halligan

History is often told through the exploits of men, because for the most part they held the most powerful positions and made the decisions that changed the world. But that’s not always the case. Elizabeth I is an exception, a queen who helped solidify England’s place as a nation with world-wide impact. Mother Teresa made a difference in a different area, helping to found an organization that has grown to more than 500 centers in more than 100 countries to better the lives of the poor.

These are just two of the influential women profiled in Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World. Written by Katherine Halligan and illustrated by Sarah Walsh, Herstory focuses on 10 women in each of five categories—Believe & Lead, Imagine & Create, Help & Heal, Think & Solve, and Hope & Overcome.

The profiles include women from ancient history like Hypatia, who was an Egyptian mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, born around 360 AD, as well as women making modern history, like Malala Yousafzai, born in northern Pakistan in 1997. Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and champions the cause of education for women and girls.

Each woman is featured on two pages in an over-sized format, which allows for illustrations and photos to go along with information about when and where they were born and what they accomplished. The bios discuss how cultures differed during historical time frames to explain how sometimes actions that would not be acceptable today were common for the time period.

Herstory provides inspiration as well as information about influential women and girls throughout history. I recommend it for readers aged 9 and up.

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

Book Review: It’s Not Hansel and Gretel by Josh Funk

It's Not Hansel and Gretel cover image

When hard times hit Hansel and Gretel’s family, their father takes them into the woods and leaves them there. The storyteller says it was part of an evil plot to get rid of the children. But the two urchins know he was just going home for blankets to keep them warm, and then he lost his way.

In It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, writer Josh Funk brings humor to the classic fairy tale, with the children challenging the narrator every step of the way. He insists there were breadcrumbs, they say no way. He says an evil witch lives in the house in the forest, they are quite sure she’s a sweet old lady. Gretel objects to Hansel always coming first in the telling; Hansel puffs up from a strawberry allergy. In the end, the children take over telling the story and create their own fairy tale finish.

Edwardian Taylor’s illustrations show two big-eyed innocents who look for the good in the people around them and love unicorns and rainbows. Pages are filled with lots of color and details that are fun to discover, like the mouse musketeer in the witch’s kitchen, and a cast of bad characters from other fairy tales lurking in the woods.

It’s all great fun for parents and children, who are bound to get a chuckle out of this inventive retelling of Hansel and Gretel for modern times.

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

Book Review: Limitless by Leah Tinari

Limitless cover image

When Leah Tinari completed portraits of the U.S. presidents for her son, she found herself frustrated that all the portraits were of men. That experience, plus her reflection on the life and death of actress Carrie Fisher, inspired her to create 24 portraits of American women who were trailblazers in many ways. Each portrait includes bio information that becomes part of the art. Tinari added quotes either from or about each featured woman to create Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts.

In a note at the beginning of the book, Tinari says she wanted to celebrate each woman’s vision, uniqueness, and perseverance, and share their achievements with a larger audience. She also wanted to show her son that women could be role models.

Tinari included women who broke ground in music, sports, acting, comedy, politics, fashion, and more. Each portrait is lively, colorful, and compelling. Biographical facts frame each face, which makes it easy to get an overall picture of the personality of the person featured. The oversized format packs visual punch while also making the facts quick to read.

Among the women featured are Louisa May Alcott, Rachel Carson, Shirley Chisholm, Ellen Degeneres, Carrie Fisher, Georgia O’Keefe, Dolly Parton, Gilda Radner, and many more. The book finishes with a brief note of each woman that includes birth and death dates as well as a notation on one powerful moment in each life. I highly recommend Limitless for readers aged 10 and up.

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

Book Review: Raising Humans in a Digital World by Diana Graber

Raising Humans In a Digital World cover image

As an educator teaching middle-school students the basics of “Cyber Civics,” Diana Graber has heard her share of stories where kids get into trouble using technology. Yet she prefers to focus on the positive things that technology brings to young lives and how kids can become digitally literate. It’s a necessary skill she believes will help usher the next generation into using their devices in positive ways while staying safe online.

Graber’s book, Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology, provides guidance for parents who are not sure what to do about such things as setting limits on screen time, delaying social media activity, nurturing relationships both on and offline, and more. She suggests activities parents can do with their kids to help them learn some of the same concepts she teaches. She also suggests responses to clear problems like online bullying, fake news, privacy, and other concerns that come along with using many of the popular applications.

Graber’s suggestions provide a great primer for parents on how to guide their children on using technology in a positive way while avoiding some of the major pitfalls. I can also see it being used by educators who want to advocate for digital literacy training in their schools. You can find out more about the author and download a discussion guide at her website:

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

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell

Patricia Hruby Powell

I’m thrilled to present a guest post by author Patricia Hruby Powell, who has written so many books I have loved, including Loving vs. Virginia. In this post, Powell talks about the landmark case and her decision to tell the story in verse. Here’s what she has to say:

My mother was an activist. I remember as a child picketing with her at the grocery store, carrying a sign, “Don’t eat table grapes,” in support of migrant farmworker rights to be fairly paid. As a family we fought for integration in our town. So it’s no surprise that I am attracted to various subjects of social justice such as the individual’s right to marry whomever they choose.

My book Loving vs. Virginia opens with a Virginia law entitled the “Racial Integrity Act,” dated March 1924, which states: “. . . there are in the State . . . near white people, who are known to possess an intermixture of colored blood . . . enough to prevent them from being white.”

The document continues stating that these “near white” people are trying to enroll in white schools and intermix with white society in various ways. This is the law that forbade Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, from marrying in Virginia. And it’s a Health law! And it remained the law in Virginia until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of interracial marriage in the Loving v Virginia case in 1967.

So Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter got married in Washington, D.C. and returned home to rural Virginia. However, their problems were just beginning. They were arrested five weeks later, in their bed, simply for being married.

Studying the historical documents relating to the case, I was not only floored by the blatant racism, but surprised by the carelessness involved. Richard Loving’s arrest warrant is barely legible. Surely the person filling out that form never dreamed that authors, filmmakers, lawyers and students would be studying this document for decades. In the second warrant, Mildred is not even named, but is designated as “­­­­­_______Jeter” suggesting that a black woman was invisible in the legal system. Only the white man was fully named. Equality and freedom may be improving for people of color and for women, but there’s so much work yet to do.

I’m often asked why I wrote Mildred and Richard’s voices in verse. In researching this book, I viewed Hope Ryden’s 16mm footage of the Loving family, filmed in 1963. Mildred’s gentle nature and her Southern accent, combine to make poetry. Verse seemed the natural route to bring her voice to life. Richard is also soft-spoken but there’s an edge of defensiveness to his voice. I made his lines longer and slightly choppier, with less correct grammar than Mildred’s. You can view the footage of the Loving couple online, in Nancy Buirski’s documentary, The Loving Story (2011). Also worth watching is the movie Loving (2016).

I hope you read my book as well as watch the films.

I invite you to visit my website at

Book Review: I Hate My Cats (A Love Story) by Davide Cali and Anna Pirolli

I hate My Cats cover image

I Hate My Cats (A Love Story) by Davide Cali and Anna Pirolli is a great picture book for anyone who has a cat or cats and loves them despite the trouble they may get into. The two cats in the story, Ginger and Fred, create mischief of various types, including leaving black fur on white towels, knocking vases off tables, and dripping water on the floor. Sometimes they cause a ruckus just to get their owner’s attention. But no matter how frustrated their owner gets at the havoc they cause, all is forgiven by the end of the day.

Anna Pirolli’s illustrations reveal Ginger and Fred’s personalities, with subtle expression changes to show the cats being at times playful, content, and fearful. Parents and children will fall in love with these two characters as they relate to the animals in their own lives.

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

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