Book Review: All Summer Long by Hope Larson

All Summer Long cover imageThirteen-year-old Bina can’t wait for school to be over and summer to start. But when she finds out her next-door-neighbor and best friend Austin is spending a month at soccer camp, she realizes she won’t be having her usual summer adventures. Often finding herself alone and lonely, Bina discovers new interests and friendships in unexpected places.

All Summer Long is Hope Larson’s graphic novel about growing up, evolving friendships, and self-discovery. Bina, like most people, is comfortable doing what she’s always done. Without Austin she spends a lot of time bored and wondering what to do. When she tries new things, she sometimes makes mistakes and misses the mark, but she also discovers what she really likes.

In the end Bina finds change can bring new beginnings even as old things end. That’s a good thing to remember not only for tweens and teens, but for adults as well. I recommend All Summer Long for ages 11 and up.

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

Book Review: What Do They Do With All That Poo by Jane Kurtz

What Do They Do With All That Poo cover imageWhat Do They Do With All That Poo? by Jane Kurtz taps into the fascination most kids have with the concept that everything poops. On a tour of zoo animals Kurtz talks sneaks in education about what animals eat and how that affects the waste that comes out of their bodies.

For instance, “a penguin shoots its poo out in a fishy-smelling streak.” Since penguins don’t have teeth, “fish go through them fairly rapidly.” Kids learn about hippos using dung to mark their territory, wombats pooping cube shapes, snakes that only poop once a year, why panda poo doesn’t stink, and more. They also learn about how zoos handle the waste. Lots of it get trucked away. Some goes to research. Some gets turned into compost or even paper and sold to people who want to use it.

What Do They Do With All That Poo interior imageAllison Black’s illustrations are cute and whimsical, showing happy animals smiling while they do what every living thing does. What Do They Do With All That Poo? is sure to prompt lots of laughter while encouraging parent-child conversations about bodily function, zoo animals, and the role of waste in nature.

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

Book Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind cover imageWhen Will needs time to think he walks. And he has a lot to think about: his dad’s suicide, his best friend’s rape at a party after he left early, his boss at the Dollar Only store where he works.

Walking helps him process his grief. It also brings him in contact with others who help him see the world in a new light — a young boy who believes in magical butterflies, a homeless man who accepts Will’s offer of food.

Eventually Will discovers that walking will take him only so far, and reaching out after his friend’s attack could require his biggest step of all.

Alison McGhee’s What I Leave Behind presents hope for those experiencing grief, depression, or others kinds of emotional struggle. Told in 100 chapters of 100 words each, the story has a lyrical feel, enhanced by references to David Bowie’s Space Oddity and lines from other popular songs from the 1970s. It also refers to the concept of 100 Chinese blessings, and how choosing a blessing for a friend who is suffering can help the giver as well.

What I Leave Behind is a quick read that invites a second reading and may inspire longer-term thought about an individual’s place in the world as well as among friends and family. I recommend it for readers aged 14 and up.

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

Book Review: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

Brightly Burning cover imageIn a future world where a new Ice Age has sent humans onto spaceships orbiting Earth, Stella Ainsley is an orphan looking for a better life. Part-time teacher, part-time engineer, she finds employment as a governess to one child on a private vessel, a move that whisks her away from her failing ship to surprising luxury and into the orbit of a mysterious, brooding captain. On the Rochester she finds love, confronts corruption and injustice, and struggles to find her place among a community fighting to survive.

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne is a captivating re-imagining of Jane Eyre. The story of an orphaned, impoverished girl becoming governess to a child in a wealthy household that harbors a secret provides the base. But moving that story to a science fiction future frees the heroine to evolve from the strictures of female characters in the past.

Stella follows her own conscience and set of ethics in all her actions, and she’s willing to give up her new life and her love to help her friends and others. What emerges is a strong heroine who fights for what she believes in and in the process defies her corrupt government to create something better than existed before. Stella provides a good example of how female characters can follow their heads as well as their hearts in the pursuit of being true to themselves.

As an updated classic, Brightly Burning taps into Jane Eyre’s spirit while also evolving her into a modern character. It’s a story that entertains until the last page. I recommend it for readers aged 12 and up.

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

Book Review: The Vietnam War by Barbara Diggs

The Vietnam War cover imageThe involvement of U.S. military in Vietnam is a complicated story that took place during a complicated time. American presidents, their advisors, and the military escalated involvement even after they believed they could not win, for reasons related more to outside forces than the actual conflict.

The Vietnam War by Barbara Diggs, a title in the Inquire and Investigate series, looks closely at the history of Vietnam and what happened there in the decades after World War II. Explaining the history without bias is a huge task, yet Diggs meets the challenge by looking at multiple points of view from both sides of the conflict.

As with other titles in the series, The Vietnam War presents many opportunities to grasp difficult concepts and encourages young readers to do their own research. It uses graphic panels, sidebar topics, “strategy facts,” photos, and other features to make the narrative easier to process and understand.

I kept referring back to a helpful timeline in the front of the book to remind myself of when specific events occurred in the overall picture of Vietnam’s history. I also believe the glossary at the end can be quite helpful for young readers unfamiliar with words and terms commonly used at the time.

I highly recommend The Vietnam War for anyone aged 12 and up wanting to know more about that conflict and its impact on the U.S. both then and now.

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

Book Review: The Space Race by Matthew Brenden Wood

The Space Race cover imageWith space travel becoming more common and private companies promising to one day send
tourists into orbit, it’s easy to assume that travel to the moon and beyond was a goal much
supported by Americans. But the drive to launch humans beyond Earth’s atmosphere wasn’t
always supported. The story of what fueled the endeavor is told in The Space Race: How the Cold
War Put Humans on the Moon by Matthew Brenden Wood.
Part of the Inquire and Investigate series, The Space Race links the political competition between
the United States and the Soviet Union as the main drive for sending humans off the earth. Each
wanted to be seen as having the most advanced technology. Each wanted to send a message to the
other that superiority in space meant superiority among nations on Earth.
The Space Race expertly takes readers on a fascinating journey from the early origins of space
travel through its experimental accomplishments and failures to the current-day achievements. A
timeline of events at the front and a glossary of words and terms at the back are good reference
tools. “Blast Facts” and other sidebars add interesting details to the main text, which offers many
suggestions for further research to help young readers learn more. The history also provides
insight into relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that informs our current relationship
with Russia.
The Space Race is a great text for budding young scientists aged 12 and up or anyone interested
in the history of the space program and where it stands today.
The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Fairy Spell by Marc Tyler Nobleman

Fairy Spell cover imageIn 1917 two girls in Cottingley, England convinced the world that fairies lived at the creek on their property. They even took photos to prove they were telling the truth. Experts examined the photos and declared them to be real, and the story they told lived on for decades, eventually even being made into a film.

Marc Tyler Nobleman’s book, Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real is fascinating both for the glimpse it provides into a time when many people thought fairies existed and for it’s “story behind the story” told about this moment in history.

I was particularly struck that one of the girl’s mothers brought the story to the world’s attention after approaching a speaker at a presentation on fairies. It’s difficult to imagine that a well respected speaker would talk to an audience of adults in today’s world about the possibility that fairies are real. It’s easy to see that in an environment where fairies are possible, providing “evidence” can convince even skeptics. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, believed the girls spoke the truth.

The girls didn’t tell the truth about what happened until they became old, and even then one of them continued to say she really did see fairies, adding to the mystery.

Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations include rich details and are evocative of the time period the story took place. Also, the girls’ photos and other historical documents let readers get a feel for the debate that went on. It’s a fascinating story that will likely capture the imaginations of young children and adults alike. I also recommend the movie, FairyTale: A True Story (1997), on the same topic.

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

Book Review: Tiny Infinities by J. H. Diehl

Tiny Infinities cover imageSwimming is the one constant Alice can count on when her family starts to fall apart. When she concentrates on the rhythm of moving from one end of the pool to the other she doesn’t have to think about her mother’s depression or that her father has moved out. But her new friend Harriet and a babysitting job with the mute girl next door prompts her to move toward something new not just away from her problems.

Tiny Infinities by J. H. Diehl is a coming of age story that explores family dynamics related to changing relationships, what it means to believe in yourself and your own strengths, and the role friends can play in helping you look at the world in a new way. As a pre-teen, Alice has a lot of responsibility helping to cook, clean, and look after her mother. She’s on her own a lot, so she has a lot of time to worry about her family. But her responsibilities bring out a confidence in her about what she can accomplish. With a little help from her friends, she can prove herself to the adults in her life.

I recommend Tiny Infinities for readers aged 9 to 13.

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

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