Book Review: Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher

Journey of the Pale BearSeeking escape from his stern stepfather and stepbrothers, Arthur is desperate to find a ship that will take him from Norway to Wales, where he hopes to live with his father’s family. But no ship needs a scrawny, unexperienced cabin boy. When he comes face-to-face with a caged polar bear, and she seems to calm in his presence, he gets the offer he’s seeking: passage to England in exchange for taking care of the bear. As he gets to know the bear, the two become connected in unexpected ways, and Arthur’s life changes forever.

In Journey of the Pale Bear, author Susan Fletcher takes a true event from the past and turns it into an adventurous tale about a boy seeking his place in a harsh world. In the mid-1200s the King of Norway sent a white bear as a gift to the King of England. The bear lived as part of a menagerie in the Tower of London. Fletcher’s tale expands that nugget of known history by imagining a desperate boy who tends the bear on the journey. The pair fight off pirates, weather a storm, and experience raucous crowds in London. It’s a journey that’s full of action, but it also has tender moments between Arthur and the bear.

Journey of the Pale Bear is the kind of story that a variety of readers will love. It’s great for those who like historical fiction, readers drawn to adventure, and those who like stories about bonds between humans and animals. I highly recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Skylark and Wallcreeper

Skylark and Wallcreeper cover imageWhen waters from Hurricane Sandy flood the nursing home in Queens where Lily’s Grandma Collette lives, residents are evacuated to a shelter in Brooklyn. Collette insists that Lily save a small box that she later finds holds a pen. When Lily loses the pen, she goes on an unexpected journey to recover it and discovers stories about her grandmother’s life growing up as part of the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France.

Skylark and Wallcreeper by Anne O’Brien Carelli showcases the importance of family and friendship while shedding light on two historical events: life in southern France during World War II and the hardships suffered during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Collette is 12 years old when she decides she has to do something to help her countrymen defeat the occupying Germans. Along with her friend Marguerite, she takes on roles of messenger, spy, and saboteur. There is always danger that the two will be exposed and suffer dire consequences.

Decades later Collette’s granddaughter, who is 12 during the hurricane, proves to be courageous and daring, as well. While not fighting an enemy army, she does have to battle the elements and put herself at risk to make sure her beloved grandma stays safe.

Skylark and Wallcreeper is an adventurous tale that show young people fighting for what they believe in, forging friendships and strengthening family relationships. I recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Flawed by Andrea Dorfman

Flawed cover imageWhen Andrea Dorfman meets a plastic surgeon named Dave she expects to not like him. She thought plastic surgery made people feel flawed. Part of her reasoning came from her own experience growing up with a large nose. She bonded with a friend who also had a large nose, only to feel betrayed when that friend had nose reduction surgery in high school.

Despite her misgivings, Andrea liked Dave. To learn more about him and understand, she enlisted him in a project where they mailed each other postcards. In each missive, they revealed things about themselves that may have been difficult to express in person.

Dorfman reveals her side of the story in her short, graphic memoir, Flawed. First presented as a time-lapse film made for the National Film Board of Canada, Flawed is a reminder that people can’t be judged for how they look, what they do, or other outward signs of appearance. It’s only when we get to know the person inside that we can discover what they mean to us. It’s a timely message that applies to many aspects of life.

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

Book Review and Giveaway: Bone Soup by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Bone Soup cover imageLooking for a new Halloween picture book to read with your kids? Comment below to win a copy of this cute story. Just let us know what you like about the concept of people coming together to create something to share. Comment by midnight (PDT) October 12 (U.S. address only please).

Bone Soup: A Spooky Tasty Tale, retells Stone Soup, the old folktale about many people pitching in to provide a small ingredient that goes into a large pot, creating a tasty meal for everyone.

This cute picture book written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli with pictures by Tom Knight, puts a Halloween twist on the familiar story. As Bone Soup begins, three very hungry witches check their cupboard and find that it’s empty, except for a small, dry bone. What should they do? Naggy Witch has a great idea, and she says “Bone soup is the perfect Halloween treat.”

Bone Soup interior pageAll the witches need to do is go to their neighbors and ask what they can contribute. Soon a monster adds some water, a ghost adds the eye of a giant, and a ghoul plops in a crackly lizard’s tail. With a little help from more spooky friends, the witches soon ladle out bowls to the hungry crowd.

The book brings home the message that lots of people working together can create something that all can enjoy, even if they only have a small amount to contribute. Even more fun, a recipe for Naggy Witch’s Bone Soup appears at the end, with realistic substitutions for the ghoulish ingredients. For instance, the eye of a giant is an onion, lizard’s tail is celery, and wrinkled fingers are actually carrots and parsnips.

I can imagine kids and parents working together to create their own bone soup and maybe even inviting neighbors to join in for a soup gathering. Bone Soup would be a fun book to bring out every October to be read as a lead-in to Halloween. I highly recommend it.

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

Book Review: Path to the Stars by Sylvia Acevedo

Path to the Stars cover imageAs a young girl growing up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Sylvia Acevedo pushed back on social and cultural norms that told her a girl could only grow up to be a wife and mother. She liked math, and she liked figuring things out, which helped her do well in school.

After Acevedo became a Girl Scout and started earning badges, she began to realize that she could learn to do anything she was interested in. Her personal drive, as well as her curiosity, led her to bring more stability and planning to her home even though her parents weren’t good at those things. As she set her sights on college, Acevedo knew she would have to earn multiple scholarships to make college, and then graduate school, possible.

Acevedo talks about her experience growing up bilingual and poor in New Mexico, and how she eventually earned college degrees, became a rocket scientist, then went on to lead the Girl Scouts of America in her memoir Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist. It’s an interesting story that I expect will inspire girls to dream big and learn how to reach their goals.

I particularly like Acevedo’s linking of earning Girl Scout badges, which meant she had to break down what she wanted to achieve into doable steps, to her ultimate realization that she could approach anything she wanted in life that way. It’s a lesson that can resonate at any age.

I recommend Path to the Stars for readers aged 10 to 14.

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

Book Review: Girls Think of Everything by Catherine Thimmesh

Girls Think of Everything cover imageFlat-bottomed paper bags at the grocery store are the norm, now, but did you know that not so long ago people brought groceries home in a wooden crate? And that the person who invented the bags we see stacked beside registers today was a woman named Margaret E. Knight?

You’re probably aware of the problem plastic waste creates by piling up in landfills and choking waterways. But did you know that a teen from Egypt has created a way to turn used plastic into fuel? Azza Abdelhamid Faiad’s goal is to figure out a way to use her invention commercially and help countries develop sustainable waste management systems.

These are just two of the women and girls profiled in Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, written by Catherine Thimmesh. Other featured inventors created windshield wipers in cars, the super-strong fiber Kevlar, a baby seat sensor that can help save lives, an anti-bullying app, and more.

Often, these women and girls were told no one could do what they imagined doing. But they persevered anyway, even when their experiments and trials took months or years to develop into what they imagined.  The stories are likely to inspire girls to look at the world around them in a new light, as a place with problems they can solve if they put their minds to it. A section at the back of the book even has advice on how to file a patent on an invention.

Also of interest is the list on the inside front and back covers of major inventions by women through time, starting with the pre-1800s and progressing by eras until the present. It’s noteworthy that the list from 2010 to the present is the longest by far, with over 40 women listed. Only 15 women are featured in the book, but curious girls can easily look up details of any of the others listed.

I recommend Girls Think of Everything for readers aged 9 and up. It would make a great mother-daughter book club selection, with moms and daughters talking about inventions they can imagine that would make the world a better place.

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

Book Review: My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

My Real Name Is Hanna cover imageHanna Slivka lives with her parents and her younger sister and brother in Ukraine when World War II breaks out. They first endure hardships under the Russians who take over, but when the Nazis come Jews start to disappear. As stories about mass killings in nearby towns circulate, Hanna’s family knows they must go into hiding. With the help of friends, the family finds shelter in places they hope no one will look.

My Real Name Is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih is a haunting tale of resilience in the face of unimagined hardship, familial love and tenacity, and triumph of the human spirit. Gifted with Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc, Hanna finds comfort reading about the girl who endured hardship but persevered in her beliefs to the end. She also marks the book to keep track of her days hidden away, a connection to the outside world that reminds her of better days in the past and lets her hope for their return.

Hanna’s story illustrates the plight of Jewish people who stayed hidden during the war, as they relied on the silence of others who also sometimes helped provide them with food and other necessities. They could never be sure who to trust, and leaving their hidden stronghold for supplies was always a risk. The story was inspired by a real family who stayed hidden in an underground cave for more than 500 days.

I highly recommend My Real Name is Hanna for readers aged 10 and up.

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

Book Review: Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

Sold on a Monday cover imageWhen Ellis Reed snaps a photo of two children sitting next to a sign that says they are for sale, he only knows that the scene tugs at his heart and he wants to capture the moment. When Lillian Palmer discovers the photo and brings it to her boss, the editor at the Examiner in Philadelphia, she only knows that the human story behind it is sure to resonate with readers suffering during the Great Depression. But neither anticipates the chain of events that profoundly effects two children and their own lives in ways they can’t imagine.

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris looks at how desperate people can make choices with dire consequences. In a time when many people are out of work, Ellis wants to secure his job as a reporter, and he’s willing to embark on what he sees as a harmless deception to do so. Lillian is hiding a secret of her own, a son born out of wedlock during a time when much of society shuns unwed mothers. She yearns for a life of stability that will provide a secure future. When the two decide to work together to correct a mistake they created, they begin to see how they can achieve their dreams with honesty and integrity.

It’s a great message in a historical setting that is sure to provoke thought and discussion among book club members as well as those reading on their own.

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

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