Book Review: Sydney & Simon: To the Moon by Paul A. Reynolds and Peter H. Reynolds

Sydney & Simon To the Moon cover imageTwins Sydney & Simon are working on their own to create a big project about the moon. The winner of the classroom STEAM project will get to meet a famous astronaut. Sydney has the creative part down, while Simon is good at research. After working alone, they realize their project will have much more impact if they combine what they’re both good to complete the assignment.

Sydney & Simon: To the Moon! adds to the popular series by Paul A. Reynolds for readers aged 6 to 9 with a story about creating art, scientific research, and the benefits of working together to meld the two. Many schools focus on STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, as a way to help kids learn about important topics. Sydney and Simon show how that can actually work. Sydney’s art project doesn’t help anyone learn about the moon. Simon’s facts about the phases of the moon are dry and uninteresting. But once they collaborate, they find a way to effectively communicate.

As the story unfolds, young readers also learn about the moon, and they may become inspired to make observations of their own. With the help of a parent, they can track moon phases throughout a month just like Simon does. There’s also a list of items kids can use to make their own telescope at home. Although it would have been helpful to provide instructions to go with the list, parents who want to do this activity with their children can find them online. (Here are some from National Geographic Kids.)

Illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds are colorful and cute, depicting family and classroom life in a way that will resonate with young readers. A glossary of terms at the end is helpful, and a note from the author and illustrator (twin brothers) about the benefits of STEAM learning is inspiring.

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

Book Review: Great Escapes by Judy Dodge Cummings

Great Escapes cover imageThe true stories of adventurers, explorers and others escaping life-threatening situations are often more harrowing than anything fiction could imagine. Great Escapes in the Mystery & Mayhem series focuses on five escapes that actually happened. The stories range from slaves escaping to freedom, to an explorer battling the rigors of Antarctica, to East Germans seeking to be reunited with family and friends in the West, and more.

Each story contains a map that shows where key events took place and a time line that places them in history. Author Judy Doge Cummings knows how to write historical fact that reads like fiction, and young readers are likely to be on the edge of their seats to see how each figure from the past uses ingenuity to escape danger. While reading, kids learn significant facts that help make history come alive for them. The narrative should have broad appeal, attracting both avid and reluctant readers.

I recommend Great Escapes for readers aged 9 to 13.

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



Book Review: Rebels and Revolutions by Judy Dodge Cummings

IRebels and Revolutions cover imagen Rebels and Revolutions, a title in the Mystery & Mayhem series, author Judy Dodge Cummings focuses on five people who “fought for their rights and changed history.” They include a young boy who fought in the American Revolution, slaves who took over a slave ship, Japanese Americans interned during World War II, a young girl who resisted Jim Crow laws in the South, and a champion of the rights of farm workers. Some are well known names, others are not.

Each vignette tells the background of the individuals, people who decided they no longer wanted to stay quiet when they saw injustice. Each faced the possibility of personal danger from people who wanted things to stay the way they were, but they acted anyway.

Cummings style makes learning history fun and relatable by focusing on the personal stories that made up the larger struggle that may be familiar to young readers. In her opening, she encourages readers to think about issues important to them when she says the stories “might inspire you to become a rebel for the right cause.” Rebels and Revolutions should appeal to both girls and boys; I recommend it for readers aged 9 to 13.

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

Book Review: Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth cover image“Before you start anything, make a list. That’s what my granddad says.” Prez has learned so much from his granddad, but now his granddad can’t take care of Prez anymore and Prez has gone to live in temporary housing. His only goal is to go back to life with the two of them together going off on adventures.

When a strange kid wearing aviator goggles, a kilt, sporran and backpack going by the name of Sputnik rings the doorbell of Prez’s temporary home, his life takes an unexpected turn. For one thing, everyone else sees Sputnik as a dog. When Sputnik speaks, everyone else hears barking while Prez hears English. And Sputnik claims to be from outer space, on a mission to help save the world and protect Prez at the request of an old friend. To do that, the two have to come up with the ultimate list: 10 things on Earth that make it worth saving.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce is funny, touching, thought provoking, sad, and hopeful. Boyce excels at presenting young protagonists making their way through difficult life situations with the wisdom of the innocent, and Prez joins the list of his characters that both tug at the heart and make you want to cheer them along the way.

Prez doesn’t speak, which means people often ignore him as they go about making themselves heard. But he does listen exceptionally well, which means he understands people more than they know. As Prez creates the list with Sputnik, he learns how to see the world around him through an alien’s eyes, and he discovers that it’s not necessarily the biggest things that make the most impact on life, but the smallest.

Sputnik’s Guide, like Boyce’s other books, gathers momentum as it goes along, taking the reader on a magical journey that leads to a conclusion that’s a lot like life: conflicted, imperfect, heart-breaking, curious, surprising, full of promise and possibilities, and absolutely worth living. Brilliant.

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

Book Review: Serafina and the Splintered Heart by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Splintered Heart cover imageRobert Beatty’s Serafina series comes to an end with lots of what fans have come to love about the books, with Serafina and her friends fighting a powerful enemy set on destroying the Biltmore estate and the people Serafina loves.

Serafina and the Splintered Heart is action-packed, but it’s also reflective, with Serafina considering what makes life important. In many ways she has matured over the course of the three books, learning how to hone her skills at fighting and protecting her friends while becoming more capable of carrying out a strategy to defeat evil forces. In the Splintered Heart, she gathers wisdom from her own experience as well as advice from her Pa to figure out what she needs to do to prevail.

But in addition to working with her friends, Serafina must also join forces with an old enemy, someone she isn’t sure she can trust. Readers are left wondering the same thing until the end, and the mystery enhances the story.

On a side note, I discovered from a GoodReads post that Beatty has written the series with the help of his three daughters. How cool is that? Here’s what he had to say:

It’s one of the great honors in my life that I can write the story of an extraordinary young heroine not only FOR my daughters, but WITH them. It’s not just my way of teaching them, but LEARNING from them as they grow into the people they are becoming.


I’ve written each of the Serafina novels with my three daughters, who are active and enthusiastic co-creators as we explore the grand corridors of Biltmore Estate together or climb up into the rugged beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the story takes place.”

Beatty’s author’s note at the end reveals what he’s working on now, a book called Willa of the Wood. I’m excited to know that he’ll be exploring Serafina’s world in new ways, and I look forward to finding out where his imagination takes readers.

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

Book Review: Pigs Might Fly by Nick Abadzis and Jerel Dye

Pigs Might Fly cover imageLily Leanchops has a secret. She’s developing a plane that may actually fly on it’s own, without the help of magic. Her dad has been trying unsuccessfully to do the same thing for years, and she wants to show him she can be helpful. But when mysterious planes from another country come over the mountains to attach Pigdom Plains, the time for experimenting is over. Lily must do her best to save her town from warlike warthogs.

Pigs May Fly by Nick Abadzis and Jerel Dye is a sort of steampunk fantasy adventure graphic novel with a plucky heroine. Lily isn’t afraid to fly into the unknown, even when it turns out to be dangerous. She’s brave and capable and determined to do what needs to be done. She believes magic exists, but knows it has limitations, which means she relies on science to create lasting solutions for her inventions.

Parts of the story are reminiscent of Star Wars, but its originality comes from creating a land where pigs live, work, play, perform experiments, and yes, fly. It’s a compelling a tale with fascinating illustrations of pigs in Victorian gear working on advanced machinery. Lots of fun!

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

Book Review: The Postcard by Tony Abbott

The postcard cover imageWhen Jason’s grandmother dies, he’s not sad, just upset about having to join his dad in Florida to help get her house ready to sell. How could he be sad about losing someone he never met? But once he’s there, a mysterious phone call and an old postcard unveil a mystery about his grandma that Jason becomes determined to solve. With the help of a girl from the neighborhood he tracks down clues that will reveal long-ago events with consequences that still resonate.

The Postcard by Tony Abbott is a funny adventure mystery with a touch of melancholy. As Jason works to solve the clues in the postcard, he learns about the grandma he never knew and a bit about his dad too. He also learns about the history of St. Petersburg, the town where his grandma and dad grew up.

As Jason and his friend, Dia, get closer to solving the mystery, they also work to avoid being caught by goons who seem intent on stopping them. The action and danger are intriguing, not frightening, so even sensitive readers aged 9 to 13 should enjoy reading The Postcard.

I got a copy of this title from my Little Free Library and thoroughly enjoyed reading it for review. I recommend it for boys or girls, and it would be a great parent-child book club book.

Interview With Kristen Simmons, author of The Glass Arrow

kirsten simmons photoKristen Simmons is the author of Metaltown, which I reviewed when it came out last fall. Her previous novel, The Glass Arrow, is getting renewed attention these days as it has themes similar to Margaret Attwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. Today I’m featuring an interview with Simmons (provided by the author) about The Glass Arrow.

Q: Please introduce us to Aya and share some general background on THE GLASS ARROW.

A: Aya has been one of my favorite characters to write. Born into a world where women are endangered, where girls are condemned as breeders and misogyny is the norm, she’s learned to adapt and survive by flying under the radar. With her family – a small group of free women – she hides from those who would see her sold into domestic slavery. Aya is tough: she hunts, fishes, defends her family. When she’s captured and brought into captivity at the Garden, a training facility for girls, her life is turned upside down. All she can think about is reconnecting to the people she loves, and reclaiming her freedom, but she has to be smart in order to escape, and that may involve trusting a very unlikely ally.

Q: What inspired you to write THE GLASS ARROW?

A: A few stories on the news, and some social issues that seem to continue rising, but mostly my own experience. The transition into high school was difficult for me, as it is for many people. Before that time, I remember feeling like I could do anything, be anyone. I was valued because I was creative, and interesting, and smart, but once I stepped foot into high school, things changed. It didn’t matter what kind of person I was; all that was important was if I was wearing the right clothes, or had my hair done the right way. If I was pretty. Boys judged us based on a star system – “She’s an eight,” they’d say, or “Her face is a nine, but the rest of her is a four.” And worse, girls began sharing that same judgment, trying to raise these numbers to be cool, and popular. They’d compare themselves against each other, make it a competition. This, as I quickly learned, was what it meant to be a young woman.

That experience transformed into Aya’s existence – her journey from the freedom of the mountains, where she was important for so many reasons, to the Garden, where she is dressed up, and taught to be, above all things, attractive. Where she has to compete against other girls for votes come auction day. On that auction stage, Aya’s given a star rating based on her looks, which is what her potential buyers will use to determine their bidding. It bears a direct correlation to my life as a teenager – to the lives of many teenagers.

When it all comes down to it, I wanted to write a story where worth is determined by so much more than the value other people place on your body.

Q: A lot has happened in the “real world” since the novel first came out in 2015. Does it feel surreal looking back at the book now?

A: Ah, I wish it did! Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of these issues are still very, scarily relevant, not just for young women, but all people. It seems like every time I see the news there is another incident of someone being measured by their looks rather than their internal worth, of women being degraded and disrespected, and of advantage being taken of someone’s body and mind. It frightens me that these issues persist, but I never claim that THE GLASS ARROW was a look into the future. To me, it was always a way of processing the present.

Q: Congratulations for the surge of attention the book is receiving, thanks to things like the Hulu adaptation of THE HANDMAID’S TALE. What do you want readers to take with them after reading THE GLASS ARROW?

A: Thank you very much! I am delighted by the mention, and honored to be included in the same thought as the great HANDMAID’S TALE. If people do find their way to my book as a response, I hope they take away that they are so much more important than the sometimes superficial and careless values other people assign to them. As Aya says in the book, I hope they know that there are not enough stars in the night sky to measure their worth.

Q: Besides other classics like Margaret Atwood’s book, do you have any recommendations for readers wanting to explore more dystopian fiction and speculative fiction works?

A: How about METALTOWN by Kristen Simmons? That’s a great dystopian! Or the ARTICLE 5 series, about a world where the Bill of Rights has been replaced by moral law… Ok, ok, I’m sorry. That was shameless. I always recommend LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow, THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin, Marie Lu’s Legend series, and of course, THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. Those are all thrilling, and excellent looks both at the present, and the future.

Q: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see your next book?

A: I have two books coming out in 2018, and can’t wait to share both of them. PACIFICA will be released March 6, 2018, and is about a world after the polar ice caps have melted, and a pirate girl and the son of the president find themselves in the middle of a building civil war. It’s a story largely informed my great grandmother’s internment in World War II. In the fall, I’ll have a new series starting. THE PRICE OF ADMISSION, first in the Valhalla Academy books, is about a girl accepted into an elite boarding school for con artists. I hope readers love them both!

Q: Where can readers find you online?

A: I’m always available through social media – Twitter and Instagram at @kris10writes, and Facebook at Author.KristenSimmons. I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and remember, you’re worth more than all the stars in the night sky.

About the Book:

the glass arrow cover imageOnce there was a time when men and women lived as equals, when girls were valued, and women could belong only to themselves. But that was ten generations ago. Now women are property, to be sold and owned and bred, while a strict census keeps their numbers manageable and under control. The best any girl can hope for is to end up as some man’s forever wife, but most are simply sold and resold until they’re all used up.

Only in the wilderness, away from the city, can true freedom be found. Aya has spent her whole life in the mountains, looking out for her family and hiding from the world, until the day the Trackers finally catch her.

Stolen from her home, and being groomed for auction, Aya is desperate to escape her fate and return to her family, but her only allies are a loyal wolf she’s raised from a pup and a strange mute boy who may be her best hope for freedom . . . if she can truly trust him.

About the Author

Kristen Simmons is the author of the ARTICLE 5 series (ARTICLE 5, BREAKING POINT, and THREE), THE GLASS ARROW, METALTOWN, PACIFICA (coming March 2018 from Tor Teen), and THE PRICE OF ADMISSION (coming Fall 2018 from Tor Teen). She has a master’s degree in social work and loves red velvet cupcakes. She lives with her family in Cincinnati, Ohio.




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