Book Review: Ghost: A Collection by Illustratus

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The rumor at Camp Champlain is that the groundskeeper, Old Man Blackwood, knows all the best ghost stories. So two boys head out one night to find his cabin located in marshland at the edge of the property. Their trek takes them through swampy territory and lots of muck, but when Thomas and Skeeter arrive at the cabin exhausted and dirty they are rewarded. Because Old Man Blackwood says, “There are only thirteen true ghost stories in this world. Tonight, I’m gonna tell you them all.”

The stories that follow are a collection of creepy tales that make up the book, Ghost: Thirteen Haunting Tales to Tell. A collection by illustratus, which is a group of writers, illustrators, animators, and all-around creatives, the stories in Ghost all focus on children and the unusual situations they face. One girl hears a tapping from inside her mirror, another gets a strange doll that changes in an eerie way. A boy finds himself in a silent forest where the trees are watching him, and another is trapped in an elevator with no buttons. A few tales are told in verse. Illustrations throughout are dark and muted with pops of color to draw readers’ attention. The oversize format makes it fun to turn the pages and savor the words and drawings. Readers will also be delighted with a twist at the end.

Ghost is great for readers aged 9 to 12 who like stories that are creepy without being too scary.

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

Book Review: The Big Idea Gang: Bee the Change by James Preller

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When Lizzy and her friend Kym visit a bee farmer, Ozzie, they discover just how important bees are. They think everyone should know that bees pollinate a lot of the flowers and food crops that make the world more livable. But when their teacher challenges them to figure out what they want others to know and do, they have to dig deep to come up with an idea.

The Big Idea Gang: Bee the Change by James Preller helps kids figure out how to take the things they are excited about and turn them into actions that can educate and motivate others. Working with Lizzy’s twin, Connor, and his friend Deon, the girls do some research to find out facts about bees. Then their creativity kicks in to help them develop a plan for a school program and volunteer project that will get lots of people involved in helping bees.

The book does just what it encourages young readers to do: give facts in an interesting way and help people know what to do about what they learn. It’s a great primer for how to make a difference on an important issue.

I recommend The Big Idea Gang: Bee the Change for readers aged 6 to 9 and their parents.

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

Book Review & Giveaway: Dear Justice League by Michael Northrup

Dear Justice League is a fun new graphic novel about Superheroes that turn out to have very human characteristics. I have two copies to give away to readers who comment below. If you’d like a chance to win, just say what your favorite superhero is and what you like about him or her. Be sure to comment by midnight (PDT) on Wednesday, August 21 for a chance to win. Here’s my review of the book:

When ordinary kids write to DC Comic’s superheroes like Superman, Wonderwoman, Aquaman, Hawkgirl, and more, they find out that maybe the superhumans aren’t always perfect. That’s what happens in Michael Northrup’s graphic novel, Dear Justice League.

When a boy writes to Superman, for instance, asking if he ever messes up, Superman checks for the message while he’s flying. What follows is a chain reaction of all kinds of problems that Superman has to fix. At the end, he admits he isn’t perfect.

Many of the superheros in Dear Justice League battle the bad guys then go home to headquarters to relax and check emails. They answer all kinds of questions that make them wonder about themselves. Hawgirl’s fans want to know if she eats rodents. Aquaman gets a question that asks whether he smells like fish. Their issues online, such as spending too much time checking emails or getting distracted from their chores, are sure to resonate with young readers.

Illustrations by Gustavo Duarte are fun and funny, with exaggerated facial expressions and lots of quirky noises that would be fun for parents to read aloud. I recommend Dear Justice League for readers aged 7 to 10.

Book Review: The Key from Spain by Debbie Levy

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Flory Jagoda grew up surrounded by music. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all made music in the small Bosnian town where she was born in the 1920s. They spoke Ladino, the language of the Jews from Spain, spoken by her ancestors who were exiled from that country centuries before.

When World War II came, Flory and her parents escaped to a seaside village where they lived through the Holocaust. Most of her extended family perished in the war. But Flory kept their music alive, eventually moving to the United States, where she performed, taught, and wrote Sephardic songs in Ladino.

The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music, a picture book by Debbie Levy, introduces young readers to Jagoda and the history of her people. It’s a story of loss, but also a story about the triumph of the human spirit, which can make music even in the darkest times. Illustrations by Sonja Wimmer offer rich depictions of Jagoda’s family life and show the joy that music and singing can bring. A page at the back of the book gives biographical information about Jagoda and her famous song, “Ocho Kandelikas,” which is sung in Ladino at many Hanukka celebrations around the world. Recommended for readers aged 5 to 9.

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

Book Review: Mystery Club by Davide Cali and Yannick Robert

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Kyle loves a mystery. He even runs a blog from his home in London about how to solve them. The trouble is, he isn’t sure how to find mysteries to solve. Then a man shows up asking him to find out why people in London are turning into werewolves, and Kyle is on the case. With the help of his friends, he’ll spend time in the London Library and head out to do field work before cracking the mystery.

Mystery Club: Wild Werewolves and Mummy Mischief by Davide Cali and Yannick Robert is a great graphic novel double mystery for young readers aged 7 to 10. Kyle and Zoey start the club, then enlist help from Ashley and Tyler. As a group they all search for clues before figuring things out. Once they do, another mystery begins when they find out they’ve made an enemy who is determined to stop them from solving future cases.

When the group forms the mystery club and holds its first meeting, they find out about a strange sighting of a mummy on the subway. This case is a bit trickier for the junior sleuths, but after spending a night at the British Museum, they figure out why mummies keep appearing and disappearing.

The graphics for both stories are colorful and fun, and the mysteries are cleverly solved while the club members are doing the things they love the most.

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

Book Review: Spark by Sarah Beth Durst

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Mina is so excited to be bonded with a storm beast. These guardians of the weather in her home country spread just the right amount of rain, wind, and other elements to keep crops growing and people happy. But when Mina discovers her storm beast, Pixit, is one that harnesses lightning, she’s worried there’s been a mistake. She quiet and shy, while most storm guardians are bold and brash. Yet Mina’s quiet ways are exactly what she needs to bring about important changes when she discovers all is not right with her world.

Spark by Sarah Beth Durst gives affirmation to quiet children that just because theirs is not the loudest voice in the room, it doesn’t mean what they have to say isn’t important. Mina’s gentle ways help lead her to speak out in a way that’s true to her nature while letting people know about the injustices she discovers. It’s a great lesson for anyone who fears that they can’t speak out about something they want to change.

Mina’s relationship with Pixit, her storm beast, is sweet and gentle, and even though Pixit longs to be more adventurous than Mina wants, he coaxes her along gently to realize her potential. Spark is a great book for anyone who loves a grand adventure set in a fantasy world. I recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Reaching for the Moon by Katherine Johnson

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Katherine Johnson broke the barriers for her gender and race at a time when Black women were often relegated to one of two jobs: school teacher or domestic worker. But her dad taught her to remember that while she was no better than anyone else, nobody else was better than her. That philosophy stayed with her as she went to high school, which most Black children of her time were not able to do, attended and graduated from college, and went to work for the agency that became NASA, computing figures for space travel. The story of Johnson’s life and other women like her became known with the release of the book and movie, Hidden Figures. She tells her own story in Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson.

Geared to readers aged 9 and up, Reaching for the Moon is both history lesson and personal story. Johnson talks about her family’s struggle for racial equality in the Jim Crow era. The town in West Virginia where she grew up was segregated into White and Black communities, with separate schools, restaurants, and other public services. Her parents emphasized that education was the way to break through the poverty that many in her community experienced, and they sacrificed to put each of their children through high school and college.

Even with her advanced degree Johnson found the only professional avenue open to her was that of school teacher. But a 1950s expansion in space exploration meant that race and gender barriers became less rigid, allowing her to hire on as a human computer, which was someone who solved math equations in the time before machines were capable of the task. Throughout her career, Johnson kept to her simple principle that she was no better than anybody else, and nobody else was better than her. It helped her win respect of her co-workers and increasing responsibility.

Told with candor in a conversational tone, reading Reaching for the Moon is like sitting down with a friend to hear a fascinating story. I highly recommend it for readers both young and old.

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

Book Review: Serafina and the Seven Stars by Robert Beatty

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Braeden has been sent off to school in New York and Serafina keeps feeling as though something bad is about to happen at Biltmore, but it’s just a hunch. When the start of hunting season on a magical night starts a chain of events that brings strange creatures to the grounds of the estate, no one is safe. Serafina knows she has to protect Biltmore and the people in it, yet she can’t do it alone. A strange girl named Jess helps where she can, and Braeden’s return comes just in time. Even so, it will take all their resources to defeat the threat.

Serafina and the Seven Stars by Robert Beatty is another page turner in the series about a girl who changes from human to panther when needed, and the boy who has a special bond with animals. As expected, there’s lots of action and adventure, and there’s also weaving in of magical tales and myths to create a fast-paced story that entertains to the last page.

Beatty keeps the series going in a way sure to satisfy fans of the series. It’s great for readers aged 9 to 12 and up.

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

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