Book Review: The Paris Project by Donna Gephart

The Paris Project cover image

Cleveland Potts needs to leave her home in Sassafras, Florida, pronto. She can hardly bear to stay in a place where one of her best friends snubs her, her mom and sister work extra hard just to get by, and every day reminds her that her dad is in prison. So Cleveland hatches a plan to go to the American School in Paris, where it seems that everything will be cool and exciting and trés chic. She’s sure that if she can just check off everything on her list to prepare, she’ll be able to make it.

The Paris Project by Donna Gephart shows the ripple effect that occurs when a parent is imprisoned. Everything about Cleveland’s life changes. Her mom works more, some old friends shun her, others kids tease her, plus, part of the reason her dad is in jail is because he stole from her and others. She’s not sure how she’ll have a relationship with him in the future. Moving away to get a fresh start seems like the only way she can face the mountain of obstacles and emotional hurdles she faces every day.

As Cleveland makes her way through her list, she discovers a lot about her inner fortitude. She also comes face-to-face with her own prejudgments about others. The Paris Project is a great way to start a conversation about friendship, trust in the face of betrayal, communicating honestly, and more. Gephart writes about these and other issues without sounding preachy or instructional, but in a way that tweens and teens are likely to relate. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 13.

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

The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid by Kirk Scroggs

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid, by Kirk Scroggs. I’m super excited to read the book, because:

  1. Swamp Kid’s hometown, Houma, Louisiana, (see facts below for pronunciation) is one of my favorite places to visit.
  2. I love graphic novels, and this one looks like a lot of fun to read.
  3. Like Swamp Kid’s friend, I’m a Cajun, and I think it’s great to see Cajuns appear in stories for young readers, because maybe it will get them interested in learning more about the culture of Southern Louisiana.

In the coming weeks I’ll be reading the book and posting my own review. In the meantime, here’s what the publisher has to say about it, as well as some things to know about Swamp Kid.

The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid cover image

“In THE SECRET SPIRAL OF SWAMP KID, Russell Weinwright (Swamp Kid)  details, in both humorous text and green-tinted illustrations (complete with ketchup stains!), what it’s like to be different, to be comfortable in his own skin (no matter how slimy), to discover his true talents, to avoid the intense stare of his suspicious science teacher, and to find humor in the everyday weird. Written and illustrated by Kirk Scroggs, THE SECRET SPIRAL OF SWAMP KID is available everywhere books are sold.”

5 FAST FACTS About Swamp Kid

1.  Swamp Kid gets nervous around gardeners, florists, and grazing animals.

2. Houma Louisiana, Swamp Kid’s home town, is actually pronounced Home-ah, not Hoom-ah.

3. Swamp Kid occasionally eats vegetables which, technically, makes him a cannibal.

4. Swamp Kid’s left index finger is a carrot. It makes for a handy pointer and it can distract aggressive rabbits.

5. Swamp Kid’s right arm is its own ecosystem complete with a tree frog. There’s an old Cajun saying, “If you’ve got a frog in your arm you’re never alone.”

Book Review: Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido

Emmy in the Key of Code cover image

When Emmy’s family moves from Wisconsin to San Francisco for her dad’s job, she feels like she doesn’t fit in. Everyone at her new school already seems to have friends and be involved in activities. When her teacher asks students to fill out a form designating their preference for an elective class, Emmy knows she should check off music. After all, she’s been in music lessons all her life. Still, it’s not really where her heart is. When she’s randomly placed in a coding class with a few boys and one other girl, she finally finds something that calls to her and figures out how to make friends.

Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido can be a great introduction to coding for kids who are unfamiliar with it as well as a confirmation of what feels great about coding for those who already like it. But it’s also a lyrical novel, told in verse that almost reads as music. It’s about creativity, reaching beyond the known to find something new, and being confident enough to speak out on your own behalf.

Emmy navigates stress at home, where her mom is taking on unfamiliar work in a new city and her dad is practicing for his big debut in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, while also figuring out how to be a good friend and avoid a bully. It’s a lot for a twelve-year-old to manage. Yet something in coding speaks to her and helps her learn how to manage the challenges in the rest of her life.

I recommend Emmy in the Key of Code for mother-daughter book clubs and readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya pasternack

Anya and the Dragon cover image

The magistrate’s message to Anya’s mother is clear: pay everything she owes on her home within 30 days or the village will take it away. Anya knows it’s an impossible task. Her father is away fighting the tsar’s war, and her mother and grandparents already spend all their time simply managing the household and bringing in meager wages. When a new family arrives seeking a dragon and willing to pay her to help them find it, Anya sees salvation for her family. What she doesn’t expect to find are two unlikely friendships, adventure, danger, and more.

Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack is cute and funny while leading young readers on an adventure that includes a dragon and other magical creatures. Taking place in a folkloric Russian village, it weaves bits of historic conditions into a fantastical tale of good triumphing over evil.

Anya’s family is Jewish, and they have suffered persecutions from other villagers before settling where they now live. Her new friend Ivan comes from a family that entertains the tsar, and she’s not sure he can be trusted. And then there’s Hakon, a lonely young dragon who just wants friends to play with. Anya has to determine who to trust, where her loyalties lie, and how to untangle a list of problems that have no easy solution. The tale winds its way along a compelling path to a satisfying conclusion. I recommend Anya and the Dragon for mother-daughter book clubs and readers aged  9 to 12.

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

Book Review: A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

A Stone Sat Still cover image

“A stone sat still with the water, grass, and dirt and it was as it was where it was in the world.” The opening line of Brendan Wenzel’s picture book, A Stone Sat Still, sets a calm and peaceful tone for this story about different perspectives and changing environments over vast periods of time.

The stone in question may appear to be a solitary lump on first glance, but as Wenzel weaves its story, readers begin to see it from the eyes of the snail that crawls across its bumpy surface, the mouse that rests on it while he munches a bit of food, the snake that coils to warm up in a sunny spot. To some creatures it is rough, to others smooth. Changing seasons cover it with leaves, or snow, or moss.

A Stone Sat Still inside page

This quiet little book has striking illustrations that include cut paper, pencil, collage, and paint. Its rhythmic lines are almost meditative, which makes it a great bedtime read-aloud. Fans of Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat will love this story that encourages deep thinking about something as simple as a rock that doesn’t move, but lets the world come to it. I highly recommend it.

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

Book Review: Amanda in Holland by Darlene Foster

Amanda in Holland cover image

Amanda is once again on the move, this time taking a trip to Holland with a friend and her dad. Holland is where her uncle was declared missing in action as a soldier during World War II, and she takes along a photo of him in case she is able to find any trace of him on her travels. Of course, Amanda’s trip is soon filled with intrigue. She finds an abandoned puppy she names Joey, and she determines to find a good home for him. But who is the mysterious woman on a bicycle she keeps encountering? And why does a boy named Jan keep showing up in the unlikeliest of places? And is it possible the owner of a bed and breakfast where she stays is involved in the theft of rare tulip bulbs? All these questions and more are answered in Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action.

Part of the popular series by Darlene Foster, Amanda in Holland will lead young readers aged 9 to 11 on a journey of discovery as they solve the mystery. As Amanda visits the house where Anne Frank hid during World War II, visits a wooden shoe factory, checks out the tulips, and rides on canals, readers get a glimpse of this European country full of beauty and history. The mystery of the tulips is light, and comedic moments help to keep the action fun. I expect young readers with a sense of adventure will dive into the story and keep turning pages until the end.

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

Book Review: Little Libraries, Big Heroes by Miranda Paul

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Since the first germ of an idea by their original creators, Little Free Libraries have sprung up in nearly 90 countries around the world. If you’re not familiar with Little Free Libraries, they usually consist of a container placed near a sidewalk or other public place to house free books for exchange.

How did Little Free Libraries first come into being? That’s the subject of a picture book, Little Libraries, Big Heroes, by Miranda Paul. The book tells the story of how Todd Bol was looking for a way to honor the memory of his mom after she died. He remembered that she had taught neighborhood kids how to read, and it gave him an idea. Creating a one-room schoolhouse from pieces of an old door, he attached it to a post, stacked books inside, nailed a sign on the front, and put it on his lawn. It took a while for neighbors to catch on to what he was doing, but then his little library became very popular.

Working with his friend Rick Brooks, Bol decided to create lots of little schoolhouses to sell. Again, they were slow to catch on, but once they did, people loved them. The libraries have now sprung up all over the world, where they have become neighborhood meeting places and encouraged literacy in populations that have little access to books. Most are built by the people who maintain them.

I was particularly excited to receive this book for review, as I’ve had a Little Free Library in my own front yard for several years. And just as the founders hoped for all the libraries they have inspired, mine brings together neighbors around things they like to read.

John Parra’s illustrations for the book are fun to look at, and an author’s note at the back talks more about the founders and other facts. Little Libraries, Big Heroes is a great read-aloud for parents of young children, and it can inspire kids to read more as well as spread the love of reading. I highly recommend it.

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

Book Review: All in a Drop by Lori Alexander

All in a Drop cover image

Anthony van Leeuwenhoek was an unlikely man to contribute significantly to the world of science. All in a Drop: How Anthony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World, a chapter book by Lori Alexander, tells the story of how this curious man became interested in things that can only be seen through the lens of a microscope and ended up identifying never before seen micro-organisms.

 Born in the early 1600s in Delft, Netherlands, Anthony became a tradesman selling cloth. Wanting to be sure his cloth was of the highest quality, he built a magnifying glass to help him see how tightly woven the fabric was. That experience made him more interested in what he could see with a microscope, a fairly new invention. Intrigued by stories of how organisms looked under early forms of microscopes, Anthony set out to build his own, even though he had no science background or formal training.

At first, scientists were reluctant to accept his findings, but he persisted and eventually was recognized by the Royal Society in London. All in a Drop is a fascinating tale about how persistence and curiosity can lead to amazing discoveries. Vivien Mildenberger’s illustrations provide a charming glimpse into life in the 17th century Netherlands as well as depictions of what Anthony saw in the microscopes he built.

All in a Drop combines science and history to make an intriguing book for young readers aged 8 to 11.

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

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