Book Review: Science Comics The Brain by Tory Woollcott

Science Comics The Brain cover imageIf your middle-schoolers are interested in how the body works, then they’ll probably love the new title in the Science Comics series called The Brain: The Ultimate Thinking Machine by Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins. The graphic novel format, along with a story to follow, is a great way to explain a complex topic.

In this title, Fahama has been kidnapped by a mad scientist who is all brain and his zombie assistant. He wants to steal her brain so he can study it. To stall and give her sister time to realize she’s missing, Fahama asks lots of questions the scientist has to answer.

Some of the things she discovers are the different parts of the brain and which parts of the body they control, how memory works, how humans register touch, and more. A helpful glossary of terms can be found in the back.

I recommend The Brain for ages 11 and up.

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

Book Review: Monster School by Kate Coombs

Monster School cover imageMonster School, written by Kate Coombs, showcases a group of very unusual students. There’s a multicultural monster with purple hair and three scaly tails, a vampire who doesn’t like homework, a skateboarding pumpkin head, and more. Each has a poem about what it’s like to live their lives; which are similar in many ways to students everywhere, but with a twist. For instance, Compare and Contrast starts with these lines:

Ms. Blackhurst is a banshee.

She has burning eyes.

She gets mad a lot.

When she does, she screams

like horrible dreams

in a voice that’s filled with rot.

The collection of poems makes a great book to read at Halloween; it’s humorous, and the characters experience a range of activities and emotions. Lee Gatlin’s illustrations are whimsical and lighthearted, and they go well with the poetry. I recommend Monster School for readers aged 5 to 8.

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

Book Review: The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee

The House in Poplar Wood cover imageTwin brothers Felix and Lee are bound by a pact made between Death and Memory. Felix works with his father, who serves Death, and Lee works with his mother, who serves Memory. Even though they all live under the same roof, the house is divided, and the parents aren’t allowed to see each other or the twin that doesn’t live with them. It’s an agreement neither boy thinks he can break, until the mayor’s daughter, Gretchen, starts pestering them about solving a murder.

The House is Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee adds a touch of creepiness into a fantasy story about ending old feuds, making new friends, and mending families. The boys don’t like their servitude. Felix especially wants to be able to stop helping Death carry out his grim duties. They don’t trust Gretchen at first, because their families have been feuding as long as anyone can remember. But Gretchen doesn’t like her place in her family either. As a second child, she is often ignored and pushed around. The trio can only find a way to upend accepted norms and change their families’ lives by working together.

Readers who like inventive tales, a bit of mystery, and stories of friendship and family will find lots to love in The House in Poplar Wood. It can be a bit dark at times, so sensitive readers may want to read it with caution. I recommend it for ages 11 and up.

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

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.

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