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.

Book Giveaway and Review: My Name is Wakawakaloch! by Chana Stiefel

My Name is Wakawakaloch cover image

Want to have your very own copy of this cute picture book that celebrates individual uniqueness? Just leave a comment below about saying why you’d like to win a copy; make sure you comment by midnight (PDT), Tuesday, September 10. Here’s my review:

Wakawakaloch is not happy. No one pronounces her name correctly. Not in Sabertooth Safety Class, and not during Club Club. Even Elder Mooch, who looked as old as a weather-beaten tetrapod, teased her about her unusual name. Wakawakaloch wanted an easy name, like Oog, Boog, or Goog. Something she could find on a t-shirt. When she finds her connection to the past and invents a new way for every one of her friends to feel good about their names, she comes to accept that her name fits her just right.

My Name is Wakawakaloch interior

My Name is Wakawakaloch! is great for any child whose name is unusual, hard to pronounce, old-fashioned, or different in any way. Set in the time of prehistoric cave dwellers, the picture book is evocative of The Flintstones, with references to modern living attributed to Neanderthals from the past. For instance, Wakawakaloch takes a bath in a bathroom with a toilet and sink.  She eats cupcakes, looks out of a telescope at the night sky, and draws on paper with crayons. But she also lives in a cave that has drawings created by her ancestors. It’s a cute mix of prehistoric and modern that will be fun for parents to talk about when they read the book to their children.

Words are by Chana Stiefel, and pictures by Mary Sullivan are light-hearted and colorful. The message of acceptance and friendship is sure to make My Name is Wakawakaloch! a family favorite for read aloud time.

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

Book Review: Ghost: A Collection by Illustratus

Ghost cover image

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

Bee the Change cover image

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.

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