Book Review: Catch Me When I Fall by Bonnie Graves

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Twelve-year-old Emma knows how to put in a good day’s work. Times are tough in Racine, Wisconsin during the Great Depression, but her mother has enough work to put food on the table and Emma helps with chores. Emma’s never known her father, and her mother refuses to talk about him. But one day Emma sees a poster for the circus that features the trapeze artist, and he looks exactly like the photo Emma’s mother keeps hidden away. Could it be her dad? The only way she’ll find out is by earning a ticket to the circus.

Catch Me When I Fall by Bonnie Graves follows Emma’s story of self discovery while taking readers on a journey into the world of circus performers from times gone by. Even though Emma’s mom forbids her to go near the circus, she earns her ticket by dressing as a boy and hiring on to do set-up work, because she thinks the boss won’t hire a girl. She waters the elephants, cleans out their muck, and gets a glimpse behind the scenes as the tents go up and the animals get ready to perform.

Emma is imaginative and curious and she longs to discover more about herself by finding the dad she’s never known. But what she uncovers will surprise her in ways she doesn’t expect, while also letting her get to know her mom better, too.

I recommend Catch Me When I Fall to readers aged 9 to 13 who like historical fiction, stories of the circus, friendship, family issues, and spunky heroines.

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

Book Review: The Shelterlings by Sara Beth Durst

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Charlie the beaver used to welcome animals to the Shelter for Rejected Familiars, but since he left one day, Holly the squirrel has done her best to make the other animals feel valued even if their magic is considered not particularly useful. Holly’s talent is conjuring pastries, and her friend Gus the owl can turn to stone, even in mid flight. Not many see those talents as useful.

When Periwinkle the lemur arrives, Holly works extra hard to help her fit in, because her talent is for finding lost things, which sometimes seems a bit like stealing them. Then one day Charlie returns saying he has found a way to fix everyone’s magic; all they have to do is gather seven key ingredients and chant a magic spell.

Charlie says he doesn’t need anyone’s help but Periwinkle’s, but Holly, Gus and some other animals volunteer and set off on their own adventures. Thus begins the quest in  Sarah Beth Durst’s novel, The Shelterlings.

While on her adventures Holly starts to see that while her magic may be unconventional, it does have value. And so does her skill for talking with creatures of all types and helping them to see solutions to their problems. She also figures out how to help the other residents at the shelter harness their own talents, imperfect though they are.

When all is not as it seems with Charlie, Holly musters all the courage she has to help the shelterlings save what makes their home special. Her gift for making others feel important and included saves the day.

Filled with a cast of sweet and lovable characters with quirky forms of magic, The Shelterlings is an adventure that celebrates the strengths and flaws found within everyone. I highly recommend it for readers aged 8 to 12.

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

Andrew Nehring Talks About Dyslexia and Reading

Andrew M. Nehring, author of the Dave Massie series for middle grade readers, knows how hard it can be to encourage a love of books in children who struggle to read. Here he talks about his own experience growing us with dyslexia and how that influences him when he writes. Read on to find out his perspective. Want more information about the author and his books? Check out

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The struggles I had with dyslexia are oddly similar to so many others. In school, I struggled with reading comprehension and as a result, I had hesitation towards books and reading in front of the class for fear of being laughed at for reading badly among a long list of others. Where my journey becomes unique to me, is the fact that I have an auditory and photographic memory. This allowed me to memorize everything in terms of words and sentences, so when I read, I gave the impression of having solid reading skills. In reality, I had no idea what I was saying and my comprehension was so low that teachers actually believed I was faking my disability and doubting that I had dyslexia. Most of my teachers thought that I was faking it and that I was just lazy.

After a lot of hard work, I was able to get my reading comprehension to that of my grade-level peers, but I was still overwhelmed by the idea of reading long and daunting books. This is why I make my books the way I do. I make my books fun and non-daunting in length (150 pages or so), that are fast to read. These are exactly the books I would have reached for in my youth! This is why I think it is so important to have these types of fun, fast-paced accessible books for middle schoolers to really ignite their passion for reading for them. They would read the first David Massie, finish it quickly and jump to the next installment. As a dyslexic author, it is very important to me that I make books that keep kids excited about reading and help their imagination grow, but it is also extremely important to me that I help break the stigma around dyslexia and help encourage others who are like me to follow their dreams.

It is also important to me to write in this genre. Science Fiction is a fun and exciting genre that brings the most creative responses out of both adults and children. By exposing children to reading early in life, it begins to spark that creativity that will continue until adulthood and beyond. Reading allows people to experience places, people and things that they may next experience in their everyday life. Science Fiction goes even beyond that. Science Fiction gives people ideas that are out of this world and maybe outside of the scope of what humans have accomplished thus far. However, by exposing people to science fiction, you’re allowing people to dream of things that someone might not have ever thought about and those thoughts and extraordinary inventions that these kids read about, might lead to the next advancements in human technology.

Book Review: Secret of the Shadow Beasts by Diane Magras

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When Nora and her mom have a close encounter with shadow beasts, deadly creatures like the ones who killed her father years ago, she vows to do something to help eradicate them from her homeland of Brannland. When she was younger she was identified as a potential knight, someone immune to the bite of the beasts until she became an adult. But her father wouldn’t let her train in the elite corps that helps to eradicate them. Now 12, Nora decides the time to fight has come. The question is, will the knights still want her?

Secret of the Shadow Beasts is a fast-moving adventure tale that will have young readers turning pages anxious to see what happens next. Nora has heart and courage as well as natural ability, all characteristics she needs to fit in with the other knights who have been training for years. Throughout the story she learns about herself and what she’s capable of. She also learns more about her dad and why he wanted to keep her from joining the knights. There’s an underlying message about caring for the Earth and the lasting effects of pollution.

I recommend Secret of the Shadow Beasts for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: Dear Dana by Amy Weinland Daughters

Dear Dana by Amy Weinland Daughters is somewhat of a story within a story. A tale for our lives now that started when the author realized that someone she knew as a teen, and who she was friends with on Facebook, was suffering a personal tragedy. The realization that she could only claim superficial knowledge of the people she called friends, launched Daughters on a journey that would have wide ramifications for her life.

The subtitle of the book, “that time i went crazy and wrote all 580 of my Facebook friends a handwritten letter,” is intriguing enough, but it doesn’t tell all of the story. Daughters was inspired to begin her quest of personal letter writing after she had written many letters of support and offered continuous prayers for her friend from summer camp, Dana, and Dana’s family.

The book chronicles how Daughters felt called to reach out to Dana even though the two hadn’t been in personal contact in years. It also details the parameters of her writing project. Letters would be handwritten, two pages long, and she would do her best to find addresses without asking for them outright. Names would be chosen at random from slips of paper drawn from a box.

Reading Dear Dana is a bit like listening to a friend talk about a major undertaking in her life. Daughters is down to earth, and she’s honest about the times she didn’t get things right. But overall Dear Dana is a testament to the power of prayer and the ability we each have to make a difference in someone’s life as well as be intentional about the people we call friends.

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

Book Review: Lettuce Get in Trouble by Linda Kuo and Mariana Rio

Sara Little Turnbull was a designer who liked to question the way things had always been done. She believed colors and shapes and spaces can be arranged in pleasing ways to enhance many things about the way we live.

A new picture book called Lettuce Get in Trouble by Linda Kuo and Mariana Rio introduces Sara and her ideas to children, particularly around the idea of what children will eat. While The Ministry of Food proposes having children eat what they are told to eat, Sara wants to ask them about what they like. What follows is a child-designed gathering where children from all over bring good things to share.

While I liked the general feel of the book, I found there to be too many ideas to promote in one picture book. For instance, it covers the concept of food types looking good placed next to each other on a plate, the importance of eating fresh food, and creating a zero-waste meal by making plates and utensils from the food items themselves while also talking about children planning a potluck meal with participants ballooning in from all over the world.

And some of the story included things I wouldn’t want to say to children I know about food, like Sara proclaiming that it’s important to eat vegetables because they’re colorful, and different colors bring different kinds of energy (green for peace, red for love, yellow for joy). But the illustrations are fun and the idea that children should have a say in what they eat is a good one.

Lettuce Get in Trouble is intended as the first in a picture book series from the Center for Design Institute, which has a mission to educate and enhance the public’s knowledge of design and further the education of underserved women and girls. And it’s helpful to know that profit from the book series will support that work.

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

Book Review: The Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams

Ava is Jewish and Nadeem is Muslim. They’re also cousins who live in a loving, interfaith extended family. When Nadeem is bullied at school, Ava jumps in to defend him. But her own friends advise her to avoid the bullies by staying away from Nadeem, something she won’t do.

The children bring their troubles to their grandmother, Granny Buena, who shows them a special button box handed down for generations in their family. She begins to tell them the story of a Jewish ancestor who helped a Muslim leader. But Granny Buena decides to take a rest before she finishes the story. The curious cousins investigate on their own and find themselves in a time-travel adventure.

The Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams is a page-turning historical fiction story that will have young readers cheering for Ava and Nadeem as they unravel the mystery of their family’s past. Their unique outlook, coming from two different religious backgrounds, helps them navigate an unfamiliar world.

I recommend The Button Box for readers aged 8 to 10 who like adventure, time-travel, a little bit of mystery, and the wisdom of grandmas.

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

Book Review: The Epic Mentor Guide by Illana Raia

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What if girls could get advice from some of the most experienced and respected women working in their fields in the U.S. today? The Epic Mentor Guide: Insider Advice For Girls Eyeing the Workforce From 180 Boss Women Who Know by Illana Raia provides just that, with insights, words of wisdom, actionable recommendations and more for girls who wonder how they can prepare for the working world.

The women who answer questions are not necessarily widely known, but they are all standouts in their fields. They work in sports, journalism, tech companies, fast food, investment firms, nonprofits and more. Each person is asked a question and they respond.

For instance, Michele Ghee, the CEO of Ebony and Jet, was asked, “What’s the first thing we should do before asking someone to be our mentor?” She responded, “Offer to be of service before you ask for anything. That’s how you build lasting relationships.”

Ashley Lynn Priore, founder of The Queen’s Gambit, answered a question about how chess strategies are useful in the work world with this quote: “The strategies we lean in chess don’t only teach us how to solve problems, but they teach us how to find problems, come up with various solutions to move forward, and decide where to go next effectively and quickly….It’s all about life skills!”

With nearly 200 boss women quoted, The Epic Mentor Guide is sure to be inspiring and thought provoking no matter where a girl’s interests lie. I recommend it for readers aged 14 and up.

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

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