Book Review: Dear Student by Elly Swartz

Dear Student cover image

Dear Student by Elly Swartz opens on Autumn’s first day of sixth grade. Even though her dad has left their home for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, he still offers her a suggestion: get involved in one thing. Autumn believes that one thing may be Dear Student, the advice column of their school newspaper. She’s always been told she gives good advice. And since the author is anonymous, she won’t have to worry about kids thinking what she says is weird.

But Autumn also has a lot to worry about. Her best friend moved across the country over the summer, and to save money, the family left their home for an apartment above her mom’s veterinarian business.

If that upheaval isn’t enough, she’s navigating how to be friends with two new kids who don’t get along with each other. She wants to help them both, but figuring out how to do that while remaining true to herself is complicated. In the end, Autumn realizes that even if she can’t solve everyone’s problems, she can be honest and authentic about her own feelings.

Young readers will cheer for Autumn as she works to find her voice and gain confidence in herself. I recommend Dear Student for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Book Review: The River Between Hearts by Heather Mateus Sappenfield

The River Between Hearts cover image

The River Between Hearts by Heather Mateus Sappenfield starts on the first day of summer after fourth grade, when Rill Kruse follows her cat Clifford into the woods and to the family tree house. The one her dad helped build and the family was happy in. But then her dad left to go kayaking just over a year ago and didn’t come back. Rill hasn’t been to Fort Kruse, as they call it, since. But when she climbs the ladder this time and opens the trap door, she finds a girl inside.

Rill recognizes Perla from school, remembers her being bullied. Slowly, as she earns the girl’s trust, she finds out that Perla’s family has been taken into custody by immigration agents and Perla has nowhere to go. Rill decides to bring her food and let her stay in the tree house out of sight.

As the two become friends, Rill discovers more about the families who come from Mexico to work in her town than she ever knew. She also is finally able to face the truth about what happened to her dad and find a way to move forward despite her grief.

Rill’s story is moving and thoughtful, touching on issues of loss, family, friendship, and more. I highly recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Turtle: Overcoming Hurdles Female Athletes Face Through The Power of Reading

Guest post by Pamela Jouan-Goldman and Julia Goldman

Pamela Jouan-Goldman and Julia Goldman photo

What started as a pandemic project morphed into something more for my daughter and I, inspired by her own journey as an athlete. As a mother of a 12-year old who has been running since she was five, it’s easy to see how we collected so many stories about running, meets, coaches, and team interactions over the past seven years. Rolling them into TURTLE, a Middle Grade fiction sports book and the first in the Run Like A Girl series, was a wonderful exercise in memory-gathering and organizing. The result is a story about a fifth-grader who moves to the Lowcountry and after some social drama finds herself part of a competitive running club. As Emma Jackson pushes herself to discover who she is and what she is made of, the power of team sports becomes obvious.  

The sad reality is that by the age of 14, girls traditionally drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys (Women’s Sports Foundation). As their bodies change, their attention pulled in many directions, and their minds challenged, it’s easy to see how it happens. The Run Like A Girl series is a challenge to all female athletes to stick with it. With a subtle girl power theme that gets bolder as the Run Like A Girl series progresses, TURTLE takes a first step to address the stigma of girls in sports by first planting a seed about what team running can offer them: confidence, leadership, community, purpose, self-discipline and a realization that running like a girl is something to aspire to.

Because we owe a lot to the running community, TURTLE was also a way to give back. Starting with our own local running club, Mount Pleasant Track Club, we started to use book sales to raise money for female athletes to fund travel expenditures to high-profile meets. Next we turned to other female-empowering organizations such as Girls on The Run to raise awareness and money. We are currently in the process of reaching out to track and running clubs around the country with a similar plan. Writing a book never felt so right as we stick to the mantra: inspiring young runners to read and young readers to run.

You can find Turtle on amazon. For more information about Pamela Jouan-Goldman and Julia Goldman, go to

Book Review: Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round by Kathlyn J. Kirkwood

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round cover image

Every January governments, workplaces, and people around the U.S. pause to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his legacy. But the national holiday that falls on or near his birthday each year didn’t simply arise on its own in the years after King’s death. Instead it took dedicated work by a legion of people who were determined that this man would be honored and remembered for his accomplishments.

One of those people, Kathlyn J. Kirkwood, has written a memoir in verse about her own experience with activism starting in childhood and how she came to fight for a holiday in King’s name. Called Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round, the book is punctuated with illustrations, photos, and historic documents.

Kathlyn’s story starts in 1968 in Memphis, Tennesse, when she was a senior in high school. She tells about the events leading to King’s assassination and her participation in the Freedom Train, which was part of the Poor People’s Campaign. In words simple and profound, she captures the feeling of the times and how people can come together to change hearts and minds around an important issue.

The back of the book contains a glossary and also a brief civics lesson, with a graphic depiction of how a bill becomes law. I recommend Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round for readers aged 10 to 13.

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

Book Review: Puzzle Odyssey by Helen Friel & Ian Friel

Puzzle Odyssey, An Epic Maze Adventure by Helen Friel & Ian Friel introduces young readers to Homer’s classic tale of Odysseus’s long journey home after the Trojan War.

Puzzle Odyssey cover image

The authors provide a synopsis of the story, told a few adventures at a time. Then readers are faced with several mazes and puzzles that challenge their skills of observation while illustrating something from the tale.

For instance, following the section titled, “Story Part I: Lotus, Sheep, and Cannibals,” that describes Odysseus’s encouters with the Lotus Eaters, readers are asked to navigate a field filled with flowers. Instructions tell them which way they can move through the field while avoiding lotus flowers to get back to the ship. Illustrations from Jesús Sotés are beautifully drawn, and part of the appeal of going through the challenges.

A cast of characters at the beginning helps keep the story flowing. Also, a note at the end talks about Homer and what historians believe about him and his books, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Puzzle Odyssey is a great way to get kids interested in the historical books and have fun while they learn. I recommend it for ages 9 to 13.

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

Book Review: Nom Nom Nom by Jeffrey Burton

Nom Nom Nom cover image

Nom Nom Nom: A Yummy Book With Flaps by Jeffrey Burton is a whimsical little board book that poses questions to kids about what certain animals may like to eat. The choices are often funny, and it can prompt kids to talk about what they do and don’t like to eat. Here’s an example from the book:

“Little Shark has an empty stomach. What does he want to eat? Fish sticks with ketchup, or pizza and tacos, or cheese-covered jellyfish spicy baked nachos? Which would you choose?”

Each two-page spread features a different animal with foods on one page and a pull-up flap illustration of the animal on the other page. Inside the animal’s mouth are the words Nom Nom Nom. The repetition is attention-getting, and the words can prompt fun conversations about all kinds of foods and eating.

Illustrations by Sarah Hwang are colorful and cute.

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

Book Review: Photo Ark ABC by Debbie Levy and Joel Srtore

Photo Ark ABC cover image

The stunning photographs of animals are paired with verse that just itches to be spoken. Also, the words are different sizes, shapes and colors that move across the page flowing around and between, over and under photographs. For instance, on the page R is for Rhinoceros, the words splish, splash, splat, splurt are arranged to look like a wave that moves up and down.

Alphabet picture books are perennially popular for a reason: They make good read alouds for parents and their children. A great addition to the category is a new book by photographer Joel Sartore and writer Debbie Levy called Photo Ark ABC: An Animal Alphabet in Poetry and Pictures.

Visually, each page has a lot to look at and quite a bit to learn. The poetic devices used throughout make the rhythm of the reading fun. And the facts go down easy, too. Kids will be exposed to animals they’ve never heard of and words that are new to them. (And maybe even to some that are new to parents. For instance, a group of animals referred to as Xenarthra, was a new one for me!)

The end of the book features small photos of all the animals along with their names and where the can be found in the world. There are also notes from the photographer and the author along with an explanation of The National Geographic Photo Ark, which is an effort by Sartore to photograph every captive species to inspire people to save those most vulnerable.

Photo Ark ABC is deserves a long-term spot on the bookshelf, where it can be easily accessed for reading again and again and again.

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

Book Review: Kid on the Go! by Neill McKee

Kid on the Go cover image

Born shortly after World War II ended, Neill McKee grew up during the 1950s and 60s in Elmira, a small town in Ontario where his father and uncle owned a farm equipment business. Given lots of freedom to roam, Neill and his siblings, cousins, and friends had many adventures, some that would certainly make a protective parent cringe. In Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth, McKee tells gives an interesting, often humorous, account of those days.

The story also offers a glimpse of what life in general was like in his hometown, which melded Mennonite farms, a slaughterhouse, and a chemical factory that manufactured DDT. His first chapter gives a tongue-in-cheek account of all the interesting odors that emanated from each of the key industries and how town residents could tell which direction the wind was blowing.

Neill McKee

Throughout the story we see McKee’s world through the lens of the child who lived it, with some commentary on how his perspective changed over the years. Readers will also note how society in general has changed since the middle of the last century.

With illustrations and photos by the author, Kid on the Go! makes for an interesting read for those aged 16 and up.

P.S. I’m part of a blog tour for the release of the book. You can find an interview with the author as well as much more info about him and the other stops on the tour by visiting Wow! Women On Writing.

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

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