Book Review: Where the Weird Things Are by Zoleka Filander

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Some of the strangest creatures in the ocean live in what’s known at the Ocean Twilight Zone, a place so deep there’s very little light. The lie that thrives there adapted for survival in those conditions.

Where the Weird Things Are: An Ocean Twilight Zone Adventure by Zoleka Filander, introduces young readers to things like the strawberry squid, which has one yellow eye and one blue one, and salps, which help clean up the water by eating and pooping.

Everything is seen through the eyes of a mesobot, and underwater robot that helps researchers study these creatures and how they live. The mesobot thinks it’s weird, but then it finds out that everything has some weird feature, which creates the kind of diversity needed to maintain a healthy ocean.

Illustrations by Patricia Hooning are colorful and give a sense of flowing, like things would look as they swim or ride an ocean current. Bright colors pop against a dark background, and where you find abundance in a species, like krill, hundreds of them appear on the page to give a sense of the swirling mass mesobot would see.

The book is written in conjunction with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a private non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which is dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. And there are photographs in the back of the real-life creatures featured in the book, along with facts about them.

Where the Weird Things Are is a fun way to pique the interest of young readers about the vast world under the surface of the ocean.

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

Book Review: A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky by Stuart Anderson


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Look up at the night sky and you may see a few familiar things. The moon certainly, and sometimes planets as well as stars. But reading the night sky, knowing what the brightest stars and constellations are called, is a little like learning a language. You discover that clusters of stars have a name and are likely to be visible in your area at certain times of the year. You discover how to distinguish stars from planets and from satellites.

A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky by Stuart Atkinson is a great guide to help you learn that language and let you know what you’re looking at when you gaze up. The whimsical illustrations by Brendan Kearney make it easy to understand the information presented.

A Cat’s Guide starts with a list of things you’ll need to find the best viewing and be comfortable while you’re out. It shows the contrast between what you can see in a city, which has light pollution, to what you can see outside of an urban area.

I found the progression in the book particularly interesting. It tells about how things in the night sky were named, defines different kinds of stars, and presents the idea of constellations before showing the most prominent ones visible by season.

A Cat’s Guide is the kind of book that can be studied closely before heading out in the dark to look up. And it can be kept as a handy guide to be referenced over and over again, as you learn different elements each time you go out stargazing. It’s a great parent/child activity that you can do all year long.

I highly recommend it for ages nine and up.

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

Excerpt from Leaving, a Book by Kanchan Bhaskar

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Note from While I didn’t have the opportunity to review the following book, I wanted to make readers aware of it, so I worked with the author on an excerpt. Read on to learn more.

The following is an excerpt from Leaving: How I Set Myself Free from an Abusive Marriage by Kanchan Bhaskar.


I grew up in New Delhi, India, and my dreams were built on the romance and jubilation in which I was brought up. I imagined my married life to be as blissful and tender as that of my parents, who truly cherished and treasured each other and nurtured their four offspring with love and warmth. They lived more as partners than as a traditional Indian husband and wife.
      Having been raised in this progressive environment, I acquired a unique perception of life—a woman was an equal partner in a marriage, one to be honored and valued. Marriage meant love, companionship, and caring. I couldn’t fathom it being any other way. Violence of any kind in marriage was unthinkable. A woman was to be respected—period.

      My future husband would not share these perceptions. I found myself in an arranged marriage to a bright and deceptively-charming man, who revealed his true nature only after our wedding. The first time he hit me, my world spun upside down. When it righted, I had gotten myself stuck in a tumultuous, abusive relationship with a narcissistic alcoholic, in whose captivity I was trapped for more than twenty years.

      The desperate mother of three innocent children who were casualties of these circumstances, I had to get away, but my escape had to be carefully planned with no room for error. If I divorced, I’d lose one or all of my children to the man I needed to escape from, which was not an option.

      There had to be a way out.

      I searched until I found it.
      This story narrates how I built a ramp to climb out of the abyss, little by little, using a myriad of tools to bring me closer to freedom. Although I was alone in my fight for survival, I had deep faith in the higher power which presented me with collaborators in the form of angels and mentors to light my way.

      My work was slow but steady. The ramp collapsed a few times and had to be rebuilt stronger. I shaped myself into a resilient woman, a tigress who could fend for her cubs. It wasn’t easy, and each day was a struggle, yet I remained determined in my single mission to protect my children and provide them with the best, as I had been provided with. This focus gave me the courage and spirit to keep forging ahead relentlessly.

      Belief in self and belief in the Universe became my weapons of ultimate escape, the foundation for my liberation and re-earned dignity.

      The story doesn’t stop with gaining my freedom but describes my continuing journey on the path of spirituality. In this book, I share my dawning realizations and the period of self-resurgence, which resulted in a triumphant, purpose-driven life.

      Belief in spirituality provided the foundation and a new beginning on the path toward the emancipation of mind and soul.

      Today a free woman, I’m happily settled in Chicago, living life on my own terms. I walk with my head high and chin up. The first flowers of spring in their divine colors make me smile. I can laugh again at a joke, find stillness in trees, and plan without fear, making up for the lost time.
      I’m reminded of my favorite lines, my motto, from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

      The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

      But I have promises to keep,
      And miles to go before I sleep,
      And miles to go before I sleep.

______________________________________________________________________________Reprinted from Leaving: How I Set Myself Free from an Abusive Marriage with the permission of She Writes Press. Copyright © 2023 by Kanchan Bhaskar

Kanchan Bhaskar (Kan-chan Bhas-car), an Indian-American, is a first-time author. She holds a Master’s Degree in social work and a certificate in life coaching. She is also a certified Business Coach. Being a successful Human Resource professional, her expertise is in training and mentoring. She is a certified advocate, speaker, and coach for victims and survivors of domestic violence. Kanchan lives in Chicago. Learn more about Kanchan on her website:

Book Review: Welcome to Monsterville by Laura Shovan & Michael Rothenberg

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The book Welcome to Monsterville starts with a poem called Invitation. It reads, in part:

Hello, children!

Please don’t hide.

The gate is open.

Come inside.

We’re glad you’re here

in Monsterville.

Our tour today

is creature-filled.

Indeed, this collection of sixteen illustrated poems for children is creature-filled and wholly delightful. Born out of grief and a desire to create something uplifting, the author Laura Shovan, and the illustrator, Michael Rothenberg, worked together to create quirky characters that often reflect difficult emotions or situations children navigate.

For example, the poem When I Cry opens with the line, “There is a monster in me called Sadness.” And Green Cave starts with, “Sometimes I get so mad, the feelings can’t stay inside.”

Pairing these poems about serious emotions with colorful, wacky illustrations of monsters seem like a great way to open up conversation about intense feelings and how to deal with them. I can see readers finding new meaning in these poems over multiple readings as situations come up in their lives that make them relevant.

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

Book Review: Rare Birds by Jeff Miller

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Rare Birds by Jeff Miller tells the story of eleven-year-old Graham, whose mom is on a waiting list at a Florida medical center for a heart transplant. Graham is staying with an old high school friend of his parents, Dom, and Dom’s son Nick, who does his best to make Graham’s life difficult.

Graham is a veteran of hospital waiting rooms, and it’s there he meets Lou, who has family medical issues of her own. The two become fast friends, and together they decide to enter a contest for young birders to find the rare snail kite that lives in the nearby swamp.

During their adventures, they learn a lot about boating, birding, and the nature of the swamp. They will test their courage and determination while they also discover the value of friendship and the importance of living life to its fullest.

Rare Birds is about hope and self-discovery, and being understood and loved for who you are. As Graham gets to know Nick and Lou, he finds that initial impressions of a person are not the whole story. He also faces his own fears about being on his own if something happens to his mom. It’s a thought-provoking tale, and 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.

Review: Captain Skidmark Dances With Destiny by Jennifer A. Irwin

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Thirteen-year-old Will knows that no matter how bad the bullies treat him he will keep quiet when they trip him in the hall or steal his lunch or shove him into a locker. He’s small and knows he can’t fight back. Also, as the school principal’s son, he knows that getting the bullies in trouble with his dad will probably just make them madder.

When his older cousin Alex comes to stay with his family, Will initially hopes he may find an ally. But as a popular hockey star, Alex has no time for his pipsqueak relative. When Will happens to enroll in a ballroom dance class and finds he’s good at it, he’s conflicted. Should he continue and risk more bullying because dancing isn’t “manly,” or should he go all out for something that makes him feel good about himself?

Captain Skidmark Dances With Destiny by Jennifer A. Irwin is a humorous and thoughtful coming of age story. Will wants to please people, especially his dad, who used to be a pro hockey player. He feels his dad is disappointed in his own lack of athletic ability. So he hides his interest in dance until he’s forced to admit he’s taking lessons.

Will forms a bond his cousin when he discovers that Alex isn’t happy playing his role, either. They encourage each other to push back against their parents’ expectations. But following through is harder than they anticipate.

Throughout his trials, Will maintains his sense of humor about himself and his increasingly difficult situation even as he tries to find a solution. In the end, readers will cheer for Will and Alex as they forge a path that will lead them to be true to themselves.

Captain Skidmark is funny and thoughtful and I recommend it for readers aged 10 to 13.

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

Book Review: All About Nothing by Elizabeth & Elizabeth Goss

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It’s easy to think that nothing is a thing that doesn’t exist. But in their picture book, All About Nothing, Elizabeth Rusch & Elizabeth Goss set about to get children and their parents thinking about the emptiness, gaps, pauses, and more, that fill our lives.

Nothing, they say is the space around everything, including words, which makes it easier to read. Nothing gets your attention, when you notice something is missing, like a tooth. Nothing, they propose, even makes music, because even songs need some silence.

The simple story is illustrated beautifully, helping to show that the lack of something makes up a large part of our lives. It’s an interesting concept that should be fun for parents and children to explore as they think of even more examples of nothing in their lives. Also, there’s a fun craft project at the back of the book that involves cutting paper to show how negative space creates art. All About Nothing offers an interesting read on what most of us give little thought to. I highly recommend it.

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

Review: Good Different by Meg Eden Kuyatt

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Pebblecreek Academy is the kind of place where Selah feels comfortable, a place she describes as like “a pair of favorite shoes” that feel special and important. She’s attended school there every year until seventh grade, and she loves being around her friends.

One of the things Selah likes best about Pebblecreek is that she knows the rules of what to wear and how to act and how to get along with everyone. But in seventh grade that starts to change. Life is sometimes overwhelming for Selah. Too much noise and too much stimulation make her want to roar like the dragon she feels like on the inside.

Selah mostly keeps her feelings and actions tightly controlled until she gets home and can relax. But one day too much stimulation in the classroom pushes her to explode, and she hits one of her friends. Suddenly everything she thinks she knows about her school and her friends is in question.

Meg Eden Kuyatt’s novel in verse, Good Different, is a great coming-of-age story about a neurodivergent girl who knows she’s different, but who worries that means people won’t like her. Little by little she learns about who she is and what she needs to succeed in the classroom and at home. She also learns to trust her friends to like her even when they see beneath the facade she has worn for so long.

Kuyatt’s verse unfolds gently, revealing the struggles Selah faces as well as her strengths. In an author’s note at the end, she candidly discusses her own path to understand the way she was different, and that she was diagnosed with autism during college. She talks about how getting a diagnosis is especially difficult for females, who are often good at blending in with their peers. The author has also included a list of tools and resources for people who seek more information.

Good Different is beautifully written and important not only for people who are neurodivergent, but also for their friends, families, schoolmates, teachers, and anyone else who sees them regularly. I highly recommend it.

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

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