Review: The Zoo-Choo Train by K.B. Otto

The Zoo-Choo train is bringing sleepy animals back to their homes after a long day at play. There’s a lion and giraffes, hippos and zebras. But where are the penguins? Only one of five shows up. So the engineer backtracks to all the other stops he’s made until they’re all accounted for.

The Zoo-Choo Train by K.B. Otto is a cute bedtime read about tired, sleepy animals. The muted colors in RUi RUi’s illustrations evoke evening, and many of the animals look like they’re ready for bed, as they have closed or droopy eyelids. It’s a cozy feel until a slight worry near the end that all works out fine.

Trains and animals are always a hit with young readers, and when you combine the two in one story, they’re sure to like it.

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

Review: Meet Claude Monet

Books that highlight famous people of the past are great for introducing children to all kinds of concepts. Meet Claude Monet, part of the Meet the Artist picture book series, helps budding artists learn how Monet used broad brushstrokes to create the illusion of detail.

The illustrations highlight small pieces of famous paintings on one page and asks young readers if they can figure out what it represents. Then it shows the full picture on the next page.

For instance, one page shows what looks like a blob of color, made up of green and blue and white and pink paint. The character of Claude Monet says it’s a sky, and he asks readers to consider why he would paint sky like the that. The next page reveals a foggy scene with buildings outlined against that sky.

Monet asks readers to consider the colors he used and how he could create full figures with just a few brushstrokes. Two paintings at the end ask questions about what’s in the scenes, and there are two craft options in the back.

I would have liked to see more information about the artist, perhaps with a bio in the back or more info along the way. Text says when Monet was little his family lived in Normandy, but it doesn’t specify that he spent the majority of his life in other parts of France. Also, I felt some of the activities, like identifying different types of brushstrokes on a post-card-sized painting, wouldn’t fully engage children.

Overall, though, I found Meet Claude Monet to be an interesting look at the artist and his techniques. And I can see how it would inspire children to experiment with their own art.

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

Review: Too Many Interesting Things Are Happening to Ethan Fairmont

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When we last saw young inventor Ethan Fairmont and his friends, they were finishing up a summer of adventure and surprises. They had helped an alien friend, brought people in their neighborhood together, and set up a space where kids could gather to create things.

Now, with school starting again, Ethan faces new challenges, both good and bad. First, he discovers that his alien friend Cheese has left him a device that may help the two communicate. But he can’t figure out how to work it. Then, a new girl shows up at his school, and she’s an inventor too. With patents! Ethan can’t help but feel competitive.

Another new kid snoops around asking questions about aliens in town, and Ethan thinks he may be having deeper feelings for his friend, Di. Add some mysterious goings on to the mix, and Ethan finds lots to stress over and be confused about.

Book 2 of the Ethan Fairmont series: Too Many Interesting Things Are Happening to Ethan Fairmont, by Nick Brooks is a quick, fun read. Young readers aged 9 to 12 will find it easy to relate to Ethan, who at heart is a normal kid facing changes he’s not sure how to navigate. As he works to solve the mysteries he faces, he learns that opening up to family and friends can help him solve all kinds of problems

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

Review: Woke Up Like This by Amy Lea

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It’s the end of her senior year and all that stands in the way of Char meeting all the goals on her checklist is her nemesis, Renner. The two have been at odds ever since he stood her up for homecoming in their freshman year.

With prom just days away, she’s determined not to let him ruin the highlight of her last days in high school. Then she falls off a ladder and the two hit the gym floor, propelling them both 13 years into the future, when they are about to be married.

They go on a mission to find out how the years since high school ended up like this, making some surprising discoveries along the way. When a chain of events leads them back to that high school gym floor, Char wonders if it was all a dream, or if her destiny leads to a future she never imagined.

Woke Up Like This by Amy Lea is a fun twist on a story about time travel and confronting the assumptions you make about the people in your life. When Char realizes there’s more to Renner and her dad and other friends than she assumed, it makes her rethink her own approach to life.

Woke Up Like This is charming and funny and annoying and touching in all the right places. 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.

Review—Kin: Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford

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In her book Kin: Rooted in Hope, award-winning children’s author and poet Carole Boston Weatherford takes a family roots story and turns it into the wider tale of American slavery. Through research, Weatherford discovered that her ancestors fought in the American Revolution and were enslaved alongside Frederick Douglass. They also fought in the Civil War and co-founded a village in Maryland during Reconstruction. Many generations lived at Wye House, named for the Wye River which empties into Chesapeake Bay.

Through poetry, Weatherford takes readers on a journey that gives voice to people and places, a technique that takes a wide view of history as well as her own family story. Some poems are written from her perspective, but others use historical texts or context to bring in other viewpoints. Chesapeake Bay, members of the Lloyd family (which ruled Wye House and owned several plantations in the area), Frederick Douglass, Weatherford’s ancestors, and more voices come to life.

She uses official documents, like the one that declares “offspring follows belly, meaning children born to enslaved mothers were themselves enslaved—from day one,” and quotes from writings by Frederick Douglass.

Weatherford collaborated with her son, Jeffrey Boston Weatherford, who provided the art for the story. His black and white scratchboard illustrations add impact, in particular with the faces and eyes of the people he depicts.

Kin: Rooted in Hope is for young readers aged 10 and up, but I highly recommend it for adults as well. If you’re interested in learning more about the author, check out her guest post on this site or her website:

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

Author Carole Boston Weatherford on Kin: Rooted in Hope

Carole Boston Weatherford head shot

Award-winning children’s author Carole Boston Weatherford and her illustrator son Jeffrey, worked together to create Kin: Rooted in Hope. An illustrated book of poems for young readers, Kin draws on their personal family history to humanize their enslaved ancestors and their struggles as well as their triumphs. In this post, Carole talks about the book and how it came together. Check back in tomorrow when I feature a review. You can also find out more at Carole’s website:

Seven Things About Kin: Rooted in Hope

Kin: Rooted in Hope is about family through and through. The book is my third mother-son/author-illustrator collaboration with Jeffery Boston Weatherford. KIN chronicles my quest to trace our family’s heritage from enslavement in colonial America to Civil War battlefields and the Reconstruction. Searing poems and dramatic scratchboard art conjure our enslaved ancestors and reclaim their lost narratives. To amplify marginalized voices and examine erased lives, we pushed past the limits of the archive and resorted to speculation. We cast our kin in a blinding new light.

1.      Family and freedom are the key themes of KIN. KIN examines the threat that family separation posed to enslaved people. 

2.      I enlisted family—my son Jeffery Boston Weatherford, an award-winning illustrator—to create the visual narrative. We never worked side by side on the project, but over the years have spent a lot of family time in the book’s historic setting. We both dug deep to do our ancestors’ justice.

3.      The seed for KIN was sown during my childhood visits to my family’s small farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Located in Copperville, a kin community dating to the Reconstruction, the farm was owned by my great grandparents, James and Mary Ann Moaney, former sharecroppers who sold handmade cornhusk horse collars to purchase the land. As a parent, I returned to Copperville with my own children who also grew to cherish that land.

4.      Copperville was co-founded during the Reconstruction by Black Freemen, including my great-great grandfather, Phillip Moaney, whose picture hung in my great grandparents’ farmhouse. I was probably a tween or teen when I first learned that Phillip had been enslaved at Wye House, Maryland’s largest enslavement plantation.

5.      My family also has roots in nearby Unionville, a hamlet co-founded by my great-great grandfather Isaac Copper and other veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops. Prior to enlisting, Isaac was enslaved at Wye House in Talbot County, Maryland. 

6.      The plantation’s most famous resident—enslaved or free—was Frederick Douglass, who lived there as a boy when he was first separated from his family. In his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass describes my fourth great grandfather, known as Doctor or Minister Isaac Copper.

7.      KIN conveys the value of family history. Many African American genealogists hit a brick wall at 1870, the first census to account for the formerly enslaved population. Thanks to research by my distant cousins, my family can reach back to 1770. KIN affirms that lineage, family lore and land memory all contribute to generational wealth. KIN reflects the rich heritage that lies within so many families waiting to be revealed and passed down. 

Review: The A&A Detective Agency: The Fairfleet Affair by K. H. Saxton

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Young readers who love mysteries similar to The Westing Game, will love K. H. Saxton’s The A & A Detective Agency: The Fairfleet Affair. In the story, Alex Foster and Asha Singh are not only friends, they also have a budding detective agency. They even have a headquarters in a tree house in front of Alex’s home.

They got their start when Dr. Alistair Fairfleet gave them a case to practice on. When Dr. Fairfleet disappears, no one in the town of Northbrook knows where he went. Then a letter arrives for Alex and Asha, asking their help to find him. The young sleuths have to follow clues and solve puzzles to figure out who among the three adults who worked with Dr. Fairfleet they can trust.

The story follows interesting twists and turns, revealing secrets along the way. Author Saxton weaves a good story, waiting until the end to reveal the ultimate mystery. I had a lot of fun following along with Alex and Asha as they investigated.

I highly recommend The Fairfleet Affair for kids’ book clubs and readers aged 9 to 12.

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

Review: Graveyard Girls Scream for the Camera by Lisi Harrison & Daniel Kraus

Graveyard Girls Scream for the Camera cover image

When we last saw the Graveyard Girls, Whisper, Sophie, Gemma, and their friend Zuzu, they had just found out that someone stole Silas Hoke’s body. In the next installment in the series, Graveyard Girls: Scream for the Camera by Lisi Harrison and Daniel Kraus, they are on a quest to find out who did it.

The girls try to solve the mystery by consulting a Ouija board, which lets the spirit of long-ago murdered Ginny Baker into the living world where she causes all kinds of mischief. As she sends the girls signs and speaks through Zuzu, they encounter one challenge after another. They are tested in unexpected ways, but find themselves rising to each challenge.

Scream for the Camera ends in another mystery, which sets up the story for the next book. Young readers aged 9 to 12 who like creepy mysteries will be happy to keep up in the series.

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

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