Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Indie Spotlight: The Voting Tree by Gareth Griffith

The Voting Tree (The Pelagius Chronicles, Book 1), by Gareth Griffith, (Nov. 2018), $10.25, ISBN: 978-1729264485

Ages 10-13

The Voting Tree is an epic fantasy taking place across two worlds: Sydney, Australia in the year 2000, and a fantasy kingdom called the Land of Pelas. In the current world, Sam Archer is a middle schooler who’s just moved to Sydney, thanks to his dad’s new job. He starts school where he meets new friends Hamish, Sylvia, Athena, and Oscar… and the local bullies, who target Sam and his group of friends for being “freaks”. In the fantasy world of Pelas, there’s open war as Lord Boreas slays his brother, the king, and his wife; their child, Pelagius, is sent into hiding and will live in exile until he’s old enough to retake his father’s throne. Back in Sydney, Sam and his friends gather around a fig tree near their school, and discover that it’s a portal to Pelas, where they meet Pelagius and join his quest. Sam and his friends all have special abilities in this fantasy world to guide them and Pelagius on their way, and time works differently here: they can spend hours in Pelas, but almost no time has passed when they return home. At times, the differences between the two worlds made for a challenging transition, especially because there isn’t a lot of involvement with each of the worlds. Their time in Pelas does lead to character growth and confidence, making this a nice hero’s journey story to recommend. Characters deal with family stress, bullying at school, and inaction on the part of the teachers. Give this to your fantasy readers who love Garth Nix.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction

Indie spotlight: Immigrant from the Stars by Gail Kamer

Immigrant from the Stars, by Gail Kamer/Illustrated by Daniel F. Bridy, (June 2019, Gettier Group LLC), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0999459553

Ages 9-12

I’ve been working to catch up with review requests, so I dug into my indie review pile while I was off and caught up with Gail Kamer’s 2019 middle grade tale, Immigrant from the Stars. Iko is a middle school kid who’s like other middle school kids: he loves hanging out with his friends; he loves his grandfather and his parents, he loves his dog. Oh, and he’s an alien from the planet Trinichia, ruled by a totalitarian government, with eyes and ears seemingly everywhere. Iko’s parents put their escape plan in motion and leave Trinichia, fleeing to Earth, where they start their new lives in Kentucky, disguised as the Newman family, a completely normal Earthling family from Texas. Iko tries to adjust to this new life – this new species! – while desperately hoping he doesn’t give himself and his family away, and worrying about his grandfather and dog, who are still on Trinichia.

I enjoyed Immigrant from the Stars so much! Narrated in the first person by Iko, the story has humor and pathos in equal amounts, with some tense moments that inject some excitement into the story. The story puts a sci-fi spin on the challenges facing immigrants who arrive as refugees and find themselves faced with a new way of life – and possibly an unfriendly reception. If your readers loved Geoff Rodkey’s We’re Not From Here (2019), consider recommending Immigrant from the Stars.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Self-publishing/Indie publishing spotlight!

I’ve got some more self-published and indie publishing books to crow about today!

 

Magic Wanda (Grandma’s Closet #3), by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Francie Mion, (Nov. 2020, Look Under Rocks), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0916176792

Ages 4-7

Lois Wickstrom followed up her 2019 story, Carrie’s Flight, with another fun fantasy about a little girl named Carrie, her grandmother, and some magical flowers. Carrie discovers a box with “Wandas” written on it, so she opens it: there are flowers in the box, but what’s a Wanda? She videochats Grandma, who tells her that the flowers are Magic Wandas, and can help her get ready for her mother’s party. The flowers – named Rose, Lily, and Daisy – come to life and play with Carrie, turning into anything she wishes for. Will she be ready for her mom’s party in time if she keeps playing with the Wandas? A fun little fantasy for preschoolers and kindergartners. There’s a positive, playful relationship between Carrie and her grandmother, and I like the use of videochat to show the two staying in touch. Grandma always seems to have some magical fun up her sleeve, which adds to the enjoyment and might even prompt a child or two to see their grandparents a little differently: after all, who knows what magic they have to share? Soft pastel illustrations add to the gentle magic of the story, and fonts play with words to add interest.

 

 

Dinopotamus Solves a Mystery, by Lois Wickstrom, (Dec. 2020, Look Under Rocks), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0916176884

Ages 3-7

Dinopotamus is a friendly dinosaur-hippopotamus hybrid that likes to sleep in the classroom where he spends his day. He notices that he always gets the warm spot in the room, but when he decides to let the chilly students have his spot the next day, because they’re chilly, the spot isn’t warm anymore. Why is it always warm where Dinopotamus sleeps? This fun little STEM-based mystery looks at the science behind heat and energy. Dinopotamus Solves a Mystery is one of five Dinopotamus books by Lois Wickstrom.

Education.com has a heat transfer activity that’s a good place to start when explaining heat transfer; the activity is suggested for 2nd graders, but you can demonstrate it for younger ages.

 

 

 

Hannah’s Two Homes, by Melodie Tegay, (May 2018), $7.99, ISBN: 978-1641334747

Ages 3-5

Hannah is a 5-year-old girl whose parents are divorced and remarried. In simple, easy-to-understand sentences, Hannah describes her life with her parents and her “extra daddy” and “extra mommy”, her younger siblings, pets, and family holidays. Her Christian mother and Jewish father celebrate holidays like Passover and Easter, Christmas and Hanukkah, in their homes with Hannah; the whole family come together to celebrate Hannah’s birthday. Hannah knows that she’s always loved, no matter who’s house she’s living in. A good beginning for younger readers to understand what it means when parents divorce: that there’s always a place for them, that sometimes, parents will marry other people and have other children, but that they are always loved. Addressing fears and concerns with a comforting “I’ve been there” voice in Hannah, Hannah’s Two Homes is a good additional purchase for collections.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

Indie author spotlight!

Yes, it’s another Indie Author Spotlight! I’ve got loads of books to talk about, but I’ll start with these very lovely books.

The Very Determined Dragonfly: Odonata’s Adventure, by Midge Newth & Ruth Cruz/Illustrated by Spencer Epps, (July 2019, Indepedently Published), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1079290844

Ages 6-9

Odonata is a baby dragonfly – a nymph – who wants more adventure in her life. Her brother, Darner, wishes she’s just stay put and stay away from danger, but that’s not Odie’s way! Set in a graphic novel format, The Very Determined Dragonfly is part Science Comic, part adventure. Illustrations are bright and cheerful, and the storytelling is upbeat and positive, encouraging readers to take hurdles as they present themselves and always envision going past them. Back matter includes a glossary of scientific terms and fun facts about dragonflies.

National Geographic has a page about dragonflies that you can steer your learners to; SuperColoring has plenty of dragonfly coloring pages to put out, and if your library has access to World Book Online, there is a good entry with related reading available.

 

Let’s Make a Rainbow: A Yoga Story for Kids, by Susan Rose/Illustrated by Timna Green, (Dec. 2020, Susan Rose Yoga), $16.99, ISBN:  978-0578811680

Ages 4-7

I do enjoy a fun yoga story, and this rhyming ode to yoga is just what my toddler yoga storytime needs (when I get to start that up again, that is). It’s a rainy day, and siblings Lily and Lee need something to do: so why not enjoy some yoga? Touching on the mind-body connection and how movement can cheer you up, the book’s rhyme scheme is playful and uplifting: “Yoga makes you happy / when you feel bad, / and can turn the day / sunny instead of sad”. Flowing through a series of poses, the story describes how to create each pose and enjoy the good feelings that flow with each movement. As the story nears its conclusion, kids can enjoy – along with Lily and Lee! – a flowing series, ending with a rainbow. Colorful artwork shows the two characters demonstrating each pose.

Author Susan Rose’s webpage includes free resources for parents and educators, including lesson plans and coloring pages.

 

Stop That Lion, by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Timna Green, (Nov. 2020, Look Under Rocks), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0-916176-64-8

Ages 4-8

STEM storyteller Lois Wickstrom spins a tale about two kingdoms and the young girl who helped solve their differences. Mir and Sher are neighboring kingdoms, but there are some problems: the kingdom of Sher had a lion that liked sneaking into the Kingdom of Mir to eat the farmers’ sheep. Suggestions like building a wall or placing an archer on the wall fail, and more sheep disappear until a young girl named Wynnie asks some thoughtful questions of the king, and comes up with an answer that will work for everyone. It’s a story about common sense and listening that highlights the value of asking questions when problem solving. Illustrations are soft and colorful.

 

The Upside-Down Gardener, by Chrysa Smith/Illustrated by Pat Achilles, (Nov. 2018, The Well-Bred Book), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1730777271

Ages 5-8

Dory Oslo is a kid who can’t wait for the warm weather: she wants her new baseball uniform, and she wants color! Her mom encourages her to discover color a different way, and earn some money for her new uniform, while she’s at it: plant a garden of colorful flowers! The only thing is, Dory’s not a patient kid: she wants these flowers to wake up and grow already! She hilariously sets off an alarm clock, pours coffee, and blows a coach’s whistle by the seeds in her attempt to force them to wake up, but could her actions have wacky consequences? Colorful artwork and light storytelling make The Upside-Down Gardener is an easily read, fun story that Easy Readers and beginning Intermediate readers will enjoy. It celebrates imagination and creativity while embracing a sense of humor.

Visit The Well Bred Book’s webpage for activity sheets. Consider a container gardening program (hey, it’s winter right now) to encourage your kiddos to explore their own gardens!

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Indie author/publisher spotlight!

It’s time for another independent author/publisher spotlight!

Ms. Flygirl and Sky Daisy, by Miho Madarame, (Sept. 2020, Independently Published), $7.99, ISBN: 979-8684124501

Ages 6-8

The first in a series, Ms. Flygirl and Sky Daisy is a collection of six short stories about a widow named Ms. Flygirl who takes to the skies in her yellow helicopter, Sky Daisy, where she has all sorts of adventures. She saves a tree, eats a lot of sweets, does a fox’s laundry, and more. Each story begins with a colorful illustration, and the stories are told in short sentences. Kids will get a kick out of the situations Ms. Flygirl finds herself in. A cute first outing.

 

Adventures with Divot & Swish in Costa Rica: The Superpower of Courage, by Beth Brown, PhD/Illustrations by Charlotte Strickland, (Jan. 2021, Divot & Swish Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781735170008

Ages 5-7

This adorable outing is also the first in a proposed new series, starring Divot – a golf ball with a little tuft of grass around their middle – and Swish, a net with a basketball for a head. In this first book, the friends head to Costa Rica for surfing lessons with Sammy the Surfer, who teaches them the mechanics of surfing, and the courage to face their fears of not being perfect on their first outing. The rhyming story teaches readers about overcoming fears and embracing new challenges: “It’s important to know / That you can do it afraid / If you never had tried / On shore, you’d then stayed”. The Costa Rican countryside is host to this story, but really only serves as a backdrop. I’d love to see future Divot and Swish adventures have some fun facts about their locations pop up at the end of the story, giving kids a little more information about their literary friends’ globe-trotting.

Nat Geo Kids has some fun facts about Costa Rica, as does Kids World Travel Guide. Lonely Planet has some fun suggestions for traveling with kids in Costa Rica, which you can use as a jumping-off point for some armchair travel programs. Visit Divot & Swish’s website to sign up for updates!

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Indie author/publisher spotlight!

I’m back with more independently published authors! You’ve seen them here before: both Lois Wickstrom and Riya Aarini have been kind enough to share their books with me in the past, and I’m happy to feature more of their books today. Let’s see what Carefree Ollie and Alex the Inventory are up to, and meet some new friends along the way.

How to Make a Flying Carpet, by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Janet King, (November 2020, Independently Published),  $24.99, ISBN: 978-0916176778

Ages 7-11

Alex is a girl who likes science and likes repurposing broken things, so when a frog magnet falls from her refrigerator and breaks, she sees opportunity. Taking the magnet, she discovers that she can rescue her father’s key from the heating vent where it fell, and she can make paper clips dance. She begins experimenting with the magnets to find out what else she can do, and when she discovers a cache of magnets in the garage, she gets an idea… can she use the repelling powers of magnets to make a real flying carpet? Filled with fun and easily creatable experiment with magnets, How to Make a Flying Carpet is a fun STEM/STEAM story that will work really well with a science club/Discovery Club. The illustrations help kids visualize how to work with magnets, especially in a household setting: super-helpful these days, when finding things around the house is the best way to keep kids busy during remote and blended learning days! Alex’s interest in learning and in expanding the scope of her experiments will motivate kids to dig deeper and embrace the fun in learning. If you’re interested in more magnet experiments, Babble Dabble Do has four easy magnet experiments that you can easily do with household items or with a quick trip to the 99-cent store.

Visit author Lois Wickstrom’s website, Look Under Rocks, for more information about her books, including What Do the Plants Say?, her first Alex the Inventor story.

 

Ollie’s Garden (Carefree Ollie #3), by Riya Aarini/Illustrated by Virvalle Caravallo, (Nov. 2020, Independently Published), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1735347325

Ages 6-10

Carefree Ollie has to negotiate between bickering groups of animals in his garden kingdom in his latest adventure. The orange ladybugs won’t let the red ladybugs near the daisies; frogs are chasing toads away from the water because they “ribbit” while toads “croak”; chipmunks and squirrels are quarreling over their tails. With Ollie’s garden kingdom in chaos, it’s up to him to stop the fighting and help bring peace, tolerance, and understanding to the kingdom once more.  A sweet parable on equity, diversity, and inclusion, Ollie’s Garden is a good way to approach embracing our differences and how those differences make us wonderful. Digital artwork is kid-friendly and colorful, and the storytelling is a good starting point for your own discussions about how diversity makes us stronger.

Education.com has some great activities on diversity, including a Kindergarten lesson plan on Appreciating Diversity, a second grade lesson plan on Appreciating Diversity and Differences, and a Welcome All activity for Kindergarten and first graders that helps develop an appreciation for differences and building social awareness.

 

Sam and Sophie, by Kerry Olitzky/Illustrated by Jen Hernandez, (March 2021, Higher Ground Books & Media), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1949798838

Ages 3-7

Sam has just become a big brother to baby sister Sophie, but he’s frustrated. There doesn’t seem to be much time or energy left over for him, and he’s not happy with all the attention baby Sophie is getting. But when Baby Sophie gets sick, Sam finds himself worrying and trying to make her happy and feel better. A moving story that grows from the Jewish tradition of planting a tree when a new child is born, Sam and Sophie includes back matter on the tradition and on trees, people, and their relationship to God. Mixed media artwork has a manga influence. Sam and Sophie is a good book to begin a talk on sibling jealousy and how to navigate complicated feelings that arise when a new baby arrives.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Independently Published Spotlight: Intermediate and Middle Grade

One thing I did do this year was make progress on my TBR, and concentrated on those indie and small press submissions I’ve received over the last few years. Here are two novels I’ve read and want to share. I’ll be reading and reviewing more, whittling down that TBR, into next year, so if you’ve asked me to review a book of yours and I haven’t gotten to it yet, please be patient!

Gregory and the Grimbockle, by Melanie Schubert/Illustrated by Abigail Kraft, Book Soundtrack by Jared Kraft (Nov. 2017, New Wrinkle Publishing), $14.94, ISBN: 978-0991110933

Ages 8-11

Gregory is a 10-year old with a giant mole beneath his nose. The creepy neighbor lady always tries to rip it off his face, but when she finally manages to snag a bit of it, Gregory discovers a BIG surprise: the mole is a hiding place and portal into our world for a tiny creature called a Grimbockle. The Grimbockle belongs to a group of creatures called Bockles, and they oversee Exoodles, the invisible threads that connect humans to one another. When affections and feelings are loving and strong, the threads are strong, but when those threads fray or break, they can cause heartbreak and strife. Gregory accompanies the Grimbockle on his nightly rounds and finds himself on an adventure as he attempts to reconnect exoodles and relationships. The story is a nice statement on how our feelings affect those around us and how we are connected by our relationships and emotions. The storytelling moves at a decent pace and the characters are cute; black and white illustrations throughout keep the reader’s interest. A good additional middle grader/intermediate book.

 

Whiz Bang and Amelia the Adventure Bear: The Jade Dragon, by Forrest Helvie and Michelle Lodge, (Oct. 2016, Independently Published), $1.99, Kindle ASIN: B01MDP3D3M

Ages 7-10

A quick read, this 31-page adventure is about Whiz Bang, a robot, and his friend Amelia, a bear. They’re martial arts students who have to learn that self-control, discipline, and the ability to show respect are the most important skills to learn in their quest to progress through their belts. Their sensei uses the story of a former student and the school’s mascot, a jade dragon, to communicate his message. There’s one other book in the series and another forthcoming; to get the Whiz Bang and Amelia newsletter and find out more about the books, visit the Whiz Bang and Amelia webpage.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Books about masking up

Welp, it’s almost the end of the year and we’re still wearing masks. I remember back in April when I ordered masks for my Kiddo and I and thinking, “Geez, they’re backordered 8 weeks? By the time I get them, we won’t need masks anymore.”

So here we are, still masking up – most of us, anyway, but that’s not for me to get into here. It’s hard to explain to littles that they need to keep their masks on, sometimes for an entire school day, depending on where you are. Once again, children’s book authors have our backs. Here are a couple of new ones to help kids work it out.

We Wear Masks, by Marla Lesage, (Nov. 2020, Orca Book Publishers), $19.95, ISBN: 9781459828797

Ages 3-5

This rhyming book takes all the stress out of wearing a mask by showing kids all the people who wear masks for their work or hobbies: ranchers, who wear bandanas around their faces to keep bugs out of their noses and mouths (yuck!); jet pilots, who wear them to breathe; deep sea explorers, actors, and superheroes all wear masks! Transitioning into current events, the verse moves into “everyday heroes” wearing masks, like doctors and nurses, and how wearing a mask can be super helpful: a stinky diaper isn’t so bad when you’re wearing a mask, after all! By encouraging fun, imaginative play, finding a mask that matches one’s style, and emphasizing that we wear masks to show we care for and respect others, this is a lovely little book for younger readers. The artwork is colorful and soft, with a variety of characters wearing a variety of masks in different situations: for example, a duo uses masks with a clear area around the mouth while communicating via sign language; the picture illustrates how different masks are available to accommodate different needs. A cute story that will work nicely in storytimes. Add some fun by handing out mask coloring pages and let kids design their own. There are so many great freebies on Teachers Pay Teachers, like this super-cute mask and social distancing coloring page set, and this super-cute clip art set with animals in masks!

 

 

 

Remember to Smile, by Shannon Q. McDonald, (Aug. 2020, Independently Published), $12, ISBN: 978-0578745497

Ages 4-7

Another cute rhyming book about masks, this is all about finding a mask that fits your style: you can wear a shell mask, like a mermaid, wear a team mask to cheer on your favorite football team, and you can wear masks while hanging roasting s’mores. Just don’t let a dragon wear a mask, unless you want the whole place to burn down! It may not be fun to wear a mask all the time, but remember to smile and have fun. That’s the best thing we can do while we keep the germs away, right? A cute story, illustrated with pastels and loaded with fantasy artwork like mermaids, dragons, and unicorns, this is more about boosting your spirits and looking for the fun in the middle of the chaos. The decorate your own mask crafts I mentioned above will work really well here; encourage kids to find their style!

Remember to Smile supports the COVID-19 Relief Fund for Teachers and Students through the nonprofit organization AdoptAClassroom.org. For more information, head over to RememberToSmile.org.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Spotlight on indie and small publishers!

I hope you like these as much as I do. As I’ve worked through my ginormous TBR this year, I’ve gotten to many of the books sent to me by independent and small authors and publishers; the best way to show them off is to give them their own little spotlight. There are some little gems to be found here.

 

Ollie’s Backpack (A Carefree Ollie Book), by Riya Aarini/Illustrated by Virvalle Caravallo, (July 2020, independently published), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1733166140

Ages 5-7

Ollie is a kid who loves to put stuff in his backpack. He knows there’s stuff that’s way too big, like a moose; way too heavy, like a watermelon, or way too cold, like an igloo. The thing is, he starts to collect little things that end up really weighing him down as he goes through his day: a crumpled homework assignment; a broken toy that a bully snatched from him; a granola bar that a classmate refused to share; even a trophy that he won! As Ollie takes a break from carrying all that heavy weight, he realizes that sometimes, you have to get rid of the weight you carry. He sheds the things that made him sad, and displays the trophy, which made him happy. Once he stops hiding everything away, he realizes that he’s not weighed down anymore!

Ollie’s Backpack is a good social-emotional learning story that reminds me of Brian Wray’s and Shiloh Penfield’s excellent Max’s Box. Kids will see themselves both in the packrat stuffing of everything and anything into a backpack, and will understand the meaning of holding onto memories – for better or for worse – and appreciate Ollie’s way of embracing the good and letting go of the bad. The digital artwork is bright and colorful. A nice choice for your SEL collections. Visit author Riya Aarini’s website for more books, including the next Ollie books.

 

Sam the Superhero and His Super Life, by Kathryn F. Pearson & James T Pearson/Illustrated by Lauren Jezierski, (July 2020, independently published), $9.25, ISBN: 979-8640502343

Ages 5-8

A young boy named Sam lives with his grandparents and loves his stuffed dog, Hercules. He’s very sensitive to sound, light, and touch, and he has what his grandfather calls “big feelings”: he feels everything intensely. His grandfather shows Sam photos of himself as a baby and explains that he was he was born very small and needed to stay in the hospital for a few weeks, and was very sensitive, even as a baby; he also tells Sam that he is a superhero, just like the guys in the comics, for overcoming so many obstacles.

The book looks at children born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS): children born substance-exposed and the challenges they overcome from birth. Developed by an 8-year old girl named Sophia, the story is brought to life through straightforward, simple prose and sketched, gently colorful artwork. Sam the Superhero and His Super Life raises NAS awareness and encourages adults and children alike to approach all kids with kindness and understanding. Visit https://2themoonandback.org/ for more info.

 

Chicken Little Investigates, by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Francie Mion, (Aug. 2019, Look Under Rocks), $12, ISBN: 978-0916176365

Ages 5-7

A fun spin on the classic Chicken Little tale, Chicken Little Investigates puts a STEM spin on the story. Chicken Little and Henny Penny are strolling along when an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head. Chicken Little and Henny Penny do some experimenting with gravity, and decide to go visit the king to find out what he would call their discovery. Along the way, they meet Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and Turkey Lurkey, all with different ideas on what to call their discovery, when they meet up with sly Foxy Woxy, who has his own ideas. But the gang is too smart for Foxy, and use their new discovery to escape to safety. A cute introduction to physics, with fun sounds like jangles, flops, and plops, this is a cute read-aloud that invites kids to chime in with their own sound effects. I’d use this in a Discovery Club readaloud and invite kids to drop their own pencils, pillows, and pom-pom balls to see what drops fast, what drops slow, and what sounds they make. Lois Wickstrom has been writing some fun STEM/STEAM stories; see more of her books at her website, Look Under Rocks.