Friday, February 27, 2015

Book review - Space Penguins Galaxy Race!

Title: Space Penguins Galaxy Race!
Author: Lucy Courtenay
Genre: humor
Similar books: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
                     The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry
too much fun

Summary: Captain James T. Krill, Rocky Waddle, Fuzz Algrin, and Splash Gordon explore space in their ship, Tunafish. Pilot Rocky jumps at the chance to compete in the Superchase Space Race. With Emperor Anadin Skyporker determined to win no matter what sneaky tricks he must pull and the evil Dark Wader focused on stopping them, can the penguins work together and win the race?

My opinion: What could be cooler than penguins in space? How about penguins in space when all of the names (people, places, even ships) are pop culture and sci-fi puns? Apart from being a laugh riot for kids and parents alike, this book has a solid message, great action, and entertaining characters. Plus, the illustrations are a fantastic cartoony style. This is sure to go over well with the fun-loving kids in your life.

More information: Space Penguins Galaxy Race! is new to paperback March 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Books on screen

A Wrinkle in Time

I've read A Wrinkle in Time several times now and I always take something different away from it. It's a very "thinking" novel, a complex exploration of good, evil, god, science, and possibility. As such, I was curious to see how it would work as a movie, particularly a made-for-tv-movie like this one was. The first thing that threw me was casting. Calvin is a brunette (instead of redhead). Meg has no glasses, Charles is too old, and Sandy and Dennys are too young. While these are relatively minor complaints, they do set the film off on shaky footing. The second, obvious, problem is the special effects. Being low budget, the effects are quite cheap and cheesy. My real problem with this movie, though, is the message. The book explores theoretical science and has heavy religious undertones. To make the movie more palatable these elements have been toned down or removed all together. This turns a mind-blowing book into a mediocre, forgettable movie. While it's not the worst thing I've ever seen, I don't recommend it. If your kids find the original novel too confusing, I recommend the graphic novel adapted by Hope Larson instead.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?
Flunked by Jen Calonita
Gilly has a history of trouble. Her latest incident of theft gets her sent to Fairy Tale Reform School, a place especially for fairy tale villains. Is the school all that it seems? Can a villain really turn into a hero?

With a really unique take on fairy tales, this books seems like it's going to be right up my alley. I've been looking forward to it and really like what I've read so far.
What did you recently finish reading?
Dino-Mike and the T. Rex Attack by Franco Aureliani
Mike is thrilled to be on the dig site with his famous paleontologist father. When he discovers that the site can be somewhat dull, he goes exploring on his own and discovers a live dinosaur! With the help of a mysterious girl, Mike will track down the rogue T. Rex and send it back to it's proper time.

This is the start of a great new series for young readers, especially those who love dinosaurs. It has an easy to follow plot, mildly challenging vocabulary (and plenty of definitions), and illustrations that add to understanding.

What do you think you will read next?
Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy
This seems like it's going to skew more the sci-fi end of dystopia than I usually prefer but I thought I'd give it a chance.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book review - Dinosaurs From Head to Tail

Title: Dinosaurs From Head to Tail
Author: Stacey Roderick
Genre: picture book
Similar books: Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
                     How Big Were Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge
A multilevel delight

Summary: With a simple collage illustration of a body part, readers are invited to guess to which dinosaur it belongs. Eight dinosaurs are featured, with seven more briefly explored at the end. Facts shared range from the commonplace to the more obscure.

My Opinion: Usually I don't review picture books on here but I really wanted to talk about this one. There are probably thousands of dinosaur books for kids already in existence but this one is worth noting. The collage illustrations are reminiscent of Steve Jenkins (whose books I adore). I'm very fond of the structure of this book. Because each question (such as "What dinosaur had a neck like this?") is answered first with the dinosaur's species, then a paragraph describing it's notable features, this could easily be read at different levels. Reading to a little one? Just name the dinosaur and talk about the pictures (though good luck pronouncing Therizinosaurus). Older readers will enjoy the facts. This makes it versatile, able to grow with even the youngest dinosaur fans.

More information: Dinosaurs From Head to Tail releases March 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, February 23, 2015

My new favorite wallet

I've been a pretty big fan of Doctor Who for several years now. One of my favorite episodes is titled "Vincent and the Doctor." (Seriously, if you haven't seen it, go watch it now. Fantastic. Beautiful.) While looking for craft ideas online I came across a painting that inserted the TARDIS into Van Gogh's Starry Night. Now, it so happens that I bought a wallet from Goodwill ages ago with the vague notion that I might like to repaint it some day. When I saw that painting, I knew some day had come. As per usual, I used basic acrylic paint and a seal coat of Mod Podge.

The bottom isn't great but I love the top half
It looks great closed

Saturday, February 21, 2015

School vacation

This week was school vacation in our area. During February break we try to have special activities for school-aged kids. Our selections this week were: chess and board games, art, snowman day, and our monthly puppet workshop. I thought of lots of things I could write about our programs but I've decided to let the photos speak for themselves.

Chess and board games


Snowman day
(I will add that our snow was not particularly good for snowmen, though we managed to make a few small sculptures)
photo courtesy of Nicholas Navarre
photo courtesy of Nicholas Navarre
photo courtesy of Nicholas Navarre
photo courtesy of Nicholas Navarre

Point of clarity - this is Modok and Captain America

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book review - A Darker Shade of Magic

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
                     Tandem by Anna Jarzab
pretty epic

Summary: There are four realities, linked by parallel Londons. Once, the way between them was open but now only travelers, supremely magical beings, can go between them. Kell is the Red Traveler. Officially he carries messages between realities. Secretly, he's a smuggler. It's this secret that gets him into trouble when he carries through a dangerous object that could see him executed for treason. Now Kell is on the run with Grey London thief Delilah Bard. To escape from treachery and the darkest magic, Kell and Delilah will have to travel between worlds, danger hard on their heels.

My Opinion: This is exactly what we like to see in a fantasy novel. Distinct worlds. Magic with strict rules that are carefully followed rather than changed to suit the plot. Fully fleshed out characters to the extent that even minor characters, those introduced only to die paragraphs later, have motivation. There is enough description to provide a sense of place but not so much as to become annoying. An excellent start to a new series.
More Information: A Darker Shade of Magic releases February 24.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Binky the Space Cat

Binky the Space Cat series by Ashley Spires

Binky is a great graphic novel series for young readers. Apart from being downright silly (Binky does fight aliens that are actually bugs) each book includes a lesson in teamwork, perseverance, trust, and the like (not to mention exclamations like Holy Fuzzbutt!). They are short adventures sure to thrill and amuse. The humor is layered so parents will enjoy this alongside their kids.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?
Disappear Home by Laura Hurwitz
After years at the commune Sweet Earth Farm, Shoshanna and her mother and sister are on the run from it's leader, Shoshanna's father Adam. In the relative safety of Southern California life seems like it's going to be good at last. The girls are thriving until their mother become paranoid that Adam is after them. Shoshanna must decide whether to continue to take care of her mother or put herself first.

I've only just started reading this one but I love the premise.

What did you recently finish reading?
Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? by Liz Kessler
Jessica has always been average. All of that changes one day in geography class when she starts to disappear. Soon she discovers that she can turn invisible at will. Where did this mysterious ability come from? With the help of her friends Izzy and Tom plus a few other kids who are showing signs of abilities of their own, Jessica is going to find out - and maybe even avert a disaster in the process.

There are a lot of different approaches to superpowers and this is certainly a unique one. This one relies on a "serum", the explanation for which is both vague and overly technical. Read this one not for the abilities but for the interactions between the kids. Middle grade books explore a lot of emotional growth and understanding. This is a solid addition to that effort.
What do you think you will read next?
Biggie by Derek E. Sullivan
Weight issues meet sports. We'll see how this one plays out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review - The G-Man Super Journal: Awesome Origins

Title: The G-Man Super Journal: Awesome Origins
Author: Chris Giarrusso
Genre: humor / superheroes
Similar books: the Big Nate series by Lincoln Pierce
                     Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung
fun for young superhero fans

Summary: Michael G would like nothing more than to be a superhero like his idol, Captain Thunderman. Some of Michael's classmates have started to develop powers. Michael goes looking for a way to get powers of his own. Of course, if he gets his wish, what will he do with them?

My opinion: If the world of Diary of a Wimpy Kid had superheroes, the result would look something like this book. Character-wise, Michael reads more like Big Nate than Greg Heffley, more likely to get into accidental trouble than as a result of direct scheming. This is a fairly simple story and some of the plot points are rather weak. Still, I imagine this will go over well with young readers. Read it for entertainment rather than depth.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Great Owl Repaint Project

I have a well-known fondness for owls, particularly those that most would call kitschy. A couple of years ago I was given a box of such owls. They are a variety of styles and colors. A few of them are in kind of rough shape, which is what first made me think about painting them. It didn't take long for that idea to take hold. So, today I bring you the first installment in what I've come to think of as The Great Owl Repaint Project.

The Before:

I love the look of this owl, but as you can see the corners are pretty chipped.

The After:
I modeled the coloring of this owl after the Northern Saw Whet Owl
An afternoon with my nephews resulted in all nine owls being named and declared part of a family. I believe was one of the daughters. Her name is Clara.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Time Travel and TYCTTL

We had two big programs for kids at my library this week. Wednesday night we invited kids to time travel to ancient Egypt. Among other activities we made headdresses, played a game, wrote hieroglyphics, and made a mummy. 

Our "mummy" before being wrapped

Saturday we participated in Take Your Child to the Library Day. This is an initiative to get young families into libraries and for kids to get library cards (check out their website here). For us, this means storytimes, crafts, and plenty of decorations.
Working on crafts

A new library member!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book review - Seeker

Title: Seeker
Author: Arwen Elys Dayton
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
                     Alternity by Mari Mancusi


Summary: Quin has been training to become a seeker since early childhood. Taking her oath will be the culmination of all her training, achieving her destiny. She sees it as her chance to do some good in the world. When she takes the oath, though, she discovers that being a seeker isn't at all what she expected. She and her friends, John and Shinobu, see their entire world torn apart in a moment. What can life hold for them now?

My Opinion: In a series it's necessary to parcel out information in bits and pieces in order to keep the tension at the appropriate level. As this is the first in a series, we learn about the nature of being a Seeker very slowly. Sometimes too slowly. There were moments while I was reading this book that I was so fed up with the level of confusion and withheld information that I nearly gave up on it. And the plot is a little messy. We're back and forth in time and location so much that I nearly lost track of what was going on. The characters are all over the map emotionally. They're inconsistent. It's a rocky start to a series that even the excellent premise may not be enough to save.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book review - Dinosaur Boy

Hi friends! I'm pretty excited to be a stop on the virtual tour for Dinosaur Boy. If you've been following the tour, you know this book has been getting some pretty good buzz. Here's my review.

Title: Dinosaur Boy
Author: Cory Putnam Oakes
Genre: sci-fi
Similar books: Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka
                     The Mesmer Menace by Kersten Hamilton
Good fun
Summary: (provided by the publisher)

Everyone knows the dinosaur gene skips a generation. So it isn’t a complete surprise when Sawyer sprouts spikes and tails before the start of the fifth grade. After all, his grandfather was part stegosaurus.
Despite the Principal’s zero tolerance policy, Sawyer becomes a bully magnet, befriended only by Elliot a.ka.  “Gigantor,” and the weird new girl.
When the bullies start disappearing, Sawyer is relieved -until he discovers a secret about the principal that’s more shocking than Dino DNA. The bullies are in for a galactically horrible fate…and it’s up to Sawyer and his friends to rescue them.

My Opinion: This is certainly an original concept. Surprisingly, the explanation for dinosaur genes is easy to follow and accept. While Sawyer's dinosaur genetics are an integral part of the plot, they don't overwhelm the reader. Sawyer remains, at heart, an average kid making him and his friends believable, likeable characters. While the plot goes pretty far afield, it follows a logical progression. It also raises some interesting moral and ethical issues. Like the safety concerns surrounding a human dinosaur hybrid in a school, the rights of the individual versus the collective. An entertaining read for young readers, a good starting point for discussion with older kids.

If this sounds like something you'd enjoy, check out the excerpt provided by the publisher below.

That Stupid T-Rex from Jersey”
“I just want you to know that I know. I know you’re eating them.”

“That’s crazy,” I told him. “You’re crazy. Why would I eat anybody?”

“Because you’re a monster,” Allan told me. “Just like that kid in Jersey. I knew from the very beginning that it was only a matter of time before you went all dinosaur--psycho on us.”

“Shut up,” I muttered. I was so angry my hands were shaking, but I hid them under the table so Allan wouldn’t see.

“Make me,” Allan suggested.

My hands started to shake harder. It wasn’t because I was nervous. It was because I was angry.

“Get out of here, Allan,” Elliot whispered loudly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Allan didn’t look at him. His squinty eyes, buried beneath his eyebrows, were focused squarely on me.

“Sawyer knows what I’m talking about. He’s a monster. He doesn’t belong in a school. I’m going to prove it, and when I do, they’ll put him somewhere safe. Like in a zoo. Or some lab. Just as soon as they recognize him for the freak he is.”

My hands were now shaking so hard that they were vibrating the table. I couldn’t control myself anymore. I shot to my feet and screamed right in his face:

“Shut up, Allan! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

At least, that’s what it sounded like in my head.

Out loud, it sounded like:


It was the loudest sound I had ever heard in my life. And I couldn’t just hear it. I could feel it. It shook the entire cafeteria. The tables rattled uncontrollably, and people grabbed for their lunches while also trying to cover their ears. It was kind of like we were all standing really close to a bass speaker, only about a hundred times louder.

I shut my mouth. The sound stopped.

There were about two seconds of silence. Absolute, perfect silence, as all three--hundred--something people in the cafeteria stared at me without moving a muscle.

Then the screaming started.

Every kid in the cafeteria jumped to his or her feet, knocked over their chair, and scrambled for the exit doors. Only Sylvie and Elliot stayed in their seats. Allan, who had been knocked on his butt by my roar, made two failed attempts to get to his feet before he finally crawled away as fast as he could. He was soon lost in the crowd that was fighting to fit through the double doors that led to the quad.

In less time than I would have thought possible, Sylvie, Elliot, and I were alone in the cafeteria.
I collapsed into my chair before my knees could give way. Across the table, Elliot looked sheet--white and shaken.

Only Sylvie looked unaffected. She passed us each a Pixy Stix, and sat back in her chair with a contented smile on her face.

Finally, some peace and quiet around here!”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
The G-Man Super Journal: Awesome Origins by Chris Giarrusso
Michael G would like nothing more than to be a superhero like his idol, Captain Thunderman. Some of Michael's classmates have started to develop powers. Michael goes looking for a way to get powers of his own. Of course, if he gets his wish, what will he do with them?
Imagine Diary of a Wimpy Kid with superpowers and you've got a pretty good idea of what this book is like. It is pretty funny with great illustrations.
What did you recently finish reading?
Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
Quin has been training to become a seeker since early childhood. Taking her oath will be the culmination of all her training, achieving her destiny. She sees it as her chance to do some good in the world. When she takes the oath, though, she discovers that being a seeker isn't at all what she expected. She and her friends, John and Shinobu, see their entire world torn apart in a moment. What can life hold for them now?
This book takes us around the world, back and forth through time. It's a complicated set-up and situation. Complicated enough that it's not for everyone. Also, the start of a series, this is really only the beginning of the story. Don't expect a lot of resolution here.
What do you think you will read next?
The Secrets Between You and Me by Shana Norris
While teen romance isn't my typical pick, I'm trying to expand my reading life a little bit and the description of this one talks about family secrets which was enough intrigue to pique my interest.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book review - Soulprint

Title: Soulprint
Author: Megan Miranda
Genre: sci-fi
Similar books: Wanted: Dead or in Love by Kym Brunner
                     The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist
Hard to believe

Summary: Alina has never had a normal life. For as long as she can remember she's lived on the island, contained for crimes committed in a previous life. When she receives a mysterious message telling her to be ready, Alina is off on the first adventure of her life, delving into her past self's secrets. She discovers a secret that could change the world.

My opinion: My problems with this book begin with the basic premise: scientists have been able to identify the soul in spinal fluid, thereby proving reincarnation. When I read that I was filled with questions, primarily how and why. the how is given the vague explanation of "markers" in spinal fluid. And I just can't think of why you'd even look for such a thing, especially in spinal fluid. There is no explanation given for that. Those unanswered questions meant that it was difficult for me to get really invested in the book. Once we got more into the action and the ideas of punishment and predestination I was more intrigued and the plot began to redeem itself. The large portion of the plot was pretty interesting and the tension was near perfect but that all fell apart near the climax. Add in some troubling plot holes ant that puts this book on very shaky footing for me.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, February 9, 2015


This fall my sister asked for a warm pair of mittens. When I didn't find anything that fit the bill in stores I figured I'd make some. I used a basic mitten pattern and knit it in a soft bulky weight yarn. For extra warmth, I sewed liners out of fuzzy fleece left over from Fred the goat. They are very thick and soft. And quite warm, I'm told.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Book review - The Question of Miracles

Title: The Question of Miracles
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner
                     What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hays
really captured my attention

Summary: Iris hates her new life in Corvalis, Oregon. Her family's new house is much older than their house in California, cold and with different furniture that doesn't feel like home. It rains non-stop. Nothing has felt right since her best friend Sarah died. Then she meets Boris. Boris who has poor table manners, a know-it-all attitude, and no friends (but hanging out with him is better than eating alone). Boris who's medical miracle history just might make him the key to talking to Sarah one more time.

My opinion: Some books are able to help kids work through tough issues. This strikes me as one of those books. Elana Arnold explores Big Questions of life, death, and miracles. She doesn't attempt to give any concrete answers, just guides readers to the idea that we have to go on living after loss. The secondary characters don't have a huge amount of depth but personally I got so caught up in Iris's story that I didn't really notice this minor short-coming. Iris and her family are really charming. I really got caught up in their world. 
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.