When I first heard about this series, I wasn't sure I was going to like it, I mean, so many great nonfiction books use first-class photographs, I wasn...moreWhen I first heard about this series, I wasn't sure I was going to like it, I mean, so many great nonfiction books use first-class photographs, I wasn't sure illustrations could live up to that. I am happy to announce, however, that I was completely wrong. These books are not only incredibly beautiful, but the simplified text makes these perfect for sharing with preschoolers, kindergartners, and first graders. Despite the shortness of the text, there is much here to share and talk about. The book covers a variety of types of forests and includes a map showing where different types of forests can be found (I'm always thrilled when this type of book includes a map, makes it easier to explain to children how and why certain habitats are the way they are). The types of forests discussed include: boreal, tropical rainforest, cloud forests, temperate rainforest, and deciduous forest. Each forest receives several pages with gorgeous illustrations showing different aspects of the forest as well as a variety of animals and plants that can be found in each type. The extra information at the end is nice for extended discussion or for those who simply want more. (less)
Five-year-old Bo lives with Jack, an African American cook and Arvid, the mine blacksmith who adopted her when her mother rejected her. She loves the...moreFive-year-old Bo lives with Jack, an African American cook and Arvid, the mine blacksmith who adopted her when her mother rejected her. She loves the village she lives in and spends her time helping Jack in the kitchen and visiting the neighbors. Bo does have her share of challenges though, everything from sickness to bears and lost little boys, but with the help of her friends and adopted family she manages to make her way through.
Strengths: Bo is a darling little girl with lots of heart and people that care about her. The details about the time and place are vivid and interesting. Pham's illustrations provide a nice touch help show what Bo and her family and friends are like. I really enjoyed this one, just a cute story about growing up in a specific time and place and the challenges and changes associated with Alaska in the 1920s. I also appreciated how careful the author was about including certain details like the 'good-time' girls. No further information is provided other than their presence in helping the miners have a good time. The book is well-written and easy to read. I personally loved the book.
Weaknesses: I'm really not sure why the author made the main character only 5-years-old. It's an unusual age for the main character of a middle grade novel. Would be fun for a family read-a-loud, but I am not sure how many children will pick it up on their own, especially since it is historical fiction as well. Some of the mining details may not be appreciated by the target audience. Also, it doesn't have a really exciting plot like so many kids want to read these days.(less)
I'm still thinking about this book and how it touched me in so many ways. Vanderpool seems to have gift for writing characters that I can really relat...moreI'm still thinking about this book and how it touched me in so many ways. Vanderpool seems to have gift for writing characters that I can really relate to even though my experiences are so different than those of her characters.
The main character, Jack, finds himself in a completely new environment without any family members to help him adjust to his new circumstances. The death of his mother and his father's seeming coldness have left Jack adrift with no idea where to turn for help. When he meets Early he isn't sure what to make of the boy who seems so sure of everything even when others disagree with him. He realizes very quickly that Early doesn't see the world the same way everyone else does and it confuses him, but at the same time it draws him in. When his father doesn't show up for a planned get together, Jack agrees to go with Early on a quest to find the Great Appalachian Bear. But what is Early really looking for? And can they find it before disaster strikes?
Strengths: The characters in this book feel so real that at times my heart ached for the sorrows that they are struggling with. And every character is struggling with a sorrow of some kind, even Early. And yet the way the story that Early tells of Pi and his and Jack's own journey have many parallels as they search for a way to 'right their boats' so to speak. The themes of this book are powerful ones. The themes include the power of belief, persistence, and compassion, the consequences of actions and the struggle to deal with them. But the most powerful theme is the theme of being lost and needing time to find oneself again amidst the sorrows of life. The writing is beautiful and suits the story perfectly. The setting is presented strongly but doesn't overwhelm the story, providing just the right backdrop for Jack's and Early's journey.
Weaknesses: The only weakness that I saw here was that the story wasn't completely believable, a lot of strange things happen to the two boys. But the story is compelling enough that I could overlook this.(less)
Will Sparrow flees from the inn where he lives after the innkeeper threatens to sell him as a chimney sweep. But Will doesn't know what to do or where...moreWill Sparrow flees from the inn where he lives after the innkeeper threatens to sell him as a chimney sweep. But Will doesn't know what to do or where to go, so he just follows the roads he comes across. Along the way he meets people, a couple who are kind, the rest who just want to use him. Unfortunately for Will, despite his attempts to convince himself that he is tough and is only interested in filling his belly, turns out to be rather gullible. He trusts people's promises only to find them worthless. When he joins with the troupe of 'oddities' he thinks he knows who is who and what's going on, only to find that maybe he's wrong.
Strengths: Will is an interesting character, determined to survive but not particularly aggressive about doing so. He kind of goes with the flow of things, which it turns out isn't the best way to handle things. He tries not to be too trusting but has a hard time seeing past appearances. The story shows Will's personal growth as he searches for a place to be safe, warm, and full. I found the characters quite believable and their behavior suitable for the time period. As always, Karen Cushman creates a beautifully told story with a vivid picture of time and place.
Weaknesses: Sigh. I have such a hard time getting children to read historical fiction. Especially if it doesn't involve war.(less)
Sheinkin does it again. He creates a vivid picture of a time and place while telling a story that most people have probably never heard before. I know...moreSheinkin does it again. He creates a vivid picture of a time and place while telling a story that most people have probably never heard before. I know this isn't something I had ever heard about before and I've read a lot about Abraham Lincoln. What isn't to love here, I mean, there are counterfeiters, jail breaks, and undercover agents. What kid wouldn't want to hear about that? The icing on the cake is that the story is true. The sad part is how Lincoln's body was treated after the attempted robberies. Hiding the casket behind a bunch of lumber in a back room?! I had to admire the caretaker's efforts to protect the body when so few were willing to help him. With plenty of excitement and enough twists and turns to satisfy most readers, Sheinkin once again presents readers with a great read. Highly recommended.(less)
Based on the real life adventures of Gannon and Wyatt, this book takes the reader deep into the heart of the African bush. While there the boys see in...moreBased on the real life adventures of Gannon and Wyatt, this book takes the reader deep into the heart of the African bush. While there the boys see incredible scenery, experience the thrill and excitement of being near lions, rhinos, water buffalo and other wildlife, and run into a poacher. It is very easy for this type of book to come off as just another exaggerated safari adventure story. But it doesn't feel that way at all. In fact, I loved the factual information that the authors integrated so beautifully into the story. It was also very clear that a lot of effort had gone into making the details of life in the Kalihari Desert and Okavango Delta accurate. For me, as a student of geography, there is nothing more irritating than inaccurate information in a book like this. But everything I read here matches with everything else I've read and seen about the area.
After visiting the website, it's very clear (and the author note in the book confirms it) that the content in the book is based on actual visits and experiences in the region. While the events depicted in the book did not happen per se (it is a novel after all), they are very much possibilities in that part of the world.
I enjoyed reading from both boys points of view. Each brother has their own interests and way of seeing things and they are quite different. Gannon is a very outgoing, personable boy who enjoys interacting with other people and learning about other cultures. Wyatt is the science buff who is very exacting in what he records and focuses more on the environment and wildlife. They make a great combination when it comes to telling the story.
Plot wise, the story moves along at a nice clip and the main theme (poaching) was introduced smoothly and appropriately. Encounters with animals, mechanical problems, and disease all create additional problems for the boys and their guides. Luckily for them they have an experienced guide and native tracker/hunter to assist them.
For those who enjoy reading about nature and a fun adventure/survival story, I can enthusiastically recommend this one.(less)
Turtles are endangered throughout the world. There are many reasons for this, pollution, alien species of plants or animals, loss of habitat, fishing...moreTurtles are endangered throughout the world. There are many reasons for this, pollution, alien species of plants or animals, loss of habitat, fishing nets, and hunting. Stewart does a great job of pointing out these dangers and how they are impacting specific species of turtles. For example, the painted turtle is threatened by pet owners bring their dogs to their habitat and don't keep them on leashes. I appreciated how the author also pointed out simple ways to overcome these problems. Suggestions include: leaving the turtles in the wild, not participating in turtles races, turtle-proof fences, not hunting them, etc.
The thing I enjoyed the most about this book though are the incredibly beautiful illustrations. Each turtle is painted in its natural habitat doing what they do. Some of the illustrations show people helping the turtles, some show the dangers. I appreciated the variety. The maps on the end papers show where each turtle's natural habitat is related to the United States.
A beautiful book that makes an important point about how humans impact the world around us for both good and ill. Highly recommended.(less)
This book is a beautiful example of the amazing things being done with books for children. Everything about the book from the design to the writing is...moreThis book is a beautiful example of the amazing things being done with books for children. Everything about the book from the design to the writing is intended to help children decipher a difficult topic. Slavery is not an easy topic to discuss, nor is the war that came about because of it. But this book does a great job of showing how and why freedom came to the slaves.
I found it fascinating the way the author referred to slaves as "we." It brings a feel of unity, common suffering among African Americans both slave and free. I loved how she used quotes from prominent people of the time, both white and black. I also liked how these quotes showed a variety of opinions, those who supported Lincoln and those who didn't, those who wanted slavery ended regardless of the fate of the union and those who put the union first. The book is wonderfully written and perfect for sharing, especially in a classroom setting. There is much here worthy of discussion. I also appreciated the inclusion of the actual document (Emancipation Proclamation) and the author's taking the time to explain things as she went, helping the reader but not talking down to them. The author's epilogue explains her own feelings about the controversy that still surrounds slavery and the issue of who really freed the slaves. This is a nice touch in that it illustrates that history like so many other things varies depending on the beholder.
The design of the book is fabulous. The outside and inside of the book are made to look old, like an ink-splattered document from the past. Many illustrations were of primary source documents from the 1860s, everything from auction posters to political cartoons, photographs, paintings, as well as speeches and letters. The captions were well-written and clearly explained each illustration. A beautifully put together book that I highly recommend.(less)
Being an elementary school librarian, I have a special appreciation for those who've paved the way for me to share books with children. Anne Carroll M...moreBeing an elementary school librarian, I have a special appreciation for those who've paved the way for me to share books with children. Anne Carroll Moore was one of those people. I really enjoyed reading about her efforts to help open public libraries to children. She worked hard to create spaces that were child-friendly and full of great books for them to read. I can understand where the libraries were coming from in terms of children returning books damaged or forgetting to return them at all because those things do happen regularly, but on the other hand, of what value is a book just sitting on a shelf?
I found myself cheering Moore on as she helped design the Children's Room in what would become the New York Public Library and as she urged publishers to make more stories available that were especially for children. Reading is such a valuable life-long skill and the sooner it can be instilled in children the better. I've seen that personally on many occasions. Our information rich society is dependent on the ability to read and one's reading ability is dependent on the availability of a variety of interesting informative materials. Thanks be to those like Anne Carroll Moore who saw this early and helped bring it to pass! While there is still much to be done, we have come a long ways from those libraries that refused to even let children inside. Highly recommended.(less)
Bobbie Pyron has a gift for creating characters that live in my heart. She did it with A Dog's Way Home and she's done it with this one, The Dogs of W...moreBobbie Pyron has a gift for creating characters that live in my heart. She did it with A Dog's Way Home and she's done it with this one, The Dogs of Winter. Mishka won me over in the first few pages and my heart ached for the little boy's suffering and confusion. When his mother takes up with a 'bad' man who uses and abuses them both, Mishka (Little Bear) continues to believe in his mother's love and devotion even when he is forced to sleep in the pantry and goes hungry. But when his mother 'leaves' and the bad man tries to put him in an orphange, he runs away and lives on the streets, first with other children and then a group of dogs. When someone finally steps up to help, he doesn't want to leave his dog family and must face the challenges of learning to be around people again.
I'll admit right out that this story broke my heart, mostly because it's based on a true story and because there are undoubtedly many children like Mishka who struggle to simply get enough to eat and yet yearn for love and family. I wanted to dive into the story, take Mishka in my arms and just love him. Pyron has created an emotionally powerful story about survival, love, and healing. This is not a story I will ever forget. Her love for dogs comes shining through loud and clear. I am not a huge dog person, but her books make me love and appreciate the good that dogs can do. I highly recommend this story for those who are emotionally mature enough to handle it. It is a truly thought-provoking and unforgettable read.(less)
A fascinating account of some intriguing and intricate robberies and the thieves who pulled them off. I had no idea that such well-planned and difficu...moreA fascinating account of some intriguing and intricate robberies and the thieves who pulled them off. I had no idea that such well-planned and difficult thefts had occurred. The story about the airplane hijacker was especially incredible, and yet after so much work, the supposed thief got away with so little. Some of these thieves stole for decades without getting caught. It's kind of sad though that these men who had such talents used their talents in such unfortunate ways and they all ended up paying for it in one way or another.
First, there's the Italian who stole the Mona Lisa and kept it hidden for two years, only to avoid a long prison sentence because the Italian's thought he was a folk hero for 'rescuing' the painting from the French. And who would imagine that forgetting to wash the dishes would catch an extremely thorough and careful bunch of bank thieves. And what about the thief who never carried a gun because someone could get hurt. There is quite a collection of individual stories in this book.
The illustrations provide a comic feel to the book and quite appealing. The book should be perfect for reluctant readers who like unusual topics. I agree with the author that these stories do indeed make for great reading. Full of humor, irony, and even heartbreak, these stories provided me with a very entertaining read and reminded me why being a thief is so not a good idea.(less)
Giggle, giggle, snort. What a funny story of young love and misguided thinking. I mean seriously, stealing a penguin?! I would never have thought of s...moreGiggle, giggle, snort. What a funny story of young love and misguided thinking. I mean seriously, stealing a penguin?! I would never have thought of such a thing and I can't think of any other book on such a topic. Maybe that's one of the great things about reading literature that comes from other countries, the introduction of stories that are different and unusual. I personally really enjoy these kind of books and I'm glad I had a chance to read this one.
This story revolves around a teenage boy trying to impress his crush and find a way to go on his biology class field trip. With the help of some friends(?), he decides to steal/borrow a penguin from the local zoo. How he expected to hide the penguin from his mother is an interesting question, but then again, how many teenagers think things through completely before they act?
This book reminds me of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, although instead of comics it uses illustrations involving diagrams and notes from Marty's diary/notebook. This helps make the book especially kid-friendly. I found the book easy to read and it starts off with a bang as Marty faces the consequences of his choices. I highly recommend this book to kids who want something a little different and yet funny and relatable. (less)
I'm a big fan of survival stories and at its heart that's what this book is, a survival story. But it addresses two different kinds of survival. The...more I'm a big fan of survival stories and at its heart that's what this book is, a survival story. But it addresses two different kinds of survival. The first kind of survival is physical survival. Can Sarah and Andy make it out of the Everglades alive? The second kind of survival is emotional/social survival. Sarah, at the beginning of the book, is struggling in her new school. She doesn't have any friends and she feels like an outcast because her family is not well off and she's has a scholarship. Interestingly in learning to survive in the Everglades, Sarah is also learning how to survive at school. Andy on the other hand, is also facing two kinds of survival, survival in the Everglades, and survival at home. I found it fascinating to watch the two teenagers struggle with both the physical challenges (alligators, lack of food and water, etc.) and the emotional challenges.
I thought the way the characters interacted was quite realistic under the circumstances. Andy strives to protect Sarah because he knows its his fault they get stuck in the first place. Sarah is both angry and afraid. The stress of the situation as well as inner turmoil leads both Sarah and Andy to make mistakes. They have several fights and occasions when their desperation leads them to do things that hurt the other. That seemed like real behavior to me.
The setting was superbly presented. I could almost feel the mosquitoes and see the alligator holes. The author really places the reader in the environment. The scene with the snake and the alligator felt especially creepy.
Plotwise, the story moves along well. I felt like the author did a good job of presenting Sarah at the beginning, which makes sense, since Sarah is telling the story. Andy slowly becomes more understandable as Sarah gets to know him better. Once the two teenagers are stuck, the story really picks up in terms of tension goes. It doesn't really let up until the end.
Overall, I'd recommend this book to those who like survival stories with a nice dash of character development. NOTE: there is a moderate amount of swearing and profanity in the book, plus some really intense action as well.(less)