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My Life with the Liars: Caela Carter

Book: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

MyLifeWithTheLiars

My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter is a middle grade novel about a girl who has been rescued from a cult. Zylynn is a few days shy of her thirteenth birthday when she is removed from the compound of the Children Inside the Light by a man who tells her that he's her dad, though she can call him Louis. Zylynn, who spent her entire life inside the compound, is baffled by everything around her. She doesn't even know what a "dad" is.

As her story unfolds, the reader learns from Zylynn's first person thoughts just how poorly she's been treated, though she doesn't even fully realize it herself. Even as Louis and his sympathetic wife Charita try to help Zylynn, they have no idea how deeply damaged she is inside, and how hard she is fighting to get back Inside the Light, where she has been programmed to believe that she belongs. A deadline involving a ceremony that must be performed inside the compound by her thirteen birthday, if she is ever to return "home" adds tension to the story. 

I read this book in pretty much a single sitting. I couldn't put it down because Zylynn felt so real to me. I kept thinking things like: "This poor child. How could they do that to children?" Here she is smiling for the first time in her birth father's home:

"I feel a strange pinch in my cheeks, an ache in my jaw. I move my fingers to my lips and that when I realize it: I'm smiling too." (Chapter 10)

And here she is laughing for the first time:

"She pokes me again right above the belly button. And the strangest thing happens. It starts at that point. A little bubble, a movement of my muscles. Not indigestion or cramps. Not painful. It bounces from my belly through my windpipe and it's already out my mouth before I know what it is.

I laugh." (Chapter 16, ~70% of the way through the book)

She is stunned by simple things, like being given the choice of what t-shirt she wants to buy at Target. It's heartbreaking. 

I do think that My Life with the Liars is middle grade reader appropriate. Having read a number of young adult and adult novels about cults, there were things I was waiting, dreading to see revealed that were, happily, not. Kids will likely be baffled by the things that the leaders of the Children of the Light did to children, but I don't think it will give them nightmares. And for certain My Life with the Liars has the potential to make kids appreciate the things that they do have, from parents who hug them to the ability to choose what kind of sandwich they want for lunch.  But the reason to read it is that Zylynn is an unusual, compelling character, and her experience feels real and immediate. Highly recommended for kids and adults. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Source of Book: Personal copy, purchased on Kindle after reading Kate's review at Opinionated Book Lover

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Adventurers Guild: Zack Loran Clark + Nick Eliopulos

Book: The Adventurers Guild
Author: Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
Pages: 320
Age Range: 9-12

AdventurersGuildI accepted a review copy of The Adventurers Guild because I think it's a great title. After reading it, I do think that it's a fun book. The Adventurers Guild is set in a world in which most of civilization has fallen to various Dangers (monsters, etc.). Teenage friends Zed and Brock live in one of the few remaining safe places, a walled town called Freestone. As the story begins, Brock and Zed are preparing for the annual Guildculling, a ceremony in which teens are assigned to a profession. Both boys hope to be assigned to one of the four High Guilds, though this is a stretch for Zed who comes from poverty and is the only person in town who is half-elf. Brock, son of two Merchants, expects his path to be more smooth. However, the Guildculling offers surprises for both boys and (could this possibly be a spoiler, given the book's title) they end up in the Adventurers Guild.

The Adventurers Guild is made up of fighters who protect Freestone's citizens, and who are the only ones to ever venture outside of the city's walls. Becoming Adventurers thus exposes Zed and Brock to exciting new things, as well as unexpected dangers. Each boy has a secret, also, which complicates his situation. 

The world that Clark and Eliopulos has created is basically medieval (with guilds, hand-crafts, armored soldiers and flagons of ale), with the addition of magical characters such as elves and dwarves. Magic is certainly not ubiquitous, but it can be learned, and the elf-blooded Zed turns out to have innate abilities. Freestone is protected by magic, and part of the plot involves a quest to an abandoned druid shrine to acquire a powerful protective artifact. These things are set against a post-apocalyptic world in which the boys, traveling outside the wall, are scared the first time they see a squirrel. The occasional references to a long-gone world (like worn stone that was once a road between cities) added enjoyment to the story for me. 

The Adventurers Guild is clearly aimed at boys, with the two viewpoint characters male and regular references to "breaking wind", spitting, and belching. There are strong female characters, though, as well as economic and other diversities that should make this book appeal to a wide range of kids. There's a minor plotline to do with one of the boys having a crush on a girl, but this is far from central to the storyline. Loyalty to friends and comrades is a much stronger theme in the book. 

The Adventurers Guild ends on something of a cliffhanger, and it's clear that Zed, Brock, and their friends will be experiencing other adventures. I expect this novel, with fighting, scary creatures, politics, and magic to be a hit with fantasy-loving middle grade readers. Recommended, and certainly one that libraries will want to purchase. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Give Me Back My Book!: Travis Foster and Ethan Long

Book: Give Me Back My Book!
Authors: Travis Foster and Ethan Long
Pages: 56
Age Range: 3-6

GiveMeBackMyBookGive Me Back My Book is the story of two friends, Redd and Bloo, who fight over ownership of a green book. Only when the rather smug Bookworm makes off with the book do the two friends find a way to work together. Give Me Back My Book is part celebration of reading, part illustration of the way kids sometimes bicker, and part introduction to the components that make up books. 

Personally, I found the third element, the instructive bits about what makes up a book, a tiny bit off-putting. But when I read the book aloud to my daughter, the humor outweighed that. Here's an example (Redd is making the case that the book is his book):

"There are letters on each  page
and they are gathered together
to form words that have meaning
when you read them!"

Then on the facing page, Bloo basically has a tantrum, stomping his feet, shaking his fists, and saying: "ALL books do that!" You just have to smile as you read it. 

Bloo's reactions are definitely read-aloud-friendly. My daughter pronounced the book "hilarious" (though, interestingly, she didn't feel that it was necessary for me to write about the book).

The illustration style of the book is unusual. According to the front matter, Travis Foster created Redd and Bookworm digitally, while Ethan Long created Bloo. Mr. Long assembled the images, adding photos for the green book and various art supplies that are used later in the story. So we have cute, cartoon-like characters reading and interacting with real books. 

Give Me Back My Book! is a bit quirky, but I think that librarians will find it useful for preschool storytime. And kids, if they are anything like my daughter, will pronounce it hilarious, even as they are learning about table of contents, spine, and illustrations. Recommended for library purchase. 

Publisher: Chronicle  (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match: Elizabeth Eulberg

Book: The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match
Author: Elizabeth Eulberg
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

ShelbyHolmesMeetsThe Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match is the second book in Elizabeth Eulberg's series about Shelby Holmes, pint-sized but brilliant detective, following The Great Shelby Holmes: Girl Detective. The narrator of the books is 11-year-old John Watson, who moved recently to Harlem, and lives in the same apartment building as Shelby (where the building manager is named Mrs. Hudson, of course, and Police Inspector Lestrade is Shelby's nemesis). Shelby, as any astute reader would expect, solves mysteries large and small through her powers of deductive reasoning. Sometimes, however, her rather oversized ego does get in the way.

As The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match begins, Watson and Shelby are starting a new semester, Watson first, at the Harlem Academy of the Arts. Watson has balance making new friends with his growing loyalty to Shelby. Shelby, for her part, is showing increasing reliance on and loyalty to Watson, even as she tries to teach him to be more observant. Shelby finds a new teacher's behavior suspicious, and soon teases out a mystery to be solved. This reveals a new and unexpected rival, and real danger for Watson and Shelby.

I'm not sure how many middle grade readers will be familiar enough with the Sherlock Holmes stories to appreciate the Holmes-related details in The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match (Shelby's use of a disguises and a school called Miss Adler's, for example). I'm sure there were other details that went over my head, too, as I am far from from an expert. But I think that the Shelby Holmes books will hold up for middle grade readers anyway. 

Shelby is annoying, but her deductive reasoning is spot and, as she tries to teach Watson, informative. Watson is wholly likable, with multiple dimensions of realistic but not overdone diversity (he's black, his parents have recently divorced and he misses his dad, he's Type 1 diabetic, and he loves to write). Watson humanizes Shelby, and provides an accessible entry point into her world of mystery-solving for young readers.  Here they are, talking together:

"Shelby pointed a finget at me. "There's something off about him. He looks at me in a weird way."

WHO DOESN'T? I wanted to ask, but I bit my tongue. But seriously? I'd seen nothing but weird looks for Shelby from kids and teachers today.

"Hold on." I narrowed my eyes at her. "What exactly were you doing after school?"

Her eyes darted sideways.

Oh, she was so busted.

"Please tell me you weren't stalking our new teacher."

"It's called tailing a person of interest," she replied with a sniff." (Page 28-29, ARC)

I did find Watson's ability to make friends right away a bit unrealistic, in light of his friendship with known weird girl Shelby. But of course his much nicer personality is part of the whole point of the Watson/Holmes dynamic, so I'm prepared to let that go.

I enjoyed The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match (as I did the first book). I appreciated the characters, I didn't see all of the twists coming, and I thought that the stakes of the mystery were aimed just right for middle grade readers. I also liked Watson's relationship with his busy but concerned single mother, and I liked Watson's identify as someone who wants/needs to write. I certainly recommend this series for middle grade mystery fans, and I think that adult Holmes fans will enjoy it, too. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books 
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Daybreak Bond: Megan Frazer Blakemore

Book: The Daybreak Bond (Firefly Code #2)
Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore
Pages: 352
Age Range: 8-12

DayBreakBondThe Daybreak Bond is the sequel to Megan Frazer Blakemore's The Firefly Code (my review). Both books are about a group of children who live in a protected community in a dystopian future suburban Boston. The children are partially genetically engineered, some more than others. Narrator Mori is a "natural" in that she wasn't designed, but she has had some modifications to improve her vision. She also has had a modification that she laments, to make her less brave (so that she won't take risks).

Mori's friend Ilana, on the other hand (SPOILER for the first book) was completely created in a lab. And now Ilana's creators have decided, because of a few glitches, to destroy her. Mori and her friends Theo, Julia, and Benji escape New Harmonie on a quest to take Julia to a scientist in Cambridge, who they believe will help. The Daybreak Bond covers the kids' journey through a perilous outside world that none of them has previously visited. 

The Daybreak Bond has lots of nods to Boston, most of which fly over the heads of Mori and her friends, but which I found entertaining. These include a boy wearing a hat with a shamrock on the back, an automated boat called "Tessie" that crossed the Charles River, and an old woman who refers to the children as "my ducklings." Mori and her friends are also quite surprised to encounter Concord children who do strange things in pronouncing, and not pronouncing, their R's. 

I especially liked how Blakemore handled the children's encounters with the kids from outside, actually. Mori and her friends have grown up protected, told that the people outside of New Harmonie are diseased, and not as bright as they are. Only gradually do they learn that the people outside of their town have strengths of their own. The interpersonal dynamics between Mori and her friends are also interesting, particularly as she confronts the fact that her taller, stronger "designed" friends seem almost compelled to protect her. She, and they, struggle throughout the books with questions of design vs. free will. 

I also liked how Mori's friend Julia calls the adults in their world on preaching one thing and doing another. Like this:

"I was thinking about the people who built Ilana. I was thinking how they all worked together on this project and when it started to go wrong, they didn't really take responsibility. They just tried to shut her down, to hide their mistakes. And that's like the exact opposite of what they teach us. When you make a mistake, you have to own it." (Page 94)

Most of the adults in The Daybreak Bond are weak and/or flawed. But the kids are multi-dimensional, with strengths and weaknesses, bonds and tensions. And with the kids on a quest through a dangerous futuristic landscape for most of the book, they are the ones who matter. 

The Daybreak Bond is a worth sequel to The Firefly Code. It has suspense and humor. But most of all, it will make kids think. It's science fiction about genetic engineering that raises big questions in an age-appropriate way, and has characters that young readers will care about. Recommended for anyone who enjoys science fiction or quest novels, and a must-read for fans of the first book. (And yes, do read the first book before reading this one.)

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books  
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Dazzle Ships: Chris Barton and Victo Ngai

Book: Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion
Author: Chris Barton
Illustrator: Victo Ngai
Pages: 36
Age Range: 7-10

DazzleShipDazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion is a non-fiction picture book about a strategy that Great Britain and America used during World War I in an attempt to prevent supply ships from being torpedoed. Author Chris Barton provides a brief introduction to World War I before outlining the risk to Great Britain of losing the war because its citizens were at risk of starving (due to the loss of supply ships). A Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander named Norman Wilkinson came up with the idea of basically reverse camouflaging the ships, painting them with patterns that would "dazzle" the German submarine crews into not being able to determine the ships' directions of movement. A desperate British navy actually followed this plan, as did, later, America's navy. Ultimately more than 4000 ships were "dazzled", though Barton reports that evidence as to the specific success of the dazzle ships is unclear. 

Dazzle Ships is a fascinating window into a little-known story about World War I. 100 years later, Dazzle Ships gives gives kids background information about the war and also provides an example of the power of creativity in problem-solving. Or, as the book concludes:

"Times change. Technology changes. Torpedoes get faster, submarines get computerized, challenges of all kinds get replaced by new ones. But a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed."

I especially love "the seemingly bonkers". 

Dazzle Ships is quite text-dense. And, of course, it's about ships being bombed, with reference to people starving. This is certainly a picture book for older kids, something one would put in a second grade or higher classroom or a school library.

Visually, Dazzle Ships is stunning, particularly Victo Ngai's rendering of the dazzle ships themselves. She uses a mix of digital and analog media that works particularly well in conveying backgrounds, like the waves of the ocean, and golden skies. A page spread illustrating the concept of camouflage is sure to both entertain and educate young readers, while a futuristic image at the end is inspiring. 

Dazzle Ship is a nonfiction picture book for older readers that educates and informs, captures an incident most adults won't be familiar with, and has eye-catching illustrations. I will not be surprised to hear more about this one come Cybils-time. Recommended!

Publisher: Millbrook Press 
Publication Date: September 1, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Professional Crocodile: Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio

Book: Professional Crocodile
Author: Giovanna Zoboli
Illustrator: Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

ProfessionalCrocodileProfessional Crocodile is wordless picture book originally published in Italy and brought to the US by Chronicle. Written by Giovanna Zoboli and illustrated by Mariachaira Di Giorgio, Professional Crocodile follows a crocodile as he wakes to his alarm clock in an urban apartment, gets ready for the day, and takes the train to work. Along the way he purchases some flowers and a roasted chicken. His destination for the flowers is a mild surprise, while his workplace is completely unexpected. 

I didn't see the ending coming, which is quite saying something. Kids will, I think, be both surprised and delighted. The illustrations consist of a series of small, detailed vignettes in sepia tones. We see the crocodile using the toilet (younger kids will like that, picking out a tie to wear, and eating a healthy breakfast. When he's out and about in the city, observant readers will notice some people taking him in stride, while others look at him askance. Though he's surrounded mostly by people, other clothed, upright animals are visible on the train, to careful observers. Some passersby are seen more than once. 

The illustrations maintain an international flavor. Signs and posters are in Italian, and the city streets have a European feel to them. There are a myriad of details to reward careful attention, making this book a better fit for early elementary school kids than for preschoolers (who also might not appreciate the payoff of the crocodile's occupation). 

Professional Crocodile is a quiet story, a bit quirky but ultimately satisfying. Because it is a wordless story, it would make a great choice for kindergarten and first graders to look through on their own, adding their own words to tell the story. Recommended, and one that I expect to read again in the future. 

Publisher: Chronicle (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Bodyguard Series: Chris Bradford

Books: The Bodyguard #1: Recruit, The Bodyguard #2: Hostage, The Bodyguard #3: Hijack, and The Bodyguard #4: Ransom
Author: Chris Bradford
Pages: 272, 224, 272, 224
Age Range: 10 and up

BodyguardBooks1to4Over the past couple of weekends I binge-read the first four books in Chris Bradford's Bodyguard series (helpfully released all together by the publisher for just such a purpose). The Bodyguard series is about a British teen named Connor Reeves who is recruited into a secret organization called Guardian. Guardian trains teens to act as stealthy bodyguards, especially for teenagers, providing a last line of defense that bad guys will never suspect.

The first four books actually consist of two separate adventures, each broken up across two books and marked by, of course, a cliffhanger in between. In both cases I found the first book, involving descriptions of training, as well as introduction of Principals (protectees), to be a little slow. The conclusions, however (books 2 and 4) were fast-paced and suspenseful. I read each of those in a single sitting. They have short chapters, and occasional surprising twists, making them a good fit for reluctant YA readers. 

In the first book, Connor learns that his father, who died when Connor was eight, was a military bodyguard who died in the line of duty. This understanding, combined with the Guardian program's offer of help for Connor's ailing mother and aging grandmother, pulls the boy in. He is, of course, a natural, though he makes mistakes, and has rivalries with the others from his team of Guardian trainees. He also struggles once or twice with flirtatious interest from his Principals (who are attractive teenage girls in both stories), though he also is interested in Charley, a wheelchair-bound slightly girl from his Guardian team.   

The books offer a fair bit of luxury, with descriptions of the trappings of rich, beautiful, powerful people. These are set against dangerous elements, including terrorists and pirates (the two primary types of organizations that kidnap the children of rich, powerful people, of course). While I personally found the descriptions of Connor's training less than enthralling, young readers who have read fewer adult thrillers than I have will likely find them more interesting, with tidbits about alert levels and self defense. And certainly young readers will be on the edge of their seats at the dramatic climaxes of both storylines.

The Bodyguard series is aimed squarely at fans of the Young Bond series and other relatively PG thrillers. It's timely, with a focus on terrorists and other dangers. There are deaths, but none of them (besides that of Connor's dad) are heartbreaking. There are plenty of guns and other weapons, as well as miraculous tech tools (bulletproof t-shirt anyone?). In short, these books are pure summer reading fun for kids age 10 and up. Recommended, and well worth a look for libraries serving middle schoolers.  

Publisher:  Philomel Books
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Serafina and the Splintered Heart: Robert Beatty

Book: Serafina and the Splintered Heart
Author: Robert Beatty
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12

SerafinaSplinteredHeartSerafina and the Splintered Heart is the third book in Robert Beatty's Serafina series (after Serafina and the Black Cloak and Serafina and the Twisted Staff). There is little that I can say about the plot of this third book that won't give something away about the plot. Suffice it to say that the book starts with heroine Serafina in peril and continues by mixing strange supernatural events with brave action. Adversaries and friends from previous books play their parts. 

Serafina and the Splintered Heart is a bit sadder than the previous books. Readers who found those books too scary or too dark may want to wait on this one. But for those who loved the first two books, as I did, Serafina and the Splintered Heart does not disappoint. It is suspenseful, creative, and occasionally profound. Serafina is a compelling character who readers will continue to root for. 

As in the previous two books, the Biltmore estate is almost a character in the story. Beatty slips in tidbits about George Vanderbilt's dreams for the estate, as well as other historical notes about the time period. A fun one is when Serafina sees an automobile for the first time, and thinks (having seen sorcery in her life) that it must be something enchanted. 

There's not much I can quote without spoilers, but here are a couple of passages, to give a feel for Beatty's ever-improving writing:

"She had always been able to see things other people could not, especially in the dark of night, but tonight there seemed to be a special magic in the forest. It felt as if she could actually see the evening flowers slowly opening their petals to the moon and the glint of starlight on the iridescent wings of the insects. She felt the caress of the air as it slipped through the branches of the trees, around her body, and against her skin. She sensed the stony firmness of the earth and rock on which she stood." (Chapter 5, ARC)

and:

"The thought of it put a twisting knot in the pit of her stomach. But the truth was, she had run out of other paths to take. Her pa had told her once that true courage wasn't because you didn't feel fear. True courage was when you were scared of something, but you did it anyway because it needed to be done.... she had to stay bold." (Chapter 19, ARC)

Serafina and the Splintered Heart is a dark, Gothic story with an intriguing, three dimensional setting, strong characters, and a sinuous plot. Fans of the first two books will definitely want to read this one. Those new to the series should, of course, start at the beginning. But if the idea of a girl with unusual powers taking on mysterious enemies in and around an enormous, famous estate piques your interest, you should certainly give the Serafina books a look. Highly recommended for kids as well as adults. 

Publisher: Disney Hyperion 
Publication Date: July 3, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Wordplay: Adam Lehrhaupt and Jared Chapman

Book: Wordplay
Author: Adam Lehrhaupt
Illustrator: Jared Chapman
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-6

WordplayWordplay, written by Adam Lehrhaupt (Chicken in Space) and illustrated by Jared Chapman (Pirate, Viking & Scientist), is an introduction to the parts of speech for preschoolers and early elementary school kids, shared in the form of a quirky story. Basically Verb does things, but Noun can be things. When a peanut gallery consisting of Interjection, Adjective, and Adverb admires Noun a little too much, Verb gets jealous. But when a bee threatens the changeable but inert Noun, guess who is there to save the day? In the end, Noun and Verb figure out that they can do a lot more by playing together. 

Obviously, this is all very contrived. But it does rather work. Here's a snippet:

"Everyone watches Verb.

"Wow!" says Interjection.

"An impressive display," says Adverb.

"Very graceful," says Adverb.

Verb is happy."

In the above example, Interjection's name and text are shown in purple, matching his color (see cover image above). Similarly for the yellow adjective and orange adverb. Interjection's "WOW!" is shown in a bigger font than everything else. This consistent visual reinforcement continues throughout the book. Verb, of course, is red, shown in constant movement. Noun is blue and has an odd head shape, but also a friendly smile. They all have rather pig-like noses, in what seems to be Chapman's style, but they are surprisingly cute anyway. The bee is quite menacing:

"BEE!" says Interjection.

"A giant, frightening bee!" says Adjective.

"It's coming dangerously close," says Adverb."

You get the idea. 

Wordplay would be a great addition to any preschool to first grade classroom where the teacher is introducing parts of speech. It would make a good next-stage companion to Mike Boldt's 123 versus ABC and Colors versus Shapes books, albeit with a slightly less madcap storyline. Wordplay is a bit gimmicky, of course, but I like that there is a story - it's not just some dry explanation of parts of speech. It's also a celebration of friendship, which is always welcome for this age range. Wordplay is fun and, well, playful, and well worth a look for schools and libraries. Recommended. 

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Secrets I Know: Kallie George and Paola Zakimi

Book: Secrets I Know
Author: Kallie George
Illustrator: Paola Zakimi
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

SecretsIKnowSecrets I Know, written by Kallie George and illustrated by Paola Zakimi, is a gentle story about play, alone and with a friend, and appreciating the outdoors. It's not so much a story as a series of connected incidents, each described by a short sentence, taking place over the course of a day in the life of a little girl. The text, with simple vocabulary, and the incidents that take place, are all preschooler-friendly. No parents are visible anywhere in the story, which takes place mainly in the girl's backyard. 

The text is quiet, like this (across the first 3 page spreads):

"Secrets are for whispering.

Whispers hide in trees.

Trees make great umbrellas."

Even reading this to myself, I wanted to whisper. I think that the way the sentences connect from page to page, "whispering" to "whispers", etc., lends a poetry to the text. It feels like a perfect bedtime book to me. But I can also imagine using Secrets I Know for more interactive reading. Once your preschooler picks up on the pattern, you can ask her to predict what's going to happen next. 

I just love that this girl is out by herself, on a slightly rainy day, playing in a very simple treehouse, having a tea party for her toys in the sandbox, using an umbrella as a pretend boat, etc. Then when she goes next door to find her friend, things get a bit more complex (building a robot costume, taking down a telescope from a shelf). There's a timeless feel to all of this, and one can imagine it inspiring kids to want to play imagination games on their own. 

Zakimi's illustrations (drawn in pencil and digitally colored) are lovely, and perfectly complement the story. Zoom in on that cover, if you will. The nameless little girl is adorable, from her wavy brown hair down to her ballet-flat-covered feet. Her friend is African-American, adding a bit of seamless, unselfconscious diversity. The back yard is delightful, full of trees and puddle, with the girl's cozy-looking house in the background, and a dog cavorting about, lending subtle humor. I especially liked the illustrator's use of light, as the day shifts from rain to sunlight to evening stars. 

Secrets I Know is one of those books that you appreciate a little bit more on each reading. If it had been around when my daughter was three, I believe this would have been one that we read every night and referred to during the day ("Together, friends are ladders" or "You can sweeten tea with sunshine"). I think it would make the perfect gift for a three or four year old, and an excellent choice for library storytime. Secrets I Know is highly recommended, and going on my "to give as gifts" list. 

Publisher:  Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: May 23, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Girl Who Ran: Frances Poletti, Kristina Yee, and Susanna Chapman

Book: The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon
Author: Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee
Illustrator: Susanna Chapman
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

GirlWhoRanThe Girl Who Ran recounts the true story of Bobbi Gibb, who from childhood loved running. When Bobbi learned about The Boston Marathon she wanted to run. But in her day (the 60's), women weren't allowed to run marathons. People believed that they weren't strong enough, and would injure themselves. So, after training on her own, running across the country and camping at night, Bobbi dressed up like a man and successfully completed the 1966 Boston Marathon. Bobbi's story definitely held my interest. 

I did feel like the book could have provided a bit more detail to Bobbi's story. What year was Bobbi born? How old was she when she ran the marathon? Where did she grow up? But I suppose it's not difficult for young readers who are inspired by Bobbi's story to look her up.  And this is more a book describing one thing about someone's history, rather than a full-fledged biography. Certainly it is an inspiring story. Here's a girl who loved doing something, was told "no" repeatedly, including by her parents, and found a way to do it anyway. 

In the book's presentation, all of the men around her who realized that she was a woman during the race were supportive, as were spectators along the route. While I found myself a tad skeptical of the universal support once she was already in the race (in contrast to the universal condemnation of the idea prior to the race), I think that this upbeat portrayal will encourage young readers. I liked that the authors, Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee, made it clear that finishing the race was difficult for Bobbi, but that she gritted it out.

Their writing style is a mix of narrative text, words from the people around her, and the occasional poetic couplet. The book's formatting keeps these three methods distinct. Like this, on one page spread:

"The cheers were a roar. And Bobbi needed it. The ground was hard, her new shoes were stiff, and the final hill was still ahead.

But she couldn't stop now, though she ached and perspired,
and the world whooshed by, like the wind in the fire."

This text is shown at the bottom of the pages, while near the top, above the picture of Bobbi running, the words from the bystanders are shown in various fonts: "It's a girl!" "Go, girl, go!", etc. Different fonts for different voices. My seven-year-old, when I read this with her, will want to read every one of those aloud herself.

The poetic couplets are always in italics, and repeat the "like the wind in the fire" refrain. It's a bit unconventional, this mix of narration, exhortations, and poetry, but it worked for me. And I quite liked Susanna Chapman's illustrations. When Bobbi runs, we see a kind of streamer trail, in red, yellow and orange, a visual representation of her joy in running. There's a fold-out spread showing when she crosses the finish line of the marathon, with plenty of white space, and which adds to the epic feel of Bobbi's accomplishment. 

The Girl Who Ran is the very prototype of inspirational nonfiction picture book. It leaves the reader feeling happy. The fact that it's about a single aspect of the protagonist's life, rather than a chronicle of her full history, could make The Girl Who Ran work for those who are not such fans of biography, but just want a good story. Despite the two authors and separate illustrator, and the multiple narrative methods, the whole package works seamlessly together. The Girl Who Ran is a book that certainly belongs in libraries. It would also make a good classroom read-aloud for first or second graders, perhaps in the week prior to the school fitness run. I look forward to reading this with my daughter. Recommended!

Publisher: Compendium 
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).