Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê

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LET ME FINISH!
Written by Minh Lê
Illustrated by Isabel Roxas
(Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

let-me-finish book cover

 

 

With its colorfully eye-catching and engaging cover, exhuberant endpages, and enthusiastic speech bubbles, Let Me Finish!  by Minh Lê with art by Isabel Roxas, thrums with an energy that practically propels the book into young readers’ hands.

Our unnamed protagonist is a reader extraordinaire. Sure, his over-sized red eyeglasses are one clue, but so is his broad, contented smile as he settles under a tree to enjoy his new book in peace and quiet. Alas! Three jabbering birds swoop down to chatter enthusiastically about the book’s ending, thus spoiling the surprise for our hero. He politely asks them to hold their commentary next time until he’s done, and heads home to select a different title – one he’s “been meaning to read forever.”

This time it’s a bear who pops in, revealing the ending much to the reader’s consternation. And those pesky birds are back too, chirping in with even more spoilers. “Oh no!” moans our bespectacled main character, who returns home and joyfully discovers that a new book has just been delivered to his front door. Will he finally be able to read in peace, or does someone spill the beans once again?

Let Me Finish! is a real page turner, enticing us to keep flipping and uncover what will happen next. With increasing text size and ever-bolder page spreads, this tale cleverly depicts the mounting angst of the young reader who just wants to enjoy his books. The zany menagerie of talking birds and beasts is a color-filled fantasy, unbound by rules of geography, gravity or nature. It’s a wacky, delightful dilemma for the boy, who demonstrates superhero skills and determination to finish his story.

Roxas’ vivid, softly textured images are tightly woven with Lê’s text and packed with detail. Words written with a scribbly crayon effect add greatly to the kid-appeal, as does the variety of cartoony chase spreads that never become monotonous. There’s a meta-twist or two at the end to keep young ones musing about the story within a story and invites re-reading from multiple perspectives.

You might want to read Let Me Finish! on your own, but it would certainly be a good one to share with friends. Just don’t give away the ending!

Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Let Me Finish! which I won in a blog giveaway and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

dear Dragon by Josh Funk

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DEAR DRAGON
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

starred review – Kirkus Reviews

 

dear-dragon-cover-image

 

Back in the olden days when kids still wrote letters, I had a pen pal named Melanie Vafiades from London. I never met her so for all I know she could have been a dragon like George’s pen pal in dear Dragon (I mean don’t most dragons live there?), or perhaps she was a unicorn (England’s full of enchanted forests, right?). I’m all for active imaginations and making new friends sight unseen which is exactly what author Josh Funk’s new picture book inspires. Kids’ll love the premise of this endearing story that pairs human students (unbeknownst to them but not their teachers) with dragons as pens pals.

 

interior-spread-1-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Between Funk’s cheerful, well-paced rhyming text (the students were told to put their correspondence in verse) and Montalvo’s light-hearted, inviting illustrations, readers will get a strong sense of how the two main characters grow from being reluctant about having to actually write something to someone they don’t know, and do it in rhyme no less, to discovering interesting things about each other over the course of the assignment.

 

interior-spread-2-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

The illustrations capture how George, the human, and Blaise, the dragon, innocently interpret the descriptions in each other’s letters based on their personal paradigms. Consider George’s science project volcano (see first image above) as compared to Blaise’s real one, or George’s backyard cardboard fort (see second image) versus Blaise’s and you’ll get the point both author and illustrator have humorously driven home. As the two students continue to write, readers will notice the degree of familiarity increase with every new letter. What ensues when our earthbound boy and his new flying, fire-breathing friend ultimately meet up in person can only be described as pure positivity in picture book form. Funk’s story presents the perfect opportunity to reinforce the important message that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover, although the cover of dear Dragon is pretty darned adorable!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Visit Josh Funk’s website here.
Visit Rodolfo Montalvo’s website here.

 


Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

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ENTER TITLE HERE
Written by Rahul Kanakia
(Hyperion; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

enter-title-here book cover
Just in time for back-to-school comes ENTER TITLE HERE from Hyperion. Rahul Kanakia’s debut YA novel examines the fierce competition for college admissions in a fresh, surprising, and funny package, with a bonus meta element for those of us readers who are also writing our own novels. The main character is Reshma Kapoor, a Silicon Valley high school senior who employs unhealthy and unsavory means to achieve her all-consuming end: admission to Stanford.

Reshma is convinced that her application — with its stellar grades but average-after-several-tries SAT scores — needs a hook in order to stand out in the admissions slush pile. She thinks she’s found her “in” when an essay she published in the Huffington Post earns her an email from a literary agent: “If you were to someday write a novel, I’d love to read it.” Boom, goal-oriented Reshma has a new aim: secure a contract with this agent, and write a novel to be under submission (or maybe even sold) in time for Stanford’s Early Action deadline.

And that novel is ENTER TITLE HERE. Or is it? I enjoyed the argument in my head as I read: is this really happening, or is this just for the novel? Reshma the narrator certainly encourages the confusion. She scopes out a brief synopsis in her head, epiphany and all, and then writes a “SEPTEMBER TO-DO LIST” of the experiences she needs to have to write the novel convincingly: make a friend, go on a date, attend a party, get a boyfriend, have sex. In the pages that follow, she sets about checking off each item. Oh, and this isn’t on her list, but no way is she going to loosen her grasp on her school’s valedictorian spot. She won it by hook and by crook, and keeping it is as essential to her plans (and her self-image) as writing the novel is.

You may have guessed by now that Reshma is not a very likable person. When she writes, for school assignments, newspaper articles, or her novel, she maintains two versions: an honest one and a pretty one. But when she meets people face-to-face, “…they start to hate me. That’s because when I speak, I find it hard to create a pretty version.” But even as we dislike much of what Reshma thinks, says, and does, we keep reading. Why?

For one thing, I was curious to find out which of her many enemies deserved the title. There’s her mother, who thinks Reshma should lower her sights from Stanford. There’s her “perfect” classmate Chelsea, who couldn’t possibly be as nice as she pretends to be. And then there’s Alex, Reshma’s Adderall supplier. Reshma blackmails Alex into being her friend (item number one on the TO-DO LIST) and then wonders if she can trust Alex to have her back. Meanwhile, will Reshma ever notice that George, whom her parents allow to live in the basement so he can go to a good school, consistently behaves like a real friend?

Kanakia keeps us rooting for Reshma, in spite of all her faults. We want her to figure out how to stop the train before the wreck. Her mother tries to help her, sending her to a therapist. As a writer, I found some of the funniest moments of the book occurring in Dr. Wasserman’s office. He’s not just a therapist; he’s also an unpublished novelist, and his line of questioning is familiar to any fellow striver: “…you’ve mentioned your agent…Who is she, if you don’t mind me…?” He has lots of advice for Reshma, but it’s never clear. Are the ideas for the novel, or for her life? Does Reshma imagine Dr. Wasserman’s decline into obsession with her plot line and character arcs? Or is he a horrible therapist but a pretty good editor?

I enjoyed ENTER TITLE HERE and recommend it as a work of evil genius that will be especially appreciated by students currently competing in the college admissions rat race. Their parents will like the novel too — though it may send some of them searching their kids’ backpacks for stray Adderalls.

  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season by Emma AdBåge

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OUTDOOR MATH:
FUN ACTIVITIES FOR EVERY SEASON
Written and illustrated by Emma AdBåge
(Kids Can Press; $15.95, Ages 5-8)

 

Outdoor Math cover image

 

I am so glad I had the chance to read Outdoor Math and have only positive things to say about it. This delightfully illustrated book is super fun and packed with hands-on activities that focus on going outdoors and playing. The book starts off with an introduction to numbers 0-10 with real world examples, then there are numerous math activities for each season of the year, followed by a brief explanation and examples of plus and minus, then multiply and divide. There’s even some science that can be learned especially when engaging in the seasonal-themed activities.

 

Outdoor Math Pg 11

Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season, written and illustrated by Emma AdBåge, Kids Can Press ©2016.

 

The majority of the book is divided into the four seasons, each with five to seven outdoor math activities so the book provides year round entertainment and education. All of the activities listed looked interesting so of course I had to try a few. My daughter and I enjoyed bouncing a ball for a minute. She was so good at bouncing the ball it was hard to keep track, but we managed to count 135 bounces in one minute. Then we played Tic-Tac-Toe from the book’s Autumn section. We had such a good time playing with our placeholders–seedpods and bits of mulch. After three tied games, I was the lucky winner!

 

Outdoor Math Tic Tac Toe photo by L. Ravitch

Photograph of Outdoor Math inspired activity – Tic Tac Toe by Lucy Ravitch ©2016.

 

The counting and tossing outdoor activities are sure to be a hit with kids even as young as three years old. I felt the rest of the activities could work for almost any age. There are timed activities with counting, as well as activities with maps and shapes, and some games that require coordination. What I love about the book is how many of the activities have kids exercising while they’re doing a math skill. Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season gives great examples of educational play with simple rules for young kids.

 

Image of Outdoor Math Winter Math Activity Pg 17

Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season, written and illustrated by Emma AdBåge, Kids Can Press ©2016.

 

Although I live in sunny southern California where it’s summer almost all year long, the activities can be done anywhere. The book is a wonderful STEM resource because it’s easy to substitute objects depending on the time of year and where you live. For example, Pine Cone Math where you collect pine cones can be substituted with shells, rocks or toys instead. I feel confident recommending Outdoor Math as it’s a terrific book for kids and their parents/teachers/grandparents that’s certain to get everyone moving outside while doing math activities. It goes to show that math is all around us and almost any activity can be a math activity! Thank you Emma AdBåge for making a playful and hands-on book for kids.

After playing Outdoor Math, your kids might just find other ways to incorporate math into play too. I was surprised and happy to see my kids making designs from the objects we used. In fact, as you can see below, there is even math to be found in neat designs!

 

Image of Outdoor Math nature inspired design by L Ravitch

Photograph of Outdoor Math inspired activity – design from nature by Lucy Ravitch ©2016.

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravtich

Friday Barnes Under Suspicion by R. A. Spratt

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FRIDAY BARNES UNDER SUSPICION
Written by R. A. Spratt
Illustrated by Phil Gosier
(Roaring Brook Press; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Tween sleuth Friday Barnes is back, this time to uncover who set her up and why mysterious things keep happening at her private school, Highcrest Academy.

 

Friday Barnes Under Suspicion book cover

 

If you’ve been reading Good Reads With Ronna for awhile you’ll recognize R. A. Spratt’s name as the author of the popular Nanny Piggins series. With nine of these books under her belt, Spratt tried her hand at middle grade mysteries with the release of Friday Barnes Girl Detective. Today I’m going to introduce you to this über intelligent student sleuth in her second book, Friday Barnes Under Suspicion, out earlier this month. And frankly, it didn’t matter that I started with book 2 since Spratt has included just enough pertinent backstory to make this book succeed even as a stand alone.

This latest installment features 25 short chapters that are filled with action and lots of surprises. Yes, there’s never a dull moment when 11-year-old private investigator Friday Barnes is around. The story moves at a fast pace and is broken down into one large mystery to solve and several smaller ones. Spratt kept me guessing whodunnit throughout the novel and that will appeal to readers who, like me, love the challenge of putting the mystery puzzle pieces together.

Whether she’s helping to prove her own innocence after a setup or that of a vagrant by locating a missing sapphire bracelet, or catching the home economics class cheat who took credit for a quiche she didn’t make, Friday Barnes solves her cases using brains not brawn. Add to all the enjoyable sleuthing just a dash of tween romance, a fun symbiotic friendship, a satisfying amount of Spratt-style tongue-in-cheek banter, and the sudden profusion of large holes around the campus of Highcrest Academy, and you’ve got the makings of one very entertaining novel. What is happening at Highcrest Academy that’s causing people to appear, disappear, or reappear, and could it all be tied to a past secret or something more recent?

I couldn’t wait to read what escapades the staff and students of this posh private boarding school got up to. Spratt has created an academic environment rife with intrigue. And the fact that Friday uses money earned from prior and current cases to pay her way through school is significant. Friday’s the daughter of physicists who are preoccupied with their own lives so she’s been forced to grow up early and make her own way in the world. She does so with aplomb, occasional embarrassment, and a lot of hilarious dialogue that will keep middle grade readers coming back to Barnes for more. Watch out for book 3, Friday Barnes Big Trouble due this coming January 2017.

Read an excerpt from Friday Barnes Under Suspicion here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill

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WOLF CAMP
Written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill
(Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill picture book cover

It’s not Labor Day yet!

The shelves at the library and bookstore may be spilling over with “back-to-school” titles, but let’s hold on to summer silliness and camp craziness for just a bit longer. Truly, there is no one season for learning about how to tackle new experiences, face your fears and make new friends. Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill is a hilarious and heart-warming picture book that will encourage young listeners and little learners to be brave and have fun, and howl in harmony as one of the pack.

Our hero is Homer, a hound dog with scrawny neck and legs, big nose and a tail that wags frantically when he’s excited. Sometimes he acts “wolfish” pouncing playfully on his pink stuffed toy moose from behind the sofa. Homer believes all dogs have a bit of inner wolf, and fantasizes about living like one of the pack, racing through the wilderness with purpose. It seems like a dream come true when an invitation to Wolf Camp (“Where every dog can live as a wolf – for an entire week!”) falls into his kibble bowl.

Homer really wants to go to Wolf Camp. He pesters his human family, bringing the invitation to their attention over and over, until they relent and agree that he can go. “I’m going to be a wolf!” thinks Homer excitedly as he heads off on a big yellow bus. The camp counselors, Fang and Grrr, are actual wolves, sharp-nosed, pointy-eared, shaggy giants. Homer’s fellow campers are a bumbling, fuzzy golden retriever named Rex and Pixie, a teeny-tiny gray Chihuahua. Homer thinks the counselors seem nice, but the wolves appear slightly skeptical about the well-hidden potential in their new recruits. Nonetheless, after a detailed safety talk, the Wolf Camp lessons begin.

Zuill’s pen and ink drawings with watercolor wash are zany, charming and unbelievably expressive. She masterfully contrasts wolf and dog postures and body language, perfectly positioning their poised or clumsy bodies for stalking, howling, tracking and sleeping. The animals’ eye rolls, ear tilts, and tail movements convey oodles of meaning and emotion that enrich the wry, witty text and funny speech bubbles. It’s a guaranteed giggle when Homer pens a classic camp letter to his “people” at home, complaining about the food and bugs.

Wolf Camp is filled with loopy, lupine humor and heart. Readers will root for Homer, Rex and Pixie as they bond, persevere and slowly master the skills necessary for wolf-y, woodsy living. The new pack members succeed in earning Honorary Wolf certificates by the end of the week, but perhaps Homer has been changed forever by his wild experience. You’ll be howling with laughter throughout this silly, sweet and smart story for campers and canines alike.

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Wolf Camp from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Pete the Cat’s Got Class by James Dean

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PETE THE CAT’S GOT CLASS
Written and illustrated by James Dean
(HarperCollins; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Pete the Cat's Got Class by James Dean book cover

 

James Dean’s series continues with his latest book, Pete the Cat’s Got Class. Pete’s in school and loves math because of the way numbers “work together,” but his super smart friend, Tom, struggles to understand it. “Pete has an idea! He will help Tom become awesome at math. Helping is cool!”

Using race cars to demonstrate the concepts of addition and subtraction, Pete and Tom work together, building Tom’s math proficiency levels. When their teacher, Mr. G., suspects the two cool cats have copied from one another on a math test, they demonstrate how using race cars made learning fun.

This hardcover book comes with 12 flash cards, a fold-out poster, and stickers. To do Pete’s “Meow Math,” twelve number stickers are included along with addition, subtraction, and equal signs. You can also count blocks or race cars, or play with the Pete and friends stickers.

The flash cards feature numbers one through ten; the word is printed on one side and digit on the other. For example, the back of “Five” shows “5” and five surfboards. Two “Directions” cards explain that kids can either learn the sight words or use the cards to practice their math skills.

Dean’s bright, deadpan-funny illustrations are once again a mainstay. The story line is interwoven with basic addition and subtraction problems, presenting an element of education in Pete the Cat’s Got Class.

Find out about author illustrator, James Dean here.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van ZandtWriter, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.comCo-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales