Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt

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BLOOMING AT THE TEXAS SUNRISE MOTEL
Written by Kimberly Willis Holt
(Henry Holt and Company BYR/A Christy Ottaviano Book;
$16.99, Ages 8-14)

cover image for Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel

 

In Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motelwhen thirteen-year-old Stevie’s parents are killed in an accident, she’s uprooted from her New Mexico home and sent to live in the Texas Sunrise Motel with a grandfather she doesn’t remember. Though grandfather Winston is standoffish, Stevie quickly connects with the motel’s eclectic group of people, including a cute boy her age named Roy.

Living in the same room where her mother grew up sparks Stevie’s curiosity about her parents’ kept-quiet past; grandfather Winston coolly avoids personal topics. Instead of enrolling Stevie in public school, she’s sent to the same woman who homeschooled her mother—the ancient and narcoleptic Mrs. Crump. Here, Stevie finally begins to piece together the puzzle about what her mother was like as a girl.

In this moving middle grade novel, Stevie struggles to cope with choices that are being made without her consent. Just as she’s settling into Texas, an unknown aunt invites Stevie to Louisiana. Now it’s up to her to decide between living with fun and loud cousins or returning to her seemingly detached grandfather and the motel’s motley cast of characters. Stevie’s comfortable world has ended; she’s adrift in new beginnings and explorations.

Kimberly Willis Holt‘s effective use of plant imagery throughout will not be lost on readers. Stevie parents ran a fruit and flower stand, her Louisiana cousins are in the nursery business—digging in the dirt is in Stevie’s genes. Discovering where Stevie puts down roots is the heart of this gentle, character-driven, and finely crafted story.

Click here to see Holt’s book tour schedule.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Brick by Brick by Giuliano Ferri

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BRICK BY BRICK
Illustrated by Giuliano Ferri
(minedition/Michael Neugebauer Publishing; $12.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Brick by Brick board book cover

 

Brick by Brick, a twenty-two-page wordless board book by Giuliano Ferri, is about building bridges and removing barriers. On the opening page, we meet a cute little mouse who innocently plucks a flower from a wall. A brick tumbles, revealing a glimpse at an enticing world beyond. The mouse carries that block off the page and is joined in, one by one, by other farmyard animals.

Together, they deconstruct the wall, progressively showing the reader more of what lies beyond their border. When their view is clear, they discover jungle animals separated from them by a body of water. Brick by brick, the animals build a bridge connecting their lands.

In Brick by Brick, Giuliano Ferri has crafted a simply important message. Young children will delight in the adorable animal characters. The clever use of space replaces a seemingly endless monochrome wall with a colorful landscape that invites exploration. Beyond the blinding bland whiteness exists the rest of their world.

Author Biography

Giuliano Ferri is a graduate of the Urbino Institute of Art where he specialised in animation and the award winning illustrator of children’s books. His work has been exhibited at Bologna International Children’s Book Fair for more than a decade, and in museums around the world. Mr. Ferri also works with young people with disabilities, using animation and comic theater as therapy. He is illustrator of Luke and the Little Seed, Nino’s Magical Night, and The Snowball from minedition.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) by Julie Bowe

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BIG & LITTLE QUESTIONS
(ACCORDING TO WREN JO BYRD)
Written by Julie Bowe
(Kathy Dawson Books; $16.99, Ages 7-9)

 

Big & Little Questions book cover image

 

Find out about this fab new middle grade novel, Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) in Christine Van Zandt’s glowing review. Good Reads With Ronna also wishes author Julie Bowe a very Happy Book Birthday today!

Over the summer, Wren Jo Byrd, a shy nine-year-old, was abruptly sent to stay with her grandparents while her Mom and Dad split up. Rather than confess what was going on to BFF Amber, Wren ignored her.

At the start of the new school year, Wren finds that Amber is best buddies with Marianna Van Den Heuval, the new girl in town; Wren pretends nothing has changed. However, Wren’s lies about her family become hard to maintain because she must split her time between two households. Wren doesn’t understand how this could be good for them.

Marianna, from the big city of Portland, blows into Wisconsin like a diva with an agenda. She peppers her dialogue with wonderfully realistic preteen talk, such as “We’re going to have So. Much. Fun!” Yet, Marianna’s bravado isn’t all it seems. Wren discovers some of Marianna’s secrets and begins a list of questions for Marianna—the only girl she knows whose parents are divorced. As Amber is swept away in Marianna’s coolness, Wren wrestles with what it means to be a friend and dreads what will happen when everyone discovers the truth.

Julie Bowe’s first-person voice captures Wren’s fears and the complexities in her life. The text is punctuated by definitions Wren looks up on her phone, such as to the word “happy” (meaning “content”) and then “content” (meaning “not needing more”). These lead her to wonder, “When did Mom and Dad stop being happy? . . . How come no one told me we needed more?”

Everyone has secrets; Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), gives us a glimpse into why we hide our truths and the consequences we must endure when we choose to lie. This heartfelt story is about accepting change as friendships and families evolve beyond our control.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Goodnight, Numbers by Danica McKellar

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GOODNIGHT, NUMBERS
Written by Danica McKellar
Illustrated by Alicia Padrón
(Crown Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

 

Cover image of Danica McKellar's Goodnight Numbers

 

Math lover, author and mom of five, Lucy Ravitch, recently read Goodnight, Numbers with her family and today shares her thoughts on best-selling author, Danica McKellar’s latest book. Remember to also check out Lucy’s website, Kids Math Teacher, here.

McKellar’s newest book (it came out last week), provides a fun, hands-on approach to counting. This nod to Goodnight, Moon offers up multiple bedtime opportunities for your kids to count up to ten and learn their individual numbers. Each page presents the number both in written form, and numerically giving little ones the perfect way to practice tracing with their fingers.

Now find out more about Goodnight, Numbers in Lucy’s enlightening video, then read on.

As you go through the spreads and explore the scenes with your kids, they’ll discover several groupings of items. If not, point them out. Some are easy to spot while others can be more difficult. In fact, that’s actually a great way to keep slightly older kids interested. My four- and five-year-old kids enjoyed looking through Padrón’s illustrations to see if they could find ALL the grouped items. Did your kids notice the three sofa cushions in the video?  As you saw in the video, I do suggest this book for children ages 0-6, but only if you really want to introduce numbers early. Otherwise it is ideal for ages 2+. It would be such a super idea for Crown Books for Young Readers to make Goodnight, Numbers into a board book that would be durable enough to withstand the hours of engagement this book will surely have over its lifetime. Pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore today. Happy counting!

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

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GO BIG OR GO GNOME
Written by Kirsten Mayer
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.  

 

Cover image of Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

 

 

There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.

A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?

Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.

Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Our Very Own Dog: Taking Care of Your Very First Pet by Amanda McCardie

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Our Very Own Dog:
Taking Care of Your Very First Pet
Written by Amanda McCardie
Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Our Very Own Dog cover image

 

This week is National Pet-Sitters Week. Then, on March 23, it’s National Puppy Day, so let’s give a shout out to pets and puppy lovers and their caregivers everywhere!

Our Very Own Dog by Amanda McCardie is THE book to share with your children if you’re even just entertaining the idea of getting a pet. It’s also the perfect picture book to read once you’ve decided to welcome a new dog into your home. The story revolves around Sophie, once a shelter dog, and now starting over with her forever family. Written and illustrated in a gentle, accessible way, Our Very Own Dog will help children learn all about what’s involved in caring for and training man’s best friend. Whether that involves feeding them, taking them to the dog park to socialize or bathing them, McCardie has covered it all.

 

Interior spread from Our Very Own Dog: Taking Care of Your Very First Pet by Amanda McCardie with illustrations by Salvatore Rubbino, Candlewick Press ©2017.

 

What works wonderfully in this picture book is that kids will get to know Sophie and experience what she’s like at home and when she’s out and about as seen through the eyes of her young owner. And if Sophie’s forever family happens upon a dog show in the park, and Sophie happens to charm one of the judges, youngsters will not be disappointed Readers find out through Rubbino’s playful artwork and McCardie’s smaller sized text tips just what things new dogs are allowed to do (cuddle, play fetch, go for walks) and not allowed to do (steal sausages from the kitchen table, try to escape from being bathed) all the while being educated on important responsiblilities of a pet owner. The back matter in Our Very Own Dog contains a note on having your very own dog including illustrated examples of doggy body language. There are also recommended reads and an index making referring back to key points such as collars, grooming, walking and training as easy as saying “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come,” and “Heel.”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Amanda McCardie
is the author of several books for young readers, most recently A Book of Feelings. She says, “Sophie is dear to my heart. She was the cheery, cheeky little dog I grew up with in real life.” Amanda McCardie lives in London.

Salvatore Rubbino is the award-winning illustrator of Just Ducks!, A Walk in London, A Walk in New York, and A Walk in Paris. He says, “I have always been fond of cats. But by studying dogs and watching their fascinating behavior, I now find that I love dogs, too!” Salvatore Rubbino lives in London.


Shackles From The Deep by Michael H. Cottman

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SHACKLES FROM THE DEEP:
Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship,
a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy
by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael H. Cottman
(National Geographic Kids; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred review – Booklist

cover image off Shackles From The Deep by Michael H. Cottman

 

A fascinating and fast read, Michael H. Cottman’s compelling Shackles From The Deep will open middle grade readers’ eyes and minds to the abhorrent “international business” that was the slave trade. In 22 brief but gripping chapters, Cottman, an avid scuba diver, goes in search of the dark history behind the 17th century slave ship called the Henrietta Marie. Through diving below the surface and delving above the surface with the help of a dedicated team of professionals, Cottman learns not only about “the bitter past” that shrouded the ship, but about himself and the African people forced into slavery who could very well have been his ancestors. 

Possibly the world’s oldest slave ship discovery, and certainly the oldest in North America, the Henrietta Marie and its bounty of watch bell, iron cannon, and iron shackles helped shed light on the inhumane industry that ripped West Africans from their homes, separated families, and brought them against their will to places such as Barbados and Jamaica to work on plantations. This slave ship, found accidentally while looking for a different wreck, had been torn apart during a hurricane off Key West in Florida in the 1700s. 

Cottman’s journey to find answers about the individuals who captained the ship, commissioned the ship’s slave cargo, and made the shackles and weapons on board led him to three continents over four years. And though he was never able to find definitive proof of who exactly might have been carried below deck in wretched conditions for months on end, Cottman did meet a family in Jamaica whose roots likely could be traced back to the Henrietta Marie if those records were available. One of the most moving parts of Shackles From The Deep was when Cottman travelled to Senegal and toured Gorée Island. There he visited the House of Slaves, built in 1526, and home to the infamous Door of No Return named as such because those enslaved Africans leaving through it never ever came back.

Cottman felt it was important to retrace the route the Henrietta Marie would have taken and, by taking us along with him as engaged readers, we quickly learn why. Tearing families apart and treating them like animals made no sense as one missionary’s account detailed:

The English take very little care of their slaves and feed them very badly …The overseers make them work
beyond measure and beat them mercilessly…and they seem to care less for the life of a Negro than a horse.

Ending his journey in Africa where it all began after those earlier visits to Barbardos, Jamaica and England, provided a way for Cottman to return through that Door of No Return on behalf of all the unfortunate souls who never had the chance. The story ends, having come full circle from the initial discovery, with the author’s visit to an underwater memorial at the wreckage site of the Henrietta Marie. 


“I had learned that the site of the wreck is a place where I am never really alone,
a place where I feel connected to my past and ancestors. I had learned that lasting
friendships can be forged––regardless of racial backgrounds––even while exploring a sunken slave ship.”

There are several ways for readers to approach this well-written narrative nonfiction novel. From the sheer storytelling perspective, it is completely absorbing and satisfying, in fact I read it in one sitting. As a page turning detective novel, it’s rich in detail with Cottman’s journalistic abilities highlighted as he asks the right questions and tracks down individuals around the globe to piece together the puzzle that is the Henrietta Marie. When children read Shackles From the Deep they will gain a better understanding of slavery and the dehumanization of people that was perpetrated for 300 years, and hopefully be the force to prevent such cruelty from ever happening again.

Click here to visit Michael H. Cottman’s website.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel