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.


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

Mixed Me! Written by Taye Diggs and Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

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MIXED ME!
Written by Taye Diggs
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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Starred reviews in Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Librarian Dornel Cerro reviews Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs with illustrations by Shane W. Evans.

“I’m a beautiful blend of dark and light, I was mixed up perfectly, and I’m JUST RIGHT!”

Mike, an exuberant and energetic boy rushes from one place to another in his superhero cape:

“I like to go FAST!
No one can stop me
as the wind combs through
my zigzag curly do”

It’s clear that Mike is a well-loved, confident and joyful child. However, although Mike is comfortable with the color of his skin and the “WOW” of his hair, sometimes his diverse heritage causes people to stare and wonder:

“Your mom and dad don’t match,”
they say, and scratch their heads.

There’s pressure at school to choose a group to belong to:

“Some kids at school want me to choose
who I cruise with.
I’m down for FUN with everyone.”

Using rich vocabulary, gentle humor, rhyme, and a hip-hop like rhythm, Diggs offers a inspirational message. The author uses the diversity in the foods we eat to vividly (and deliciously) capture the differences in human appearances. Mike’s mother’s skin is “… rich cream and honey …” and Mike describes himself as:

“I’m a garden plate!
Garden salad, rice and beans-
tasting GREAT!”

This is not only a fantastic read-aloud, but a wonderful starting place for positive discussions on image, esteem, diversity, friendship, and inclusion. Adults sharing the story can easily design extension activities to reinforce the book’s theme. What do words like “fused” and “blended” mean? How do these words apply to people? How many references to multicolored or “mixed” things can children find in the book’s illustrations? What kinds of theatre, music, movement, and dance activities could help children express their understanding of the book?

Evans complements Digg’s bouncy and humorous text with textured illustrations consisting of watercolors and cut pieces of fabric. There are many two-page spreads of Mike, dominated by all that wonderful “zippy” hair and the book is awash in multicolor images: even Mom’s apron and Mike’s cape contain a rainbow of colors.

Mixed Me! is a highly recommended read for all children and adults who work with this age group.

Visit the publisher to see interior artwork and other reviews. Check out Digg’s and Shane’s Chocolate Me! website for information about their earlier book which also sends a positive message about skin and hair type. Read Diggs’ tribute to his long time friend, Shane W. Evans, in The Horn Book. See Scholastic for a biographical sketch on Evans and other books he’s illustrated.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Inherit The Stars by Tessa Elwood

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INHERIT THE STARS
by Tessa Elwood
(Running Press Teens; $9.95 Trade Paperback, Ages 13+)

 Inherit_the_Stars

In her debut novel, Inherit the Stars, book one in a duology, Tessa Elwood creates her own little universe that consists of several inhabited planets, feuding families, an economic crisis, and a political hierarchy all wrapped up in both a tale of adventure and a classic love story. The protagonist, Asa, lives on Urnath, a planet that becomes contaminated. Forced to ration both food and fuel, the inhabitants revolt against those who govern including The House of Fane, which happens to be Asa’s family. When Asa’s oldest sister Wren is caught in the crossfire, Asa tries to save her sister, but struggles. In fact Asa finds she struggles to succeed in most things. Asa’s father and sisters have very little faith in Asa’s abilities and maturity. However, in order to save her family and her people, Asa forces her way into the most difficult role of her life, marrying into the House of Weslet and trapping herself in a “blood bond” filled with insufferable expectations. Once the merger is complete with the marriage of Asa and Eagle, the two have to find a way to coexist with each other and to trust each other, which ultimately leads them to depend on each other.

Although it took a while to get absorbed into Elwood’s Sci-fi world, once I did there was no turning back. I became engrossed in the love story between Asa and Eagle and couldn’t put it down. While I felt the ending was a bit abrupt and, perhaps, unnecessarily rushed, I was merely disappointed that such an enjoyable story was over. I look forward to reading the sequel and hope to see the bond between Asa and Eagle grow. I can only begin to imagine what other trials they will overcome together and am certain Elwood will deliver a most satisfying conclusion to this engaging read.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 


Red Spider Hero by John Miller

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RED SPIDER HERO
Written by John Miller
Illustrated by Giuliano Cucco 
(Enchanted Lion Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

Our hero, Harry, is a young red spider, or spider mite. You may have seen these itsy bitsy critters scurrying across a light-colored sidewalk, deck or wall in the warm weather. The illustrator, Cucco, brings the super smallness of these insects to our attention in one initial brilliant two page spread, mostly white, covered with minute red and black speckles. One speck is highlighted with a ring of thick black lines. This is Harry.

Harry sports a beribboned folded paper hat and brown overalls. He carries a scabbard in one of his four hands, which he waves about while hollering that he is tired of being a little spider and wants to see the world. Other mites gather, curious about the ruckus. Harry’s grandfather emerges, and patiently begins to listen and reason with Harry in a most encouraging but realistic way.

Harry certainly does not lack for imagination. Seeing the world may entail building a boat – no problem. Exploring the jungle? He’ll be world famous. Escaping by flea and joining a flea circus? Exciting! On and on, Harry’s dreams of adventure grow wilder and wilder as he refuses to be discouraged by Grandpa’s gentle warnings. After all, Harry wants to be a hero.

RedSpiderHero_IntSpread

Interior artwork from Red Spider Hero by John Miller with illustrations by Giuliano Cucco, Enchanted Lion Books ©2015.

 

Cucco’s bright and quirky illustrations play cleverly with perspective, emphasizing Harry’s small stature in the vast world, while painting elaborate and imaginative settings for the tiny mite’s big dreams. Dragonflies, dandelion puffs, and well-armored articulated flea bodies are boldly drawn and richly colored.

This intergenerational tale is a journey of the imagination. Even little spider mite children dream big dreams, and young listeners will identify with the need to feel special and powerful in a world that can seem vast and overwhelming. As a nice final touch, original photographs of actual spider mites, covered in pollen and posed by a dime, close the book with praise for children who are likely to notice and appreciate the little things in life

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Red Spider Hero from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Finding Forever by Ken Baker, A Blog Tour

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FINDING FOREVER: A Deadline Diaries Exclusive
Written by Ken Baker
(Running Press Teens; Trade paperback, $9.95, Ages 13 and up)

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In Finding Forever, E! News Correspondent and SoCal resident, Ken Baker, has used his entertainment news background to enthrall readers with a riveting fictional tale of life inside the celebrity scene and its fascination with Hollywood’s Holy Grail, the elusive fountain of youth. His main character, a teen blogger named Brooklyn Brant, covers celebrity news in her blog Deadline Diaries, but in her latest quest she uncovers more than she bargained for.

When sixteen-year-old celebrity sweetheart Taylor Prince goes missing from her birthday party in L.A., tabloid blog STARSTALK splashes headlines that Taylor is in rehab for drug addiction. Taylor’s assistant, Simone, enlists the help of Brooklyn Brant to help find the missing starlet, as she insists Taylor is not on drugs and this is more of a conspiracy. However, with Simone’s shady past, it’s hard to know whom to trust. Brooklyn must use her sleuthing skills to uncover the truth before time runs out on Taylor.

While the mystery behind Taylor’s disappearance had my attention, what really drew me in was Brooklyn’s backstory, including her late father’s mysterious death and his legacy she is trying to uphold. As a police officer, Brooklyn’s father believed in getting at the truth. Ever since his death, Brooklyn has tried to follow in her father’s footsteps, finding the truth and revealing it with integrity, but as a journalist not a cop, trading the gun for a pen. Her blog Deadline Diaries began as an outlet for her to cope with his passing, but it grew into a passion and potential future. And the story of Taylor Prince’s disappearance, in all its web of secrets and lies, is perhaps the big break in her budding career that she’s been looking for.

Using a dual narrative, bouncing back and forth between Taylor’s and Brooklyn’s points of view, Baker kept me wondering what was going on and what would be revealed next. The more I read, the more I began to see that the rehab place was suspect and almost cult-like, and its head, Dr. Kensington, creepily Peter Pan obsessed. I found myself rooting simultaneously for Taylor to escape and for Brooklyn to save her. While the ending seemed a little rushed, it still provided the satisfying closure I would expect as a reader, and reinforced the fact that eternal youth is as much a façade as a Hollywood set.

Read more about Ken Baker here.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 

 

 


Valuable Lessons of Self-Worth and Acceptance for Children by Jodi Mays

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rainbow

We’re delighted to share the following enlightening guest post
by author Jodi Mays.

How do you teach a feeling or emotion? For some parents this is as difficult as asking what a color smells like, and yet kids today are bombarded with messages and imagery that does just that. From television, to magazines and social media, kids are picking up these impressions from an early age. So, how do you make sure the right messages are getting through to them? This was a question that plagued me when my son was young. How do I teach my son about emotions and self-esteem?

It was easy for me to say, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Or to remind him to be aware of others feelings but, as most parents may agree, it is not always what you say that imparts the best lessons. As a family, we have always been drawn to reading; turning to books to pass the time and getting lost in worlds both big and small. Reading became a way for us to tackle many of these tough ideas, which led to some incredible conversations about everything from self-esteem to compassion and kindness; conversations that may have been too difficult to broach on their own, without the help of books. It was these conversations that led me to write my first children’s book with the hope that I could pass along some of the same valuable lessons of self-worth and acceptance. After all, building a strong foundation of confidence and self-esteem is important for everyone and the basis that I hope will carry my child confidently into the future.

It is with this in mind that I want to share some of my favorite books on acceptance and self-esteem.

For Pre-Schoolers

The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss: You can’t really go wrong with this classic book. In The Sneetches, Dr Seuss weaves a story that teaches self-worth and acceptance, which is extremely fun to read. The Sneetches are born either with or without a star on their tummies, which leads an unscrupulous monkey to take advantage of their differences. In time the Sneetches learn to accept and embrace each other’s differences.

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy: In this book Lucy is the subject of ridicule for her favorite food, spaghetti in a hot dog bun. Lucy stands by her choice even when others are mean and mock her for being one-of-a-kind. When these same friends need help, Lucy has the courage to make the right choice. This story is truly empowering for any child who has ever felt different from the crowd.

For School Agers

Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud: This book contains beautiful illustrations that pair easily with simple prose to help younger children learn how to be “bucket fillers.” It teaches children to show their appreciation with simple acts of kindness and love, which will not only boost the self-worth of those who get their buckets filled but also those who do the filling as well. It reminds children that a little kindness and acceptance can make the world a better place.

Unstoppable Me; 10 Ways to Soar Through Life by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer: This book builds on Dr. Dyer’s first book, Incredible You, and the ideas of “no limit thinking.” Kids are encouraged to embrace what makes them unique instead of simply trying to fit in. It embraces all of the wonderful quirks and qualities that every child is born with and teaches them to use these special traits to navigate stressful situations and enjoy life’s wonderful moments.

For Pre-Teens:

Freckle Juice by Judy Blume: No one defined a generation of young readers, struggling to navigate through life’s challenges better than Judy Blume. In her book Freckle Juice, she weaves the story of a young boy who simply wants to look different than he does. As young people sometimes do, he trusts the wrong person to help “fix” his problem with her secret recipe for freckles. This book is a classic for anyone who ever felt like they were missing a key feature to make them perfect.

Tween You and Me by Deb Dunham: Switching gears, Tween You and Me is a non-fiction book for tweens and parents living with tweens. It is a thoughtful and practical guide to navigating changing bodies, relationships and feelings in a way that encourages both self-expression and responsibility as well as lessons in respect for the young reader. Growing up is hard enough. Nurturing healthy self-esteem only adds to the challenge. Tween You and Me acts as a road map for the journey ahead.

For Young Adults:

The Creative Journal For Teens, Making Friends With Yourself by Lucia Capacchione: A combination of journal and how-to, this book offers teens a safe way to work through some of the complex challenges they face in everyday life. Written by a registered art therapist, this book can help teens to clarify their goals while strengthening their self-confidence by giving them a safe place to write down their feelings in a somewhat structured environment. For any teen that has difficulty expressing their emotions, this book can be a valuable tool.

The Skin I’m In by Sharon G Flake: This book is geared toward more mature, young adult readers and touches on race and class as well as self-esteem. It follows a young girl, Maleeka Madison, as she and her mother struggle with the death of her father. In her attempts to become more popular she finds herself the target of bullies. Throughout the story Maleeka has an internal battle to discover who she really is and who her real friends are. The Skin I’m In weaves a story about self-confidence, friendship and the consequences of trying too hard to fit in.

 

– By Jodi Mays

 

TheDayWeRodeTheRainbowJodi Mays is a free-lance writer. She divides her bi-coastal living between Malibu, CA and Longboat Key, FL. She moved with her family to Innsbruck, Austria with 5 English-German dictionaries and 15 duffle bags at a young age and still resides there at times throughout the year. She has one son with whom she traveled the world while he competed in International Junior Tennis Tournaments. She uses her colorful adventures as a modern-day gypsy as inspiration for her writing.
THE DAY WE RODE THE RAINBOW is the first book of an interactive and fun series called
‘The Book Series with a Purpose.’  She is a member of
the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

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