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Dragon and Captain by P.R. Allabach

Dragon and Captain
Written by P.R. Allabach
Illustrated by Lucas Turnbloom
(Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

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My curiosity is always piqued by books that contain maps inside their front and rear covers. Happily, Dragon and Captain has got ’em! Here’s why. Maps play a crucial role in this story, presented in comic-style format.

This original picture book features two main characters who happen to be next door neighbors. It’s also clear the boys are friends who’ve played a pretend game of Dragon and Captain countless times, if Dragon’s map is any indication. Dragon, a boy in a dragon robe, and Captain, a boy with a tri-cornered hat, have their work cut out for them the morning the story opens. Captain, it seems, has lost his ship!

Together, Captain and Dragon must brave the unknown by going through a forest, down a cliff and ultimately to the sea in their quest to find the missing vessel. Armed with a compass, a telescope, the map, and massive amounts of imagination, Dragon and Captain set off on a creative adventure (in the backyard) as their moms chat nearby.

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Interior artwork from Dragon and Captain by P.R. Allabach with illustrations by Lucas Turnbloom, Flashlight Press ©2015.

Dragon and Captain must foil a bunch of pirates’ plan to commandeer Captain’s ship. Can the duo stop this dastardly deed and get home in time for lunch? Well this reviewer won’t say, but you can probably guess the answer by the expressions on the boys’ faces in the illustrations below!

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Interior artwork from Dragon and Captain by P.R. Allabach with illustrations by Lucas Turnbloom, Flashlight Press ©2015.

Between Allabach’s pleasing prose and Turnbloom’s terrific artwork, the team of Dragon and Captain and their active imaginations come to life in this thoroughly enjoyable role playing romp. Picture books like this one should certainly spark children’s interest in inventing their own games of make believe.

Learn more about Dragon and Captain at www.flashlightpress.com
Get an activity guide for the book here.
Find the Dragon and Captain Facebook page here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

EDMUND UNRAVELS
Written and illustrated by Andrew Kolb
(Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 4-7)

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Edmund Loom, a bright turquoise blue ball of yarn, is filled with bouncy energy and springtime exuberance. From his earliest days when he plip-plopped down the front stairs, he has yearned to explore. His supportive parents, a lovely teal green mother with knitting-needled hair bun and a sturdy blue dad with spectacles, have always patiently reeled him in and rolled him back up.

Edmund tries to “keep it together” by following a steady although boring routine, though grumpily cuddling up with an adorable llama at bedtime. But even little balls of yarn grow up, apparently, and the bigger he gets, the farther away he can roll when unable to resist the “tug of discovery.” One day he unravels into his biggest adventure, satisfying his wanderlust through the city, mountains and desert. Edmund meets new friends, tries new foods, and soars high with excitement until he ultimately feels the gentle pull of homesickness and loneliness that reel him in.

Kolb’s illustrations are colorful, crisp and playful. Edmund comes to life through simple though expressive round black eyes, eyebrows and mouth. A jaunty baseball cap and swirly strand of wooly hair counterbalance his long, ever trailing tail of yarn. The world that Kolb depicts in Edmund’s travels is imaginative and bright, introducing playful kittens, prickly pincushions, and rolls of adhesive tape. The details are fun to pore over, and young readers will get a kick out of the book’s cartoony appeal.

A special shout-out to the EDMUND UNRAVELS book designer for including clever scrawls of long, unwinding yarn on the end pages and a cheerful close-up of Edmund’s smiling mug that dominates the back cover. These give clear indications that this book is a visual delight from start to finish. Also of note is the adorable book trailer which captures Edmund’s upbeat personality and his omnipresent forward-rolling qualities to the tune of a charming wind chime soundtrack.

EDMUND UNRAVELS is filled with sweet whimsy and an endearing message that you will always remember who loves you and where you came from, no matter how far from home you may roll.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of EDMUND UNRAVELS from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Breaking News: Bear Alert by David Biedrzycki

Bear-Alert-cvr.jpgYou don’t have to wait long to find the action in Breaking News: Bear Alert, written and illustrated by David Biedrzycki (Charlesbridge, 2014; $17.95, Ages 4-8). It starts on the front cover.

A boy and his teddy bear are watching Our Furry Planet on television. When the host of the show accidentally awakens two hibernating bears, a breaking news report shows up on the screen. Soon the bears are having a grand time, catching a ride on a truck, eating porridge at Teddy’s Diner, and having their turn in a photo booth outside of Bare Necessities Food Mart. Their escapades are caught by the sky cam, but the bears manage to elude the police and animal control officers. While the authorities are preoccupied with the bears’ shenanigans, two sticky-fingered criminals are up to no good. When the crooks rob Paddington’s department store, they’re caught on sky cam. They might have pulled off their caper had they not run right into the bears and their ice cream cones.

BREAKING NEWS Bears nab burglars. Skycam 3 shows police closing in to make the arrest.

The bears get a heroes’ sendoff and go back to their den to hibernate.

What an original and funny story idea! Breaking News: Bear Alert is so cleverly told (don’t you just love the names of the stores?!), and Biedrzycki’s illustrations, done in Adobe Photoshop, made me feel as if I were watching a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. This is a picture book that is sure to grab, and keep, the attention of even the most reluctant reader. In other words, there’ll be no hibernating in your home with this book around.

Read an interview with the author/illustrator, David Biedrzycki here.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

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WINTERFROST by Michelle Houts

WINTERFROST written by Michelle Houts
(Candlewick, $16.99, Ages 8-12 )

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Michelle Hout’s WINTERFROST brings readers to the forests of Denmark for a sweet fantasy adventure that is perfect for the holiday season.

The Larsen family Christmas celebration takes an unexpected turn when the parents are called away, leaving 12-year-old Bettina in charge of the farm and her 1-year-old sister, Pia, for a few days. Bettina, a mature and responsible girl, is undaunted by the challenge. She’s confident that she can manage alone, especially since nothing ever happens on the sleepy island of Lolland in mid-winter.

But in the hustle and bustle of preparations, the family forgets to leave a bowl of warm, bubbling rice pudding in the barn on Christmas. Just as many families leave cookies for Santa, the Danes leave rice pudding for the nisse, tiny kind and clever elves who tend the livestock and stoke the fires. Klakke, the Larsen’s young and curious nisse, is hurt and resentful of the family’s forgetfulness, so he steals baby Pia from her carriage as she naps in the sunshine.

Bettina begins a frantic hunt for the baby until darkness falls. Unable to sleep, she finds a long-forgotten book belonging to her grandfather entitled How to Care for and Keep Your Nisse. From the book, Bettina learns that a disgruntled nisse might resort to mischief. Suddenly, she realizes that the forgotten bowl of rice pudding may have been the indirect cause of Pia’s disappearance.

Bettina’s belief in the nisse tenuously restored, she heads into the forest to look for Pia and enters a fantastic world of mythology and Danish folklore. Fans of tiny people stories like The Borrowers or The Littles will delight in the details that Houts incorporates, such as walnut shell chairs, firefly lanterns, and thistledown socks. The creative and unusual setting is a charming springboard for Bettina’s nisse adventures, following her as she flies on the neck of a goose, then a seagull, seeking a way to free her sister from a long-standing nisse family feud.

Hout’s unique, imaginative tale is a whimsical read for those just stepping into chapter books. The Nordic setting adds a fun twist to the fantasy adventure, and the brave, clever Bettina is an engaging heroine who thinks on her feet. Wrap up WINTERFROST as a perfect gift for young readers to enjoy during a snowy winter school vacation!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of WINTERFROST from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale,
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Superhero Princess to the Rescue!
Hilary Taber reviewsThe Princess in Black
(Candlewick Press, $14.99, Ages 5-8),
the first book in a new chapter book series.

Princess-in-Black-cvr.jpgWho says you can’t be a princess and a heroine? Allow me to introduce you to Princess Magnolia. This princess wears pink, has a sparkle ring, glass slippers and, at the beginning of the book, she is taking tea with the Duchess Wigtower. The Duchess has a feeling that Princess Magnolia is perhaps too perfect. Princess Magnolia appears to the Duchess to be too prim and proper. Princess Magnolia therefore must have a secret.

It seems that the Duchess will certainly have an opportunity to find out what that secret might be when Princess Magnolia’s glitter stone ring suddenly gives off an alarm. However, Duchess Wigtower (deftly and sweetly illustrated by LeUyen Pham with a wonderfully towering wig) never quite catches on that there has been a call to action! The glitter stone ring is actually a secret alarm. The Princess excuses herself to change into her black outfit to become the Princess in Black!

Princess Magnolia’s kingdom just happens to be located right next to Monster Land. A daring princess is clearly needed here. Together with her black pony (who is usually disguised as a unicorn), she sets off to find out why the alarm was sounded. When the princess arrives, she finds that the rather dim witted monsters who live underground in Monster Land have forgotten why they are not allowed to go above ground. It’s especially hard for them to remember the reason for this rule when they can smell the lovely scent of goat floating down into their cave. They love goats, but not in the strictly, “I’m just admiring these charming goats. Reminds me so much of Heidi!” Certainly not. The monsters want to eat the charming goats. This is a job for the Princess in Black! Well, these silly monsters have certainly met their match, but will Princess Magnolia be able to save the day and protect her superhero identity? If anyone can outwit duchesses and monsters it would be Princess Magnolia, a.k.a. the Princess in Black!

LeUyen Pham’s charming illustrations meet Shannon and Dean Hale’s lively writing punch for punch and sparkle for sparkle. The illustrations are so sweetly princess-like when they need to be, but so full of action-packed, adorable fun when they should be that they are impossible to resist. There are also many interesting clues to be found in the illustrations that the attentive reader can pick up on that prove, without a doubt, that Princess Magnolia is actually the Princess in Black. Additionally, The Princess in Black is the first in a series. Huzzah! This series will provide a much needed bridge to longer, more challenging reading when the time is right. Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series will find much to enjoy here. Princess fans of all ages will find a heroine to inspire them, for Princess Magnolia is a model of both fashion and bravery.

Click here to find out Seven Things You Didn’t Know About the Princess in Black.

Click here to read a Q&A with the Hales.

Shannon and Dean Hale are the husband-and-wife writing team behind the graphic novels Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, both illustrated by Nathan Hale.

 

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Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods
Written by Rick Riordan
Illustrated by John Rocco
(Disney-Hyperion, 2014; $24.99. Ages 9-12)

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When approached by a New York publisher to “tell all” about the gods, Percy Jackson asks:

“Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again (Percy Jackson, p.ix).”

Despite his understandable concerns (irking the gods can be dangerous to your health), Percy, in typical teen fashion, humorously narrates nineteen stories about the Greek gods, weaving in snarky comments and observations. Surprisingly, blending these dark and grim stories with irreverent humor makes the myths (a little) less horrific. Here’s Percy’s interpretation of an exchange between Kronos and Rhea concerning their children and …um…. Kronos’ food choices:

“He [Kronos] stuffed Hestia in his mouth and swallowed her whole.
Just like: GULP. She was gone.
As you can imagine Reha completely freaked.
“My baby!” she screamed …”
“Oh wow,” Kronos belched. “My bad …(p. 23).”

Percy’s title for each myth, not only reflects his wit and humor, but lets the reader know how Percy will interpret that myth. Demeter Turns Into Grainzilla puts a spin on a pop culture monster (Godzilla) when Demeter becomes a monster and daughter, Persephone, is abducted by Hades.

I’m ashamed to admit that I laughed while reading stories about kidnapping, infanticide, and cannibalism. Good gods! What kind of mother does that make me?

John Rocco, who has illustrated three of Rick Riordan’s series, is the 2012 Caldecott honor for Blackout. Rocco’s dramatic illustrations depict robust and muscular gods (recalling Classical Greek statuary), powerfully pulsing with light and energy. His strange and grotesque monsters should satisfy horror fans without overly frightening gentler souls. Visit Rocco’s website to learn more about the books he’s illustrated. Also check out his  blog which includes his artwork and sketches and links to painters who have influenced him (including Frank Frazetta and N.C. Wyeth).

At my school library, this middle grade book is already a big hit with Percy Jackson fans, as well as those who love Greek mythology. As both the 5th/6th grade classes are studying Greek mythology, one of the resources I used (in addition to this book) was the publisher’s excellent event kit. Activities include Percy’s Snarky Word Search, Get Your Greek On (trivia), party games, and more. Such a fun-and funny-way to learn about Greek mythology!

Click here to download the teachers’ guide.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Backwards Moon by Mary Losure & Giveaway

An Enchanting Story from Mary Losure

Backwards-Moon-cvr.jpgWhen my daughter was 7 or 8 she became infatuated with fairy and witch stories. But that was 13 years ago and the selection wasn’t very exciting. I’m happy to say that now there are so many more interesting books featuring assorted magical creatures and Mary Losure’s Backwards Moon (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 7-10) is one of them. This recently published middle grade novel is perfectly suited for tweens who want action, adventure, fantasy and a satisfying conclusion, all in just 134 pages.

Cousins Nettle and Bracken are the two youngest witches in a coven made up of mostly older witches (“They were not just old, they were very old. Some were hundreds of years old.”) who live in a hidden valley being encroached upon by humans. The book opens on the very day that the girls discover something has gone terribly wrong with the magic Veil, originally spun to shelter their community from the outside world.

Suddenly it’s looking like the carefree days of playing Catapult are over. Things are about to change forever, thrusting Nettle and Bracken into a mission to save their coven by traveling to the human world. There the witchlings will attempt to find untainted Wellspring Water, crucial for the damaged Veil spell. They’ll also eventually seek out the Door leading to a safer world for all witches, far from the menacing presence of humankind.  Even though the older, more experienced witches would seem like the natural choice to make this dangerous journey, the fear of Fading, or loss of magical powers caused by the proximity to humans, stops them from trying. The cousins’ youth, while providing them with increased protection from the Fading, does not guarantee immunity putting them at considerable risk as well.

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Backwards Moon Author Mary Losure. Photo credit: Don Losure © 2014

Losure has created a believable world where only young humans can see the witches, initially complicating matters, but ultimately helping the girls on their quest. I found it fascinating how the author was able to convincingly convey the collision of the witch world with that of humans, in fact she had me at Seeking Stones. (magical rocks that will assist the witchlings). There are several engaging characters who help Nettle and Bracken including a young human girl named Elizabeth, a Witchfriend named Ben and a caring raccoon. Losure has included a nemesis for the cousins to evade, as well as many close calls that will keep tweens entranced. In 21 short chapters, we’re whisked away to a wonderfully imagined world where wishes can be used up and time is not necessarily on the side of the plucky main characters. All that makes for a more layered read and a desire to follow Nettle and Bracken into the safety they seek behind the Door, perhaps in a second book? I can wish, too!

Click here to read an excerpt from Backwards Moon.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Buy the book from Indie Bound by clicking here.

GIVEAWAY:

This giveaway will be a bound book giveaway, sent to the winner from Holiday House. The winner must be a U.S. resident and over 18 years of age (parents/guardians can enter for children if they’re interested).

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Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Written by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!

Once upon a time (okay, maybe three years ago), in a not too distant land (okay, California), two talented (okay, multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling) picture book pros teamed up and created EXTRA YARN … Published in 2012 and awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2013. Now, once again, the winning and wickedly funny team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen have joined forces, this time to bring us SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE.  I’m delighted to say that with their latest (on sale October 14), these guys (Barnett & Klassen not Sam & Dave) have outdone themselves, and that’s going to mean lots of happily ever afters.  ENTER THE GIVEAWAY ENDING SOON BY CLICKING HERE.

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Pick up a copy of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4-8) written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen and you’ll see what I mean in just a few short pages. Then, at the end, which you’ll arrive at in no time because you’ve been turning the pages so quickly to see how things for Sam & Dave turn out, you’ll find yourself, along with your kids, racing back to the beginning to check things out because you’ll love, love, love what you think has happened, but want to be sure. Or not be sure, it’s totally open to interpretation and that’s all I’ll say.

In a nutshell, or in this case a hole, Sam & Dave set out (parents and caregivers take note: the action begins even before the title page), shovels on shoulders, to dig a hole. They’re joined by an attentive dog whose presence is instrumental in the story.  Sam wonders when they’ll stop, but the hole is only waist high. Dave says, “We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.” Who doesn’t recall having that same feeling of anticipation during a childhood adventure just like these boys do? So, they dig on. And readers, well readers are rooting for them, too!

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Klassen wastes no time in complementing Barnett’s excellent yet economical prose with visual humor that will keep kids engaged and thoroughly entertained. In a hilarious Abbott and Costello-like manner, the two boys seem to play Abbott’s straight man. They carry on with their mission of finding a treasure that readers see is almost within reach, so when they find nothing and change directions, or eventually split up and dig separately, the humor and tension build in the best possible way. The adorable dog, with a keen nose or sixth sense, takes on the role of the comic relief in true Lou Costello-style, and knows exactly where all the treasures are. The “so close yet so far” theme Barnett has mapped out and Klassen has illustrated is both exciting and irresistible. The pacing of each page turn is so perfect that I can almost hear kids calling out as Sam & Dave is being read to them. “Wait, don’t change direction! It’s over there!” And that kind of interaction is a treasure in itself!

It isn’t until all dug up routes lead to nothing but exhaustion that this picture book takes a final comical turn (or fall …. ) courtesy of the boys’ trusty companion, the dog. Its pursuit of a buried bone leads to what I’m certain will be this season’s most clever and talked about ending, guaranteeing countless re-readings, imaginative conversations and a spate of shovel purchases.

Recently, two adult friends and I sat down for a discussion of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, another great thing about this already terrifically entertaining picture book. It got us talking about our childhood experiences and how those might be influencing our responses to the book. One friend pointed out how the layout of the text in each spread mimicked the depth, width or action of the simple, understated yet totally spot-on artwork. The other friend wondered if the boys were brothers or cousins, and I sat thrilled to hear how animatedly we were talking about the plot and how it had affected us. In other words, just imagine what your children will be thinking after reading this gem of a book, and how wonderful it will feel to have shared that experience with them.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Mac Barnett on Twitter: @macbarnett

Jon Klassen on Twitter: @burstofbeaden 

 

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Twelve Dancing Unicorns by Alissa Heyman Blog Tour & Giveaway

Find Magic & Mystery in Twelve Dancing Unicorns
written by Alissa Heyman and illustrated by Justin Gerard
Blog Tour & Giveaway

A little girl’s good intentions enable her to accomplish what grown men could not in
Twelve Dancing Unicorns, by Alissa Heyman with illustrations by Justin Gerard, (Sterling Children’s Books 2014, $14.95, Ages 4-7).

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Cover of Twelve Dancing Unicorns. Reprinted with permission from Twelve Dancing Unicorns © 2014 by Alissa Heyman, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Justin Gerard.

Those of you familiar with The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the brothers Grimm, will enjoy this enchanting adaptation of the popular fairy tale. For those of you who haven’t read Grimm’s fairy tales, Twelve Dancing Unicorns, a stunning new picture book, easily stands on its own.

Despite being guarded by his finest men, the king finds his twelve prized unicorns mysteriously break free of their golden chains each night unseen by the watchmen. People come from all over the land to see the unicorns, but one young girl has grown particularly fond of the smallest one. She sees the creatures are unhappy being cooped up, and wants to help them.

When the king offers to grant a wish to anyone who can solve the mystery of the broken chains, the girl is the first to step up. Laughed at by the townspeople, and chided by the king for being too young to handle such a task, the girl remains undaunted. With the help of her mother, who gives her an invisibility cloak, and the bright moonlit sky, the girl discovers the unicorns’ secret, and has quite an adventure in the process.

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Interior Artwork Reprinted with permission from Twelve Dancing Unicorns © 2014 by Alissa Heyman, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Justin Gerard.

I was reminded of Jan Brett’s illustrations, as I got lost in Gerard’s ability to capture otherworldly beauty in his work. His use of page and picture boarders provides a classic fairy tale feel to a modern book. I found Heyman’s lyrical story book style of writing very appealing; her words capturing the wonder and glory of the mystical world of unicorns.

Twelve Dancing Unicorns: a must read, must keep, and must pass down from generation to generation picture book.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

Blog Tour & Giveaway:

Follow the Twelve Dancing Unicorns blog tour tomorrow on ‘lil Burghers by clicking here.

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Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell, (Abrams Books for Young Readers 2014, $24.95, Ages 12 and up), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“I wondered if I would die and how I would die. I hoped to be quiet and brave.” – Nurse Maude “Denny” Williams as U.S. Troops surrendered to the Japanese (p. 67).1386116620

Pure Grit  is the gripping story about the 101 U. S. Army and Navy nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Farrell demonstrates that while women’s military service has been basically ignored by historians, their contributions have been enormous. These unsung heroes faced the same dangers of war that the male soldiers did, while caring for the wounded and comforting the dying.

In the early 1940s, the U.S military assignments in the Philippines were pretty routine and included a swinging night life. That quickly changed following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Nurses, inexperienced with treating battlefield wounds, rose to the occasion and assisted huge numbers of wounded and dying soldiers under grueling and frightening conditions. Malnutrition, due to severe rationing, and unsanitary conditions became very serious issues. One nurse wrote:

“This morning I sat down to “breakfast” which consisted of a tablespoon of cold beef hash on a dirty plate (no water for washing dishes) … and nothing more available until 6pm …” (p. 65).

The American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. Although some of the 101 nurses were safely evacuated, 77 were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Despite horrific conditions and declining health, the nurses cared for each other and civilian prisoners incarcerated with them. By October, 1944, Farrell notes the prisoners at St. Tomas Internment camp were down to six ounces of food per day.

After their February, 1945 liberation, the nurses faced other obstacles. When the nurses sought compensation for medical conditions resulting from their internment, the Veterans Administration often refused or limited much needed health care. When some official recognition for their sacrifice finally came it was too late for many. Farrell notes that a lot of the nurses whose stories she included in this book were already dead by the early 1980s. Thanks to Farrell’s meticulous research and compelling narrative based on first person accounts, the nurses’ stories now have a chance to be heard.

This nonfiction book includes an excellent page layout with fairly wide margins and spacing, abundant period photographs, illustrations, and other primary source documents, making the dynamic text easier to read. End materials include a glossary, timeline, list of nurses, an extensive bibliography which references many first person accounts including the Oral History Program of the Army Nurse Corps.

Visit Farrell’s web site to see a book trailer, read an excerpt, and download a teacher’s guide with project ideas that relate this book to Common Core Standards.  A highly recommended read.

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Comics Squad: Recess! Review and Giveaway

IN HONOR OF SAN DIEGO COMIC CON WE BRING YOU A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY!!

Comics Squad: Recess! written and/or illustrated by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, Dan Santat, Gene Luen Yang, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Raina Telgemeier, and Dave Roman, Ursula Vernon, Eric Wight, Dav Pilkey. (Random House Books for Young Readers, July 8, 2014, paperback $7.99, Ages 7-10) – reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“WARNING: this book may cause excessive laughter and possible silliness.”

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Comics Squad: Recess! from Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014.

This lively and humorous collection of eight novellas that is Comics Squad: Recess! features comic strip style stories by well-known author and/or illustrators such as Gene Luen Yang, Dav Pilkey, Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Raina Telgemeier. Popular characters like Babymouse and Lunch Lady make their appearance and new characters are introduced. All the stories are tied together by one theme: recess, one of the high points of the school day (second only to dismissal time!).

The stories feature a lively variety of styles, characters and situations from the geeky boy who struggles to join a recess ninja club in Yang’s “Super Secret Ninja Club” to two squirrels who find a rather unusual acorn in Vernon’s “The Magic Acorn.” Pilkey’s “Book ‘em, Dog Man,” features the hero, Dog Man (and lots of invented spelling), who sets out to stop the diabolical Petey from destroying all books in order make the world “supa dumb.” In Telgemeier and Roman’s “The Rainy Day Monitor,” a restless 5th grade class, confined to their classroom on a rainy day, is pleasantly surprised when a “boring” student finds a way to engage her classmates. Two boys struggle to complete an assignment during recess in Santat’s “300 Words” with hilarious and poignant results. Babymouse’s daydreaming makes her late for classes and lands her inside for recess where she takes off on an imaginary quest in the Holms’ “Babymouse: The Quest for Recess.”

Highly recommended for grades 3-6, this anthology serves as a great way to attract new fans and will be enjoyed by those already familiar with the authors’ and/or illustrators’ characters.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: We’re delighted to be giving away two copies (value $7.99 each) of COMICS SQUAD: RECESS!.

RULES:

1. Please send an email to Ronna.L.Mandel at gmail.com and write COMICS SQUAD: RECESS! in the subject. Please supply your name and address, too!

2. Be sure to LIKE US on either Facebook and/or Twitter to be eligible and let us know you have. You must be a US or Canadian resident to enter.

3. Contest ends at midnight on August 5, 2014, and (2) winners will be notified on August 6, 2014.

GOOD LUCK!
See Random House’s awesome trailers–and meet the authors and illustrators — at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiTRmUGRAeA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jHXAvpd-9I

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Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann

Of Mouse & Motivation –

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse, (NorthSouth Books, $19.95, Ages 4-8) is written and illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann, and also includes a foreword by Bob van der Linden, Chairman and Curator of Special Purpose Aircraft, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

lindbergh-mouse-cvr.jpgMaybe you thought that Charles Lindbergh was the first pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean without a stopover when he made history in 1927 flying the Spirit of St. Louis, a single engine aircraft. But even earlier in the 20th century and certainly less well known than the human air travel pioneer, an ambitious mouse whose name may or may not be Lindbergh (although author/illustrator Kuhlmann was clearly inspired by this American hero), reached America from Germany in very much the same way.

While the curious little mouse was holed up somewhere for months on end reading “the great books written by humans,” a new mechanical contraption, the mousetrap, has caused our rodent’s friends to supposedly
flee to safety in a faraway land where a huge statue stood to greet all who journeyed there. We sadly know better than to think they escaped the fate of the traps’ strong springs. The human world, it seems, could also be dangerous. Eager to reach America from his home in Hamburg in order to reunite with all his mice friends, the mouse hatches a plan, part derring-do and part pure brilliance, that involves a lot of moving pieces and a lot more luck.

Kuhlmann’s imaginative picture book, with its evocative detailed illustrations of a bygone era when humans were inventing and experimenting, is told through the small, inquisitive eyes of a well-read mouse who will stop at nothing to travel to the “New World.”

His attempts to leave town via sea are thwarted by harbor cats guarding the ships. In the safety of sewer tunnels, however, the mouse draws inspiration from bats who “looked like mice, with tiny eyes and huge ears. But they flew with powerful black wings.”

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Interior spread from Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse written and illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann, NorthSouth Books, ©2014.

Since it was the age of invention and innovation, the industrious mouse tries to recreate a winged device to help him fly, but his first attempt flops. His next effort, using steam power, brings him notoriety but that flying machine fails as well. Yet, despite his crash, the mouse still makes headlines, “Hamburg’s Flying Mouse Spotted.” Now the city’s owls are on alert becoming a new menace to avoid as he scavenges for materials to use in the building of his plane.

With the enemy close at hand, little Lindbergh spies the clock tower of a church to use as a runway for his maiden ocean voyage, but can he escape the clutches of the threatening owls long enough to get airborne and stay aloft for the duration of the arduous journey?

Lindbergh is a story I wish I read when I was young,” says Kuhlmann. “Picture books at the time did not deliver a real adventurous thrill. So, I designed Lindbergh to evoke a sense of childlike adventure with a serious undertone. There is detail to discover in every picture and something for everyone on each page.”  I could not have said it any better myself. Please see for yourself by taking flight with Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse. With its informative back matter on top of its wondrous artwork and inspirational story, there’s not a better way to fuel your child’s imagination than with this stunning picture book from debut author/illustrator Kuhlmann.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Grambo by Beth Navarro

This Grandma Has Secrets

Grambo_cover2When you were a child, did you ever wonder what your grandmother got up to when you weren’t around? Do you think she spent her days knitting, baking or playing Canasta or were you convinced that her grandmotherly activities were merely a ruse for something more covert? A part-time spy perhaps? Hard as I try I cannot imagine my Nanny or Nana parachuting into enemy territory, but just thinking about it makes me laugh. Grambo, a picture book by L.A. author Beth Navarro with illustrations by Betsy Hamilton (Be There Bedtime Stories, $9.99, Ages 4-8), takes that far-fetched and very funny idea and runs with it.

It’s wonderful to read a new grandparent-centered picture book especially such an imaginative one. Grandparents play an important role in kids’ lives, in fact many grandparents raise their grandchildren or are full-time caregivers. So when I saw the title of this picture book, I knew it was going to take me somewhere unusual. The best part is it will make children look at their grandmothers in a whole new way.

Navarro introduces us to the narrator, Ryan, a young boy who sneaks into his grandmother’s bedroom eager to find his souvenir from her trip to Texas. However, instead of finding his present, Ryan uncovers a government issued GPS.  “Why would Grandma need a Global Positioning System? Did Grandma pick up the wrong suitcase?” Not standard vacation gear for a typical grandma, now is it? Well it looks like something’s cooking and it isn’t Ryan’s grandma’s great chocolate chip cookies. With his curiosity piqued and using his best surveillance skills, Ryan follows his grandma on her next vacation only to discover she’s really on a mission for the CIA. Grandma’s no ordinary grandmother, she’s secret agent Grambo!

Kids will love the bonus secret code embedded in the story along with all the action and adventure Grambo’s spying sojourn promises. Plus Hamilton’s illustrations are a riot. My favorite is Ryan’s grandma in her disguise of a long grey wig, sunglasses and a tattered shawl. This grandmother can keep her cool even when things heat up and I’m not talking about kitchen ovens.

As part of the Be There Bedtime Stories world, Navarro’s book can be purchased not only as a hard copy, but as a web story, too. Find out how it works here.

Click here to get a preview of the book!

Hear Beth Navarro read a bit from her picture book here.

Visit her on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/Grambobethnavarro

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles

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The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles, Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2014.

The Lost Planet (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, $15.99, Ages 9-13 ) is the first novel in a series by Venice, CA author Rachel Searles. I met this friendly and imaginative debut fiction author earlier in the year at a local event sponsored by Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse where Searles read from her book and explained its premise.

Readers will be introduced to Chase Garrety, a 13-year-old boy who wakes up on another planet with a head wound. Chase soon meets Parker and though they start off fighting, the boys realize they need to take care of each other. Together Chase and Parker meet an android named Mia who becomes a huge help to them in this fast-paced, sci-fi adventure.  The story unfolds in the course of a week in which Chase, without giving any spoilers, learns some unusual stuff about himself. So, if you’ve got a child who thrives on the science fiction genre that’s packed with action and adventure as well as interesting characters such as assorted aliens, a mysterious benefactor, and a Federation-like organization, then this is the book for them.

I asked Searles about when she began writing. She told me that she’s been writing since she was six years old. The Lost Planet actually took her four years to write, but the good news is that the second book in this series has already been written! “Writing a book,” according to Searles, “is like putting lots of puzzle pieces into the right spot, with lots of re-writing.” In fact she said her original outline for the novel changed so much since she had her first idea for the story. That’s not hard to imagine when you learn that the idea for a space story was first planted in her mind in 2006. It then took her two years to write the first 100 pages. In 2008 Searles came up with The Lost Planet concept, and in 2010 she tried to write 1000 words a day. She then spent a year and a half revising. And which character, I wondered, did Searles most relate to? Parker. Now you’ll just have to read it for yourself to understand why.

– Ronna Mandel

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Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks

PENGUIN IN PERIL, written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks, is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

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Penguin in Peril written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks, Templar/Candlewick Press, 2014.

What’s black and white and read all over? The front page of the Daily News when a penguin is stolen from the city zoo!

Author-illustrator Helen Hancocks makes a big splash with her first children’s picture book, Penguin in Peril, (Templar/Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-7).

Three hungry cats sit around their kitchen table and devise a plan for the greatest fish caper ever!
All they needed was … a penguin.

Hancocks could have used the stereotypical raccoon for her three masked thieves sneaking into the zoo and kidnapping the unsuspecting penguin, but she likes to draw cats, and cats in striped sweaters and masks are laugh-out-loud funny.

Everything was going along swimmingly, except the cats didn’t speak penguin, the penguin felt he was in peril, and the cats discovered that a penguin is surprisingly good at hiding in plain sight as they chase him throughout the city. Habit-clad nuns and waiters in coats and tails make convenient camouflage for a penguin. Our little tuxedo-clad friend finds his way back to the zoo just in time for a fishy supper.  The cats however don’t fare quite as well though they do manage to make the front page of the paper when they’re put behind bars!

I loved the illustrations done in mixed media, the bright pops of red, green, and yellow, and the artful use of black and white, so necessary to the story. Hancocks’ use of background characters who are seen throughout the book is brilliant. She’s truly tapped into a child’s imagination with this story. What a wonderful debut!

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