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Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox and Illustrated by Brian Floca

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox
with Illustrations by Brian Floca
Enchants, Educates and Entertains!

★ Publishers Weekly starred review,
“The low-key text is beautifully amplified by Floca’s visual narrative, which takes readers from the busy downtown to distant, misty shores.”

Elizabeth-Queen-Seas-cvr.jpgLet’s head down under for a tale inspired by the true story of an elephant seal who, rather than live amongst her fellow seals, chose to make her home in the Avon River of Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island.

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas (Schwartz & Wade Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8), by champion swimmer and bestselling author Lynne Cox, is one of those feel-good stories that will bring a smile to readers’ faces not only because of its cheerful images and happy ending, but because of the care one community showed to a determined mammal. Pair these positives and the easy-to-read prose with 2014 Caldecott Medal winner Brian Floca’s just perfect pen, ink and watercolor artwork and you’ve got a winning combination. And like the Avon River where much of the story’s action takes place, Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas flows in a most delightful direction.

In an Author’s Note in the beginning of the book, we learn how, many years ago, before heading home to California from Christchurch, Cox met a boy called Michael and his sister Maggie. They shared the story of this eight foot long, 2000 plus pound animal who preferred the coziness of the Avon’s “sweet shallow waters” to the open sea. What comes next is amazing.

When Elizabeth made herself comfortable one day by stretching out across the two-lane road in the city center, things got dangerous. Brakes screeched and cars veered off the road to avoid hitting Elizabeth. Soon citizen grew alarmed, not just for the safety of the seal, but for drivers who might cause accidents trying not to kill the massive mammal. Even three attempts to relocate Elizabeth far from the Avon River proved futile.  She kept returning. Something about this river and this city spoke to her.

The people of Christchurch, including Michael who, in addition to one very charming elephant seal, is the other main character in this picture book, were so enamored with the mammal that they “put up a sign on the road where she liked to sleep.”

SLOW.
ELEPHANT
SEAL
CROSSING

And do you know what happened next? Elizabeth became a city slicker!

The back matter includes interesting facts about elephant seals including how much a bull (the male) can weigh, how long they can remain under water before coming up for air, a black and white photo of the real Elizabeth, and details about a new important role elephant seals are playing in science with their ability to explore the oceans’ depths.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Something Stinks! by Gail Hedrick

Something Stinks! by Gail Hedrick is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.

Something Stinky! by Gail Heddrick

Something Stinks! An award-winning STEM book for
middle graders from author Gail Hedrick, Tumblehome Learning, 2013.

Good things come in small packages or in this case, they come from small companies.  Tumblehome Learning out of Boston is a fairly new company that was “formed in 2010 by a group of dedicated STEM activists, writers, and software and curriculum developers.” Their goal is to foster the love of science and engineering in children through books and activity kits geared for ages 8 and up.  I strongly recommend you take a look at their site.

One of the books they’ve published, the NSTA *award-winning Something Stinks! (Tumblehome Learning, $7.95, ages 8-12) by Gail Hedrick, is an easy and entertaining read that will make kids look at rivers and water pollution in a whole new way. It may even prompt them to get more involved on a local level which is exactly why small companies like Tumblehome Learning cannot be overlooked.

What happens when a bunch of dead fish wash up along the Higdon River in a small Virginia town? At first, absolutely nothing. Yes, nothing!  And that lack of action on the part of the county inspector, along with a science project and new role as Assistant Editor for the school newspaper, prompts protagonist Emily Sanders to delve more deeply – deeply into the river that is, and the factories and other businesses that line its banks.

Emily Sanders is a seventh-grader experiencing typical seventh-grade growing pains revolving around a girlfriend, Leanne, who has begun buddying up with the rich girl, Cynthia Carver, a great dresser who gives “cool parties.” On top of that, the school’s pompous newspaper editor, suntanned Sam Wheeler, doesn’t put much credence into Emily’s theory that something fishy is going on in the Higdon River. It doesn’t help matters that Sam’s dating Cynthia Carver whose father runs the town’s biggest employer, Cayenne Textiles.

Abandoned by her best friend, Emily gradually embraces friendship overtures from quirky Mary, another school paper staffer. Together these two begin unravelling the mystery of why the dead fish keep turning up at certain times on Emily’s Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Joe’s property. What should be straightforward is anything but, and the girls find their attempts to discover the cause (pollution, lack of dissolved oxygen, wrong PH, weed killer or fertilizer) is frowned upon by community members and even thwarted at times.

Hedrick has seamlessly integrated info about how certain manufacturing processes involving water can cause pollution and kill river life including fish and turtles all the while keeping it interesting and well-paced. Emily’s investigations cause her to be teased by schoolmates, but she is a stalwart not easily deterred. Is Cayenne Textiles covering up something or could Emily possibly be wrong? Hedrick keeps the intrigue going until the very end making us wonder if Emily and her friends will succeed in their quest. I like how the storyline does not resort to a trite “happily ever after” ending with Emily and Leanne’s friendship being instantly resolved because that would have been too easy. Readers will appreciate the more realistic approach Hedrick’s taken and that will win her fans.

I approached this novel thinking that if it had to do with science it could not possibly hold my attention, but like Emily Sanders, I was surprised with what I discovered and happy I persevered! In other words, I’m glad I tested the Something Stinks! water.

*AWARD WINNING SCIENCE CONTENT: The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Committee) has selected “Something Stinks” as an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 for 2014 list, a cooperative project of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the Children’s Book Council.

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Keep Learning Fun This Summer With School Zone

As parents, we want our children to be able to wind down during summer break, but we also don’t want them to lose all the skills they worked hard to master during the school year.  That’s why so many families turn to summer school or workbooks as refreshers to help maintain knowledge gathered during the previous school year for a smooth transition to a new grade.

06342_1-13_c2013.pngFor this review I checked out Giant Science ($12.99, Grades 2-3) and Math Basics ($2.99, Grades 5-6) from School Zone. School Zone Publishing, in business over 30 years, is committed to kids and to making learning fun and accessible. They do so by offering their educational products on a variety of platforms: ebooks, iPad Apps, iPhone and Android Apps and more. You can also sign up to receive their monthly newsletter and be the first to learn about special offers plus kids can join their Golden Scholar Club.

Affordable and engaging, these workbooks include a brief parent guide and straightforward examples for students to complete. Parents are encouraged to have their children do the work from the beginning to the end rather than tackling random pages. This will allow the flow of review to mimic what was taught during the school year as concepts were introduced and built upon. While the Giant Science book has 320 pages, the Math Basics is a quick 32 pages and both contain the ever important Answer Key for peace of mind.

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As you can see in the cover image above left, skill areas featured range from Birds, to Ocean Life to Weather. The accompanying illustrations are colorful and detailed and help make the review process more than pleasant.  Kids can play word searches, fill out charts, decode answers, color, study charts and graphs, fill in the blanks and connect the dots.  And while it may sound less like learning and more like playing, if the info is being absorbed, that’s ultimately what matters most! The It’s A Fact and Awesome! boxes highlight important or interesting information and break up the print on the page. It’s elements like that that add to the School Zone workbooks’ appeal.

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I liked Math Basics: An I Know It! Book because it was uncomplicated and the tasks were easy to navigate. I haven’t done 5th or 6th grade math in decades so the review of decimals, fractions, ratios, percentages, areas and volume were helpful. There aren’t too many illustrations so tweens won’t feel it’s babyish and the Activities to Share section at the end will give parents the opportunity to turn many everyday occurrences into teaching moments.

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All in all, it’s evident that School Zone workbooks are the right solution to combat summer slump. If kids can take just 30 minutes out of their busy schedule to review the problems presented, they can say good-bye to brain drain and hello to a head start this coming school year.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Where in the World?

ImageMy Big World: Facts and Fun, Questions and Answers, Things to Make and Do ($18.95, Thames and Hudson, Ages 4-8) is not your every day children’s book. It was written, designed and illustrated by a group of London-based professionals called Okido who create a children’s art and science magazine of the same name.

My Big World is about a girl named Koko and her fellow explorers who want to learn more about planet earth. At the beginning of the book, readers learn about Koko and her friends and are then invited to make a paper chain representing each member of their own families. We also read more about human geography such as different kinds of foods and where they come from, houses, gardens and how to get around town. There’s even a Busy Town game board in the book that looks like a lot of fun.

Naturally, physical geography is covered and includes rivers and streams, beaches, forests and mountains. There are pages covering weather, animals, oceans, islands, day and night and sun, moon and stars. All throughout the book are activities and games children can play, and some indicate an adult is needed – making a pinwheel for the beach, making veggie burgers, growing your own seedlings.

The book works because it makes kids think about their own surroundings and the way they live as well as how other children who are very different from them live. It also makes them appreciate the environment and encourages them to want to explore new places. Much of the copy is written in short sentences inside speech bubbles making it easy and interesting to read.

This is a big and sturdy 64-page hardbound book, printed on thick paper with lots of color and imagination. There’s a whole lot of information inside, and I love that it is meant to be used as a reference guide for the littlest readers with colorful and inviting illustrations. Between the information and the activities, My Big World will keep curious kids busy for many wonderful hours.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Not an Exact Science

9781423624554_p0_v1_s260x420A Young Scientist’s Guide to Faulty Freaks of Nature ($14.99, Gibbs Smith Publishing, Ages 9 and up)) is not like most science books you’ve seen for kids. This particular book teaches children that scientists do make mistakes, that we can all learn from them, and  that in fact some are actually very interesting indeed!

The book starts with a little bit of cheeky humor, which just made me want to dive in and read more. There are four chapters including Fascinating and Fearful Discoveries, Catastrophic Chemicals, Agricultural Fiascoes and Man Versus Nature. Each of these chapters has pages with different topics, many with titles so catchy that you cannot wait to read them. Try these on for size: Neanderthal, Not a Dumb Brute After All, The Worst Scientist in the Word Ever, A Poop and a Pee Makes Nice Coffee and Attack of the Blob – Seriously Slimy Sea Snot.

Okay, I know you’re dying to know about the Poop and a Pee topic, so I’ll give you a hint: It’s all about animal poop and their “uses,” and yes, it’s a bit gross and a lot funny. There’s even a poop bomb in that explanation.

Throughout the book are directions to 20 fun science projects kids can do at home like Make Your Own Sea Snot and Make Disappearing Messages. These activities are each followed by Science Factoids that essentially explain why the experiments works. There are also some simple, fun illustrations by Andrew Brozyna and so much fascinating scientific information.

What I love most about this book is the writing style of author James Doyle. He has a clever way of writing with great humor while also truly educating readers about scientific facts they will not likely learn in school.  It’s wonderful that he touches upon the mistakes of past scientists, because mistakes are all a part of the learning process. It teaches young readers that it’s better to try and make an error than it is to do nothing. (Even Einstein made an error in one of his theories.) Another excellent aspect of this book is that basically every type of science is touched upon from chemistry and biology to physics and geology plus everything in between. Doyle is actually a geography teacher at a college in Belfast, Ireland and obviously is a very curious and knowledgeable nerd with a terrific sense of humor – and I mean that in the best possible way. I bet he’s an awesome teacher!

In the back of the book you’ll find websites and books for kids to check out to learn more. This will come in handy because after reading this fun science book, I’m sure your child will be even more curious about science and will want to read more. As I’ve said so many times before, we need more scientists in the world. Getting kids interested from a young age is the best way to ensure we’ll lure them in.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Pulling Rabbits Out of Hats – Real or Illusion?

Illusionology: The Secret Science of Magic ($19.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 8 and up), written by Albert Schafer with illustrations by David Wyatt and Levi Pinfold, is extraordinary! This most unusual book, with pop-ups, flaps to flip and envelopes to open, takes readers inside the science of illusion. They learn about the history of illusion and how the eye and mind are tricked. The importance of story telling in magic and the art of misdirection are revealed. There are sections on levitation, the science of disappearing, body manipulation and more. Readers will also learn about Houdini as well as other famous illusionists.

What I love about the book is 1) The book cover, with its lenticular image in the center, is superb; 2) It is a beautiful, ultra high-quality coffee table style book with a mystic, historic look from the era of Houdini; 3) Opening flips and flaps and envelopes is really fun and exciting 4) Readers can learn to do actual tricks; 5) Readers are exposed to the science of magic which really makes them think.

I was particularly fascinated by learning about how the human eye can be tricked and how our perspective influences what we see. Naturally I was also intrigued by the details about Houdini’s most famous tricks.

This wonderful book is to be treasured, read and studied for many hours and would make a special holiday gift for any child interested in magic.

Reviewed today by Debbie Glade.

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