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The Poe Estate by Polly Shulman

Wishing You a Pleasant Haunting!

THE POE ESTATE
Written by Polly Shulman
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

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Take a bow, Polly Shulman! This latest and final installment in the New-York Circulating Materials Repository series had me turning pages late into the night. In The Poe Estate Sukie O’Dare’s life has been turned upside down. After the death of her sister, Kitty, the O’Dare family finds that they have fallen on hard times. It makes financial sense to move in with elderly Cousin Hepzibah, a relative on her mother’s side on the family, the Thornes. What Sukie’s parents don’t know is that the ghost of Sukie’s sister, Kitty, is still a part of Sukie’s everyday life. Kitty was Sukie’s protector in life and Kitty is not going to go back on that promise anytime soon. However, the longer Kitty is around, the less likely it is that anyone will want to be Sukie’s friend. Kitty feels that she should have a say in who is Sukie’s friend and who is not. With financial troubles, a move to a new house, and an overly concerned ghostly sister, it’s a wonder how Sukie is going to reorient her life.

Lucky for Sukie, her gift of being able to sense the supernatural is now going to come in very handy. Ancestors who are missing family treasure haunt the Thorne home! It is up to Sukie to lay the past to rest for all her family, including Kitty. Sukie is a goodhearted heroine with a gift that the New-York Circulating Materials Repository (a lending library of magical objects) finds extremely useful. Sukie is able to tell if an acquisition is haunted enough to be included in the Poe Estate which is a collection of haunted houses and items. The Poe Estate has its own problems with a wily collector of antiques proving to be a worthy nemesis for Sukie. Moreover, the librarians at the repository are trying to find Sukie’s family treasure before the collector does.

Enchanted broom sticks ready for flying, a dip into the literary realm of supernatural tales, making a new friend, and a family treasure hunt all add up to page turning adventure. This reader was kept up past her bedtime because she had to find out what happened next. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy a good mystery that never gets too scary. Although it’s not necessary to read the first two books  (The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest) in the series, it is rewarding to find that some of the characters from the previous books make reappearances.

Fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society will find much to love in this latest and last book in the series. The Poe Estate is imaginative, daring and fun reading that suits the upcoming Halloween season perfectly!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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Best Father’s Day Books Roundup

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

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We really need a Father’s MONTH or even more to celebrate all the amazing things that dads do. That’s why Good Reads With Ronna dedicates this post to fathers everywhere and the kids who love them. Incidentally, this year I noticed a new theme pop up in some of the picture books I’m reviewing. It’s noises, the kinds that dads make. You’ll see what I mean soon.

TadandDadcvr.jpgTad and Dad is written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein, (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.95, Ages 3-5). Tad the tadpole loves his dad, lots. He wants to be just like him, whether it’s making singing sounds in an echoing BUUURRPP or splashing sounds on touchdown after reaching new heights by jumping. Littles ones who have this endearing picture book read to them will also relate to Tad the tadpole wanting to spend the night beside his dad on the same lily pad. Trouble is, Tad’s growing up pretty fast and, as he grows, he naturally occupies more space … on his dad’s lily pad!

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Interior artwork from Tad and Dad written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, ©2015.

That means that at bedtime, when he asks to hop up next to Dad, any movement he makes is bound to be felt by his dad. And lately Dad’s been feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted.

“Tad!” said Dad, “When you jump in my bed, I can’t sleep because you’re always wiggling and poking, kicking and croaking!”

Kinda sounds familiar, huh? But when Tad offers to sleep all by himself on his own lily pad, Dad realizes he actually has more trouble getting to sleep without Tad by his side. This heartwarming tale of froggy affection makes its point effectively in a most delightful Stein way. That means with humor, whimsical artwork and most of all, with love.

IfMyDadWereanAnimalcvr.jpgIf My Dad Were an Animal is written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7). With very few words, this sweet picture book succeeds as a tribute to the many qualities that dads possess. Last month I reviewed If My Mom Were a Bird for Mother’s Day. The big difference in this companion book is that in If My Dad Were an Animal, boys and girls compare their dads to an assortment of animals. Some are like a “great, big, hairy … yak.” Or maybe stylish like a penguin. wise like a hooty owl or strong and burly like an elephant.

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Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

What works so well in this story is that Robaard has included each dad in the spread when the animals are revealed making it easy to show the  comparison with very young children. Her watercolor illustrations are not overly embellished, but don’t need to be because all her creatures are adorable and full of personality.

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Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

Parents can engage their youngsters with this tale by inviting them to think up more animals and characteristics they share with dads. The colorful pages of text contrast beautifully with the vast white space Robaard has intentionally left in order to draw attention to the child imitating his or her dad (see above).  All in all, If My Dad Were an Animal is an ideal picture book for Father’s Day and everyday.

DaddySatonaDuckcvr.jpgDaddy Sat on a Duck is written and illustrated by Scott M. Cohn (Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $15.00, Ages 3-6). Read the review, then scroll back up to enter Cohn’s hysterical giveaway here. I deliberately put the giveaway at the top because I absolutely love it and wish I could enter! It’s witty, quirky and seems to target the free range parent just like his debut picture book. The book opens with a *Note to reader: Try making the noises. You won’t be disappointed. And after reading the first two spreads, I dashed off to show my husband that there was someone else with his sense of humor. The fact that they’re both New Yorkers helps, but you don’t have to be from the Big Apple to find yourself laughing out loud at lots of the main character’s lines.

Cohn has created an offbeat picture book that should definitely not be designated a Father’s Day book because it’s simply too funny to take out only once a year for the holiday. In this tale, the narrator, a little girl, keeps hearing the call of the wild (daddy), in other words, sounds such as farts, yawns, or howls that could easily be mistaken for lions, hippos, and other feral creatures big and small.

I was starting to feel like I lived in a zoo.
So I asked my best friend if she felt that way, too.
“Do YOU ever notice wild beasts in your house?”
She said, “Only once” — when her mom saw a mouse.

In reality, she’s hearing the daily noises emanating from her father’s body, noises that eventually she learns to accept as part and parcel of being around her terrific loving dad. In addition to appreciating Cohn’s clever rhyming text, readers should scan his illustrations (created using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop) several times so as not to miss even the smallest of details. My particular faves are illustrations of Uncle Johnny and Daddy singing and playing bass and guitar to Tom Petty’s Free Fallin,’ a penguin at the piano and Golden Doodle Louie with his shredded toilet paper tube. I’m happy Cohn’s tackled the topic of noises AND smells candidly and comically, and now look forward to what he does in his next book, Daddy Said a Word I Never Heard due out in the fall.

– 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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Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

FISH IN A TREE
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
(Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Booklist & School Library Journal

Fish-In-Tree-cvr.jpgDyslexia, and other learning disabilities, can be invisible, isolating, and confusing. For a fifth-grader like Ally, it only adds to life’s problems. She’s also dealing with school bullies, a transient, military lifestyle, and missing her dad who’s been deployed overseas for several months. She copes with these difficulties by acting out in class, working very hard to hide her learning problems, and keeping to herself.

Enter Ally’s hero, 5th grade substitute teacher, Mr. Daniels. In Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Mr. Daniels is the first teacher who’s been able to see through her defiance and acting-out, and identify a learning disability. Mr. Daniels inspires Ally to realize her other strengths and to think of the “IM-possible” as “possible.” After receiving tutoring from Mr. Daniels, Ally finally begins to come out of her shell and enjoy life due to her newfound confidence.

Readers will recognize the authentic and endearing characters who eventually become Ally’s friends. Keisha is a sassy new student who is looking for buddies while trying to avoid mean girl Shay. Albert is a brilliant, kind, and very logical boy who might be on the Autism Spectrum and also has his own after-school bullies to avoid. There’s also Oliver, a hyper-active and kind boy who craves attention; Suki, a new girl from Japan; and Michelle, Shay’s toady who is beginning to see the light.

The author’s description of the teacher, Mr. Daniels, is particularly touching. Hunt has created a realistic character who is fair, intuitive, and devoted to his job.  In Fish in A Tree, we read of the many ways Mr. Daniels is able to bring out the best in each of his students (his “Fantasticos”). He creates a secret hand signal to tell Oliver to calm down. He creates class games and projects that reward the kids who might not typically succeed in the classroom. He also takes extra time to work with Ally and help her see her strengths.

Fish in A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt will have you rooting for Ally while gaining an understanding of what it’s like to live with Dyslexia. If you’re looking for a realistic feel-good book about adolescence, this will hit the spot. The characters, their relationships, and their struggles are so real, and the ending will make you smile and wish for a sequel.

– Guest Review by Maggie Moore

Click here for a curriculum guide for FISH IN A TREE

Read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s blog here.

Maggie-Moore.jpgAbout today’s Guest Reviewer: Maggie Moore is a third grade teacher
and a voracious reader. She lives in Los Angeles with her two rascally
sons and a small zoo of pets.

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Flashback Friday – Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein

Ol’ Mama Squirrel written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013, $16.99, Ages 3-5) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013.

Ol’ Mama Squirrel, having raised many litters, refuses to let any creature harm her young. Her loud and insistent scolding (“chook, chook, chook”) and threatening gestures scare away the bravest of foes. However, one day she meets up with a “great, growling grizzly bear …” who’s not so easily frightened.

Repetitive words and phrases (“and that takes care of that”), make this a lively and interactive read-aloud for young children. Simple words and word sounds in large font (“PLONK”) enabled my emerging readers to participate alongside more advanced readers. Together they all roared out the bear’s evil “WA-HA-HA” laugh (I do not have a quiet library).

Stein sprinkles some great vocabulary (“afoul,” “scamper,” “puny”), and puns throughout the story, enriching children’s language and comprehension skills. A dog, frightened away by Mama Squirrel exclaims: “this squirrel is crazy! … “They must put crazy powder in the nuts around here!” Grizzly bear threatens Mama Squirrel: “I’ll eat your whole family tree.”

The humorous and expressive illustrations not only extend the narrative but practically tell the story on their own. Reminiscent of his artistic work in Leaves, Stein uses deft strokes to suggest shapes and animate characters. Soft, muted watercolors and crayons fill in the outlines. Along with framed single page illustrations, Stein uses double page spreads to create larger than life characters, transforming Ol’ Mama Squirrel from a proud mother to a fearsome opponent. My students laughed uproariously at the two page spread of Mama Squirrel snarling “not on my watch buster” as she and her babies escape from grizzly bear.

The Caldecott winning author and illustrator of Interrupting Chicken has another hit on his hands –just ask my K-1 students who proclaimed Ol’ Mama Squirrel “…a superhero!”

Highly recommended for children ages 3 -6, but be prepared for a rousing story time!

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Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman

Looking at Lincoln, written and illustrated by Maira Kalman (Nancy Paulsen Books, $17.99, ages 5-8), is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman
Looking at Lincoln written and illustrated by Maira Kalman, from
Nancy Paulson Books.

AMERICA’S 16th PRESIDENT, THE CIVIL WAR AND THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

Abraham Lincoln is probably one of the most recognizable American presidents, and with little wonder. His profile is on the penny, his portrait on the $5 bill, and his legacy is taught in both language arts and history classes at an early age. With today being the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Maira Kalman’s non-fiction picture book Looking at Lincoln is a perfect introduction (or curriculum supplement) to this venerable leader.

The book features many details about Lincoln, ranging from his birth through his assassination. For example, Lincoln only attended school for a year and a half and was mostly self taught; as a youth, he was kicked in the head by a mule; he always had an apple on his desk; he loved Mozart’s music. These details on the intimacies of his life help humanize Lincoln, so that he seems more of a person as opposed to a figure. Children will be intrigued to know that Lincoln liked to argue a lot and to eat vanilla cake. He stuffed notes in his stovepipe hat.

To her credit, Kalman presents the difficult subjects— slavery, the ensuing Civil War, and, of course, Lincoln’s assassination—delicately but realistically.

Terrible things happen in a war. The Civil War ground on. Lincoln went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of a big battle. Thousands of soldiers were buried there. Many with just a number on their grave. On that sad land, Lincoln gave one of history’s greatest speeches, The Gettysburg Address. It was short—only 272 words—ending with “…government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” The war finally ended in 1865. Almost a million people had been killed or wounded. The North had won.

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Have Time Machine – Will Travel

9780399256462HThe Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman (Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 10 and up) is reviewed by Hilary Taber.

If you had the power to time travel in order to stop a horrible event from happening would you do it? Would you change history? Yet how much of history is really safe to change, without altering present reality?

In this stand-alone companion novel to The Grimm Legacy, author Polly Shulman revisits the earlier venue of the New York Circulating Material Repository. This provides the reader with another set of adventures within the walls of the Repository, revealing more of the secrets hidden therein. The New York Circulating Material Repository isn’t a library for books, instead it houses objects of every kind imaginable. If a page would demonstrate that they are both capable and trustworthy, they might be able to look at and even borrow magical objects from the special collections.

In The Wells Bequest we meet Leo, an aspiring scientist and Jaya, the head page at the library. The library is facing a huge problem. One of the library’s pages, a boy named Simon, has gotten hold of Nikola Tesla’s death ray. Jealous of Leo and Jaya’s relationship, Simon must now be stopped from blowing up New York City into smithereens! Luckily, the Wells Bequest contains a time travel machine straight from H.G. Well’s book The Time Machine. Leo and Jaya must travel through time back to the 1890s in order to stop Simon’s evil plans. The clock is now ticking for Leo and Jaya. They must save their city, their families, friends, and the library itself from disappearing forever.

What impresses me most about both The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest, is the sheer amount of research that I know must be at the heart of both these books. Intricately detailed, Ms. Shulman’s research adds depth to her fantasy world, making it even more believable. The Well’s Bequest is rich in background information that is both scientific and historical which makes it that rare kind of children’s book that instructs without resorting to lecturing. For example, did you know that Mark Twain knew Nikola Tesla? I didn’t before I read this book, but now I do! I wanted to high five someone when Mark Twain appeared as a character in the book (how cool is that?!), but it was three in the morning, so I waited. It is also worth noting how well-drawn the characters in the book are, especially the relationship between Leo and Jaya. Their relationship kept the plot lively and was realistic. It was full of the humorous, mild bickering that friends enjoy. They each admire the abilities the other possesses, and their friendship develops into a light romance.

Fans of Rick Riordan’s books, and those of us longing for another sort of Hogwarts (that we can imagine we could be a part of) will find a great summer read in The Wells Bequest. It’s very much like a very fast roller coaster ride experienced at a summertime theme park visit. There are unexpected plot twists and turns, there’s a rush of activity throughout the book (they are saving New York City after all), and a wind of information seems constantly about you, almost like another character in the book. Did it keep me guessing? You bet! Could two kids really time travel? Well, as Jaya asked, “’Would you really want to live in a world where only the possible is possible?’” I sure wouldn’t. Besides, you never know… one day it could happen!

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A Book That Will Transplant Kids to Another Land

Miss Maple’s Seeds (Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 3-5), written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

Reading a debut picture book is always exciting especially when it’s by a fellow SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) member. Author/illustrator Eliza Wheeler hails from northern Wisconsin, but now calls southern California -L.A. to be precise – her home. With Miss Maple’s Seeds she has created a magical story that is pure, positive and totally appealing.

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What child won’t be excited about wee Miss Maple, a Thumbelina-sized, willowweed hatted character who makes a hollow in a tall maple tree her home? Best of all, the benevolent Miss Maple has made it her mission to collect orphaned seeds “that got lost during the spring planting,” with the hopes of nurturing them until they are ready to go off and take root on their own. Wheeler’s color palette is warm like the sun needed for the seeds to flourish, and it conveys a tenderness that will resonate with parents as they share the story with their little ones. Perfect for a bedtime story, Miss Maple’s Seeds has no real demonstrated conflict, only the inference that Miss Maple must watch over her “guests” and keep them safe because, as she repeats throughout the text, “Take care, my little ones, for the world is big and you are small.” Young imaginations will be sparked by the idea of this tiny woman working alongside nature much like they would Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies.

Miss Maple is a comforting, reassuring presence on a cold, rainy night; a friend of the fragile; a strong yet gentle woman who has the seeds’ best interests at heart and knows when it’s time for them to be released to the elements because “… even the grandest of trees once had to grow up from the smallest of seeds.”

Click here for a link to some Miss Maple’s Seeds activity sheets for kids.

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