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Kids Chapter Book Review – The Case of The Bad Apples

A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery

Written by Robin Newman

Illustrated by Deborah Zemke

(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 5-11)


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Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”

Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.


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Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.


Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?

As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as  Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.


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Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.


Zemke’s illustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.

Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts.
I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).  

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Click here for an educator’s guide.

Twitter: @robinnewmanbook



Click here to order a copy of The Case of The Bad Apples.
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Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/14/20

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Churchill’s Tale of Tails by Anca Sandu

Churchill’s Tale of Tails by Anca Sandu is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

Churchill’s Tale of Tails written and illustrated by Anca Sandu, Peachtree Publishers, 2014.

In Churchill’s Tale of Tails, a new picture book by Anca Sandu (Peachtree Publishers, 2014; $16.95; ages 4-8) readers meet Churchill, a rather sophisticated pig. He likes to take tea, paint self portraits (lots of them,) and play classical music. He is also quite a proud pig, especially of his tail. It wasn’t a big tail. It wasn’t a fancy tail. It wasn’t even a very practical tail. But it was his tail, and it made him feel great.

So when Churchill loses his tail, he isn’t happy. His friends, Billy and Gruff, try to help by finding other tails for Churchill to try. There are so many tails—zebra, peacock, fish, and more—and they make him feel so different and wonderful that Churchill no longer has time for his friends. A tail from the fish made Churchill feel fantastic! He could do things he’d never done before. “Churchill never talks to us anymore. It’s all these fancy tails.” Will Churchill realize he’s being a bad friend? Will he find his own tail? Does he even want it back? This delightful tale will engage readers for the creativity of the story, the humorous artwork, and the moral. Does trying to be different  mean that you forget your true friends? Anca Sandu answers this question in a realistic and sweet manner that young children will enjoy and understand.

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Three Snowy Books for a Cozy Night of Reading

I sure wish I could throw a snowball once in a while, but that’s not likely to happen here at my home in Miami. At least in place of the real thing, I am able to enjoy three unique books about winter. One features a snowman, one is about a mommy grizzly bear and her cub and one is about -get this – a sledding pig. Let’s get started!

Making a Friend ($16.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ages 4 and up), by bestselling author, Alison McGhee, is one of those really cozy books you want to read to your child in bed on a snowy night. It’s a story about a boy who is dreaming of winter and is longing for a snowman friend. The first snowfall finally arrives and his dream comes true, but soon the weather warms and he is wondering where the snowman went. The seasons change and he soon discovers something important about his snowman friend and about life. What I like about this book is that so much of the story is told through the wonderful illustrations by artist, Marc Rosenthal. It’s just a subtle, comforting story that celebrates the right of every child to make a snowman, come the first snowfall of the season.

Every child’s library needs some really simple books that warm the heart and feed the soul. Starry Night, Hold Me Tight ($12.95, Running Press Kids, ages 4 and up) by Jean Sagendorph is one of those books. Told in simple rhyme, it is about a day of play and a starry night in the life of a cub and his mommy. The charming illustrations by Kim Siebold, done in black and white on a silvery blue background are fitting for the story. This is a perfect book for a bedtime story for very young children.

Can it be that author Leo Timmers was on Breckinridge with me in 1983 when I “skied” for the very first time, and my chaotic downhill adventures inspired him to write this book? Oops! ($5.95, Clavis Publishing, ages 3 and up) is a funny, darling book about a pig that has lost all control as he sleds down hill. He is forced to make instant decisions to keep from crashing into other creatures on the mountain. Young readers learn the difference between words such as “over,” “under,” “around” and “between.” Trained in graphic design, Mr. Timmers’ illustrations are colorful and crisp and very cartoon-like. Both parents and kids will get a good laugh out of the story and are sure to enjoy reading it over and over again.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Hogwash ($16.99, Little, Brown, ages 4-8) written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jim McMullan, is reviewed by Lindy Michaels.

 Okay, fine, I’ll admit that Farmer was just a tad obsessive when it came to wanting the animals on his farm neat and clean and tidy.  But don’t we all want our children to be presentable at all times?  And so…

“One warm day in early May,

Farmer had a plan,

to spring-clean all his animals

till each was spic ’n’ span…”

Ah, how I love a rhyming children’s book.  Now, everything went dandily along, as Farmer scrubbed the cats, the dogs, the horses, ducks and cows.  And then… and then, it was time to suds up the… HOGS!  Well, this was easier said than done, to say the least.

“They all dug in and made mud pies.

They had a mud-ball war.

They splished and splashed and hammed it up,

More filthy than before.”

Hey, such is the piggy way.  And no matter how hard Farmer tried to get those hogs clean, he failed each time.  But give up?  Never!  He finally filled his crop dust plane with water and shampoo, hoping to douse them with suds from high above, but, oh, no!  “The engine sputtered.  Just my luck, the farmer muttered…”  And then he crashed right into the middle of a giant, humongous mud puddle.

Was Farmer hog tied by this mucky, slushy, gooey, grubby experience?  Did this clean freak need psychotherapy to resolve his deep seeded hatred of mud and muck?  Let me just say this.  If ya can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!  A little dirt never hurt anyone.  So the moral of this pig tale is…  it’s time you all go a little hog wild with your kids.  Believe me, they’ll love you for it!

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How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

Today Lindy Michaels shares her take on animal lover and Tony Award-winning actress Bernadette Peters’  STELLA IS A STAR ($17.99,, ages 4 and up) with illustrations by Liz Murphy.


I love actress, singer, children’s author, Bernadette Peters and her ‘dreams can come true’ books. “This is the story of Princess Pig… who really isn’t a princess… or a pig.” What a great start to grab a child’s attention, no?

Poor, poor Stella doesn’t think any of the other neighborhood doggies like her. That’s right, she’s a dog! Perhaps they just don’t understand her. Perhaps she tries too hard. Or, perhaps it’s because… “She masquerades as a pig princess of the highest order.” Hey! She never takes off her ballet tutu and her big red crown!

Oh, woe is Stella. But wanting to make friends so badly and already pretending to be a pig princess, she signs up for lessons at If Pigs Could Fly School Of Dance. Of course, the other piggies there just aren’t quite sure Stella is a real pig. Smart swines, they are. “You smell and sound just like a dog.” “If you’re a pig, where is your curly tail?” they ask.

Unfortunately for Stella, not only isn’t she really a little porker, she also can’t dance, has absolutely no rhythm, whatsoever. But Stella is one determined dog/pig, to make some piggy friends and to be a dancer. And so she practices and practices and practices. But does practice make perfect? “She pirouettes at breakfast. She jetes at lunch. She plies at dinner.”

And then it’s the night of the big show. Rose, the prima ballerina pig is spinning and spinning, warming up for her big solo debut, when yikes, she falls and yes, twists her ankle. Oh, snort, who will take her place? Okay, you guessed it. Stella!! (Wow! This sounds just like how Shirley Maclaine got discovered on Broadway!) Although very nervous, to say the least, once on center stage, she is perfect as she twirls and twirls. But then, panic! Her red crown, her security blanket if you will, falls off, but an amazing thing occurs. She suddenly feels free. Free at last. Free to be who she really is… a pit bull ballerina who loves to dance, and ain’t that bad at it, after all.

Of course, the moral of this delightful tale, children, is that you don’t have to pretend to be a princess pig to find friends, learn to dance or have all your dreams come true. You just have to believe in yourself and twirl your way through life!

lindymichaelspic1The very versatile Lindy Michaels aims to inspire young minds through children’s literature. Lindy owned L.A.’s first children’s bookshop, OF BOOKS AND SUCH (1972-1987) where she did storytelling, taught drama to children, had art and poetry contests and the like. According to Lindy, “It was truly a ‘land of enchantment.” She also spent years lecturing on realism in children’s literature at colleges in the state. For close to five years Lindy has worked for Studio City Barnes and Noble (BookStar) in the children’s section and does storytelling every Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

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An Interview With Big Dreamer Kristi Yamaguchi


I recently read Kristi Yamaguchi’s wonderful new children’s book, Dream Big, Little Pig! and thought it would be fun to find out just what makes this amazingly talented and committed woman tick. Please read my interview with this figure skating superstar, Olympic gold medalist, philanthropist and mother.

By the way, fans, she’ll be in L.A. to promote her book March 21st – 23rd! L.A. Parent is giving away four family four-packs of tickets to the Pasadena Ice Skating Center on March 22nd (6:30-8:30pm) where she’ll be skating around and signing books for her fans. Click here for more info, but please note that the contest ends 9:30 a.m. on March 17.

Q. In your new picture book for kids, Dream Big, Little Pig, Poppy the Pig never seems to get overly discouraged because she has such strong support and encouragement from family and friends. As a child, did you have the same type of “You can do it” encouragement?
A. I did have similar encouragement growing up. From my family as well as my friends and skating coach.

Q. What would you say to parents who push their children to achieve what they want for their kids, rather than what the children want?
A. It’s a fine line between pushing too hard and lending support and encouragement. Sometimes kids need a push to get them on track again, but if it is constant, maybe that’s a cue that it is just not for them. An athlete needs to have a certain passion for what they do, for their sport. Success doesn’t come easy and if they don’t absolutely believe in what they are doing, it’ll be a tough road for everyone involved. Let the child take ownership of his /her activities.

kristi-yamaguchi_credit-claire-deliman-for-m-magazine1Q. What words of advice can you offer to children who suffer from low self-esteem and are fearful to try something new?
A. As a mom now, I find myself faced with all of these issues. I ask my daughter what is it that makes her afraid. And then try to reason or alleviate her fear or anxiety. Then show her how fun it can be. I also try to stress that it is OK to make mistakes. That is how we learn. ie. when we go skating I will fall on purpose on the ice and say ” see, even mommy falls down.” It’s all about trying and trying again.

Q. Your Always Dream Foundation inspires children to reach for the stars. But down to earth, how do you as a busy mom positively influence your two daughters on a day-to-day basis?
A. Easier said than done. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trying to get through the day remembering everyone’s schedule:) But I try to be positive myself around them and try to instill in them the same values that my parents gave me – having manners, treating people how they want to be treated, responsibility of their own things, trying as hard as they can in whatever they are doing.
Q. How is writing for kids different than writing your previous books?
A. With Dream Big, Little Pig!, it was fun to come up with a character with personality. I had my own big dreams of what Poppy would be like and what she would try. I wanted it to be very whimsical rather than factual like my other books. I had to also imagine the illustrations that would go along with the story.

Q. What qualities do you admire most in Poppy the pig?
A. I admire the perseverance that Poppy has. She is willing to try new things and when she finds that they aren’t for her she continues to look for her “passion.” When she discovers her passion, despite the obstacles and doubters, she pushes on and enjoys her own feeling of personal accomplishment. I love her positive attitude, too!

Q. Will Poppy be back to conquer more challenges?
A. I certainly hope so!!!

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When Pigs Fly

THE ADVENTURES OF NANNY PIGGINS ($15.99, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, ages 8-12), by R.A. Spratt with illustrations by Dan Santat is reviewed today by Lindy Michaels of Bookstar on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City.

51s07k6nofl_sl500_aa300_Widower, workaholic taxman, Mr. Green, was desperately in need of a nanny for his three children. Now, we all know how hard it is to find good help these days and so it was, that is, until Nanny Piggins showed up at Mr. Green’s front door, one dark and stormy night. Since, unfortunately, he didn’t take much of an interest in his children and Ms. Piggins had no criminal record and could start immediately, he hired her on the spot. So what if she was a… PIG! On the other hand, she was very smart, well spoken and dressed with a flair.

Now believe me when I tell you, Nanny Piggins wasn’t just any old ordinary pig. She had been, of all things, a high-flying pig in a circus. As it turned out, after many years she had become tired of being shot out of a canon, night after night and decided to find a new profession for her adorable pink pig self. Did I mention that she was also totally addicted to chocolate? This, alone, made the children love her immediately, since Nanny Piggins always shared with them the sweet treats she constantly whipped up.

And so began the adventures of living with Nanny Piggins. There was the almost ‘sinking’ boat ride in the direction of China. Besides chocolate, Nanny Piggins also loved and devoured duck with noodles, sweet and sour chicken and mmm … squid soup. Fried pork, not so much, for obvious reasons. There was the rotten circus Ringmaster who tried to take Nanny back to the circus. Then there was the burglar, whose thieving she thwarted, the evil aunt of the children she outsmarted. Oh! And did I mention the pie-making contest fiasco?

I do believe former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said it best on the book’s back cover. “The most exciting saga about a flying pig nanny ever told. There is a laugh on every page and a lesson in there somewhere.” And I wholeheartedly agree. I laughed out loud at Nanny Piggin’s antics. Funny, funny, funny. A pure delight. This book is a real hoot (or should I say snort) for readers ages 8 and up.

lindymichaelspicThe very versatile Lindy Michaels aims to inspire young minds through children’s literature. Lindy owned L.A.’s first children’s bookshop, OF BOOKS AND SUCH (1972-1987) where she did storytelling, taught drama to children, had art and poetry contests and the like. According to Lindy, “It was truly a ‘land of enchantment.” She also spent years lecturing on realism in children’s literature at colleges in the state. For close to five years Lindy has worked for Studio City Barnes and Noble (BookStar) in the children’s section and does storytelling every Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

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Little Pookie Has a Happy Birthday!

9780375865398Are you a big Sandra Boynton fan like me? Are your kids? Can you recite several of her classics by heart? Does a gigantic grin spread across your face as you recall the hilarious artwork in Hippos Go Berserk?

Then I think it’s time to introduce you to the “Pookie” series of Boynton books. In Happy Birthday, Little Pookie, (Robin Corey Books/Random House, $5.99, ages 0-3), the titular Pookie is a precious little pig and today it’s her birthday. Only thing is, the excitement and anticipation have got her up before the break of dawn. This board book is bound to please both parent and child as together they discover the delights a birthday can bring, but not without a nap somewhere inbetween!

Look out for these other three titles in the series:

What’s Wrong, Little Pookie?

Let’s Dance, Little Pookie

Night-Night, Little Pookie

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