Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Gallager Girl Series by Ally Carter

If you're looking for a nice fluffy read for a 12 year old girl (or for yourself!) this is a great series.  Not high on intellect, but full of humor, adventure and mystery. Cammie and her three best friends and roommates all attend an elite school called The Gallagher Academy. However what the outside world doesn't know is that it is actually.... a secret training school for spies!  Cammie and her friends must deal with the trials of teenage life such as first love and making friends all while conversing only in Arabic and learning how to subdue a villain with a spaghetti noodle.

All four books in the series are fun and engaging and they get better as the series progresses.  After the first book the series takes on a more overarching storyline bringing in new characters, reveling long lost secrets and incorporating adventures outside the walls of the school. Cammie, or The Chameleon, as she is called is forced to face some unpleasant truths, decide who she can trust and discover the answers to questions about her past and future.

Check out author Ally Carter's website for additional information about the author and the other series she writes.

The Smithsonian: Ten Great Science Books for Kids

The Smithsonian reviews: Ten Great Science Books for Kids.  By some fluke there are only nine books on the list.  For number ten I vote for Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Previously reviewed on this blog here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Variations on a Classic: Stone Soup

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
This engaging folk tale tells the story of a group of soldiers coming into a small French village.  They tell the villagers not to worry about feeding them because they are going to make stone soup.  Starting with the stone they convince the villagers to keep adding more and more ingredients to the soup until they have a wonderful flavorful broth.  A little trickery and a little cooperation make this a fun story for all. Find below two variations on this wonderful tale. Winner of the 1948 Caldecott Honor.

Kallaloo! A Caribbean Tale by David Gershator. 
In this Caribbean version of stone soup a poor hungry woman convinces the town to help her make Sea Shell Soup.  The sea shell keeps asking for more ingredients for the soup and the townspeople comply. After the soup is done cooking the whole village enjoys a meal together.  The dialog is lively and the illustrations are wonderfully vibrant and bright.

Cactus Soup By Eric A Kimmel. 
Set during the Mexican Revolution this tale follows the original story with a Mexican twist.  Delicious chiles, beans, and garlic are added to the soup along with traditional tomatoes and carrots.  When the soup is done tortillas, tamales, and chorizo are added to the meal and a grand fiesta with dancing and music is enjoyed by the whole village.

Reading these three books together would create wonderful opportunities for comparing and contrasting the stories.  Additionally, the illustrations in each book are wonderfully engaging, but so unique. What is each illustrator trying to say with their illustrations? A book illustrated in 1948 has a much different look than a book illustrated today, why is that?  

Kirkus Reviews: Best Children's Books of 2011

The Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Books of 2011 list is out! This link is to the complete list, however on the side they have links to various subjects including: "Books to Make you Laugh, Book for Animal Lovers, and Adrenaline Rush."  With a little something for everyone, I can't wait to start reading!

If you are unfamiliar with Kirkus Reviews here is a summary of their mission:

Founded in 1933, Kirkus reviews more than 5,000 books each year, including fiction, nonfiction, children's, teen, self-published books (“Indie”) and iPad storybook apps for kids. Our mission is to help readers discover new books, publishers and agents discover new authors, producers discover new stories and characters, and librarians and booksellers discover the best new books pre-release. To help separate books of remarkable merit from the masses released each year, Kirkus’ reviews are crafted by specialists selected for their knowledge and expertise in a particular field. Our critics are tough—if a book is captivating, capable and interesting, we applaud it, but if it’s not, we let readers know.
~Taken from

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

The Whipping Boy is one of those classics books that I always felt I should read, but never did. So when S picked it up off the audio book shelf I was glad to finally have the chance to hear the story.  We all enjoyed it immensely!  It was a wonderful story with lots of action and a good message. The setting of the story is during the middle ages which gave great opportunities for historical educational tie-ins.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Jemmy, a street orphan.  Jemmy has the unlucky job of being the prince's whipping boy. This job entails being whipped whenever the prince is bad, since the prince can never be punished.  The prince, whose nickname is Prince Brat, takes great pleasure in getting in trouble and watching Jemmy get punished.  While Jemmy is plotting his escape from the castle the prince discovers him and forces Jemmy to take the him along.  Many adventures follow as two boys gradually learn a thing or to from each other and finally become friends. The story is filled with colorful characters such as Cutthroat, Hold-Your-Nose-Billy, Betsy and her dancing bear, and Mr Nibs the Hot-Potato Man.

The old fashioned language, different accents and dialects might make this a challenging read for younger kids or reluctant readers.  It would be a wonderful family read aloud or audio book for a long trip in the car--parents will enjoy it just as much as the kids!

Newberry Medal winner - 1987

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New York Times -- Best Illustrated Books of 2011

Some of these books book have not yet been released, but check out this article from the New York Times to see the best illustrated children's books of 2011!

Do you have a favorite illustrated book from the last year?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Bunnicula Collection by Deborah and James Howe

This hilarious classic series, first published in 1979, still captives kids today.  We are currently listening to this series on audio book in our car. These stories are fabulously performed by Victor Garber, who brings these wonderful quirky characters to life.  I love listening to my kids laugh and giggle all the way to school and home again.

The story, written by Harold the dog, begins when the Monroe family brings home a bunny they found at the movie theater.  Since they were seeing Dracula the bunny is appropriately named Bunnicula.  Chester, a high thinking and suspicious cat, immediately suspects that Bunnicula is in fact a vampire.  Throughout the book, filled with adventure, mystery, and humor, these animals attempt to discover the truth about Bunnicula. These books will keep kids engaged, entertained, and begging to read the sequels!

Books in the original series are: Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of MysteryHowliday Inn and Celery Stalks at Midnight.  Since the originals were published Howe has now written several additional books in the series including Bunnicula Strikes Again!, Bunnicula meet Edgar Allen Crow, and Return to Howliday Inn.

Have you read Bunnicula?  Which was your favorite book?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Denise Fleming

Denise Fleming is a well known children's author of over twenty-five children's books.  One aspect of Flemings books that makes her so unique are her beautiful, bold, color-filled illustrations.  Each illustration is made with homemade paper and hand cut stencils in a technique called pulp painting.  On Flemings website she gives a detailed description of the time consuming, but rewarding process behind these images. (I sense an art project on the horizon!)

Here are a few of my families favorite Denise Fleming books:

Buster -- A lovely tale of the growth of a friendship between a cat and a dog.  Buster feels left out when his owner "Brown Shoes" bring home a pet kitten, Betty.  Buster wants nothing to do with her, but after a scary experience realizes that it's nice to have a friend at home.

Lunch -- a mouse eats each tantalizing bite of his lunch leaving us clues as to what he is going to eat next.  A great book for the very young.

Count -- a bright colorful counting book my kids have always loved.

In the Tall Tall Grass -- a cheerful, rhyming story of what a child finds hidden in the tall grass.  A great read aloud.

In the Small Small Pond -- similar to In the Tall Tall Grass, this story explores what can be seen around a small pond. A wonderful read aloud and winner of the Caldecott Honor award.

Check out Fleming's webpage to see a full list of her books and check out all of the ideas and activities that tie in with her books.

Do you have a favorite Denise Fleming book?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oliver Jeffers -- The Incredible Book Eating Boy

Oliver Jeffers -- The Incredible Book Eating Boy

Henry discovers, quite by accident, that he loves to eat books.  He can't stop eating them and as he eats more and more he gets smarted and smarter. But something terrible begins to happen, all those facts in his head start to get mixed up (2+ 6 = elephant?).  In the end he is forced to stop eating and start reading (but sometimes he just can't help himself)!

I discovered this book the other day while trying to get inspired on what to read to S's third grade class.  Third graders still love pictures books, but finding the right blend of maturity and humor can be challenging.  I had not heard of this book, but it sounded cute so I checked it out.  It was a great success!  The kids in S's class loved it and I read it at least four times at home in the two days following.

I'm new to this author and am super excited to check out his other books.

Oliver Jeffers website