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Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is another adventure with kindergartner Junie B. She’s a child whose had the full attention of her parents for all five years of her life, but things are changing, and she’s about to get a baby sibling.

What happens when she learns her baby broker is a cute little “monkey” is hilarious.

Junie B. believes her brother is unique and now sees why her parents wallpapered the baby room in a jungle theme. This little monkey will make her the most popular kid in school, especially when her two best friends vie for the honor of the first to see him in person. My daughter and I are having a grand old time laughing at Junie B. when she often repeats “and so” and “guess what … that’s what.”

My daughter is also still correcting Junie B.’s words like “bended.” I love that she’s paying attention to what she’s reading and correcting Junie B. This means she’s making progress in her reading skills, and that couldn’t make me prouder after these last two years of struggles.

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is a fun story about not taking advantage of your friends and learning to pay closer attention to what adults are saying and not taking it so literally.

RATING: Quatrain

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 69 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is the first book in the series, and it is clear that Junie B. is not ready for kindergarten. But really, what kid is ready? She struggles with riding the bus, how to behave in class, and a whole host of other things, but this is normal behavior for a kindergartner.

My daughter and I have been reading these together, though she’s the one reading to me. The “wrong” words like “bended” and “funner,” etc., do continue to make her stumble while reading but she seems to be getting a better handle on correcting Junie B.’s words as she reads. In some ways, these “wrong” words appear to make her a stronger reader. She’s critically thinking about what she’s reading as she goes. While these words make me cringe, I can see how they’ve helped my daughter with her reading struggles over the last two books.

Junie B. can be a bit sassy and so can her friends, but this is part of finding our place in the world as a kid — learning boundaries, and making friends of strangers. Park really understands how children at this age think and act. What happens when Junie B. doesn’t get on the bus to go home after school? Will she be found out? Are her parents frantic? Is Junie B. scared? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, was a fun read and gave us a lot to think and laugh about. We learned about how kids can be mean sometimes, and how we have to learn how to cope with change.

RATING: Quatrain

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Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is the fourth book in the series and is riddled with actual dialogue that a younger kindergartner would use. Junie B. loves to sneak around and spy on her family but when they explain that she shouldn’t be doing that, she still considers herself a sneaky spy. When she spies on the wrong person, it could spell big trouble.

My daughter had a hard time with some of the misspelled words. But she started to learn to correct them as she read aloud. We like Junie B. and her antics, even if she gets in trouble, but her misspelled words were troublesome, especially for my daughter who continues to struggle with reading. This is a fun series, but I’m not sure we’ll read more of these as part of her nightly practice.

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is a cute book with a mischievous girl who likes to see the world without anyone knowing she’s there. She just doesn’t understand the concept of privacy.

RATING: Quatrain

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May is the second installment in this delightful series for early readers. My daughter loves books with mysteries and animals. This pug is adorably drawn, is curious, and loves his owner Bella so much that he’ll even risk getting wet, which he hates.

Baron von Bubbles or Bubby has no idea what snow is, but the Duchess the Cat knows a secret. Snow is wet. When Bella has a snow day from school and wants to go outside, Bubby has a decision to make. His first experience with snow does not go well, but after some careful preparation, he’s ready for his next adventure. Carefully clothed and gorgeous, Bubby ventures into the snow and finds he loves building a snow fort with Bella, loves making Pug angels, and more.

My daughter loves reading about fashion-conscious Bubby and his adventures with his bear and Bella, and we both know that Nutz the squirrel is up to no good when he offers to help. When a strange beast moves in next door, Bubby and Bella grow anxious about meeting the new neighbor on a play date later that week. My daughter and I had fun trying to guess what the beast in the next yard was, and we were both way off. But at least we know our imaginations are in tact.

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May is a fantastic book that teaches kids about how to step outside their comfort zones and how to deal with anxious moments. Bubby is quite a character, like most dogs, and Bella is a sweet girl who loves her pooch. We highly recommend this series and await the next book, which doesn’t come out until July!

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Kyla May is an Australian illustrator, writer, and designer. She is the creator and illustrator of Lotus Lane and Diary of a Pug, two early chapter book series. In addition to books, Kyla creates animation. She lives by the beach in Victoria, Australia, with her three daughters.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott is a nice installment in the series of books that have kept my daughter excited about reading. She loves Eva and all her friends. In this book, Eva and her classmates do an overnight camping trip in the woods. Their teacher instructs them to complete a project with materials from the forest to make a useful tool by the end of the week. Eva’s classmates are quick to pair up and seek out material for their projects, but Eva and her best friend Lucy are too excited about the prospect of Nellie Wingdale’s legendary treasure.

My daughter could not wait to start this book after she received it for Christmas. I’m thankful she has more than one series of books that she loves now because there is a long wait for next owl book. She begged me to read just one more chapter on a few nights, which is why we finished this one so fast.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott is definitely one of our favorites in the series because the owl’s work together to find Nellie’s treasure, while striving to finish their class projects using materials from the forest. There are good lessons about cooperation and team work, as well as not taking on too many projects at once because, as Eva found out, you may fail to meet the deadline of one or more projects if you spread yourself too thin. It’s a good lesson for kids and adults.

RATING: Cinquain

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is the sixth book in the series and was a joy to read. My daughter loved the colorful pictures and the adventure story. Plus princesses that become superheroes, how could you go wrong with this one.

Princess Magnolia has a poster for the science fair, but some of her classmates have created elaborate projects including a Bucket Boosting Teeter-Totter and a volcano. A volcano that talks? That can’t be right. The princess and some of her fellow students soon realize the volcano is carrying a goo monster, who is threatening to take over the entire science fair. Princess Magnolia soon transforms into The Princess in Black and spring into action to save the school’s science fair. Lucky for her she has a few helping heroes and princesses.

These princesses are savvy and work well together under pressure. My daughter loved reading how they solved the problem and determined how best to deal with the goo monster. Don’t worry, no goo monsters were harmed (too much) in the making of this adventure.

The illustrations are vibrant and action-packed just like the story. They enhance the tale. The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is a delightful book about the power of teamwork and how every day people can be heroes. And princesses don’t have to be rescued, but they can take action and solve problems on their own.

RATING: Cinquain

Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn is the second book in the series in which Rosy and Sunny are off on an adventure far from home and without their human. While their human is away on vacation, Rosy and Sunny are spending time at the grandparents’ house. Sunny remembers the house, but this is the first time Rosy has been without their human and she’s a little nervous, until she begins to follow Sunny’s lead. Rosy and Sunny really enjoy watching TV with grandpa, even if the shows with Sherlock Holmes are not as exciting as the ones they watch with Officer Bert.

Rosy and Sunny are soon banished to the inside of the house after grandma suspects they’ve been eating all of her veggies and fruits in the garden. The pugs know that it wasn’t them, but they have no other suspects in sight and are prepared to accept their fate. That is until they remember Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s time for a quick costume change and a skip out the door.

While looking for clues, they run into Clover. He seems like a nice enough groundhog, and he’s intrigued by their efforts to find the thief. My daughter knew early on who the thief was, but it took the pugs a bit to figure it out.

Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn is a delightful story in which Sunny and Rosy are tasked with finding the thief and clearing their names in the eyes of grandma. In the end, everything works out and they are reunited with their human. My daughter loves these books, and we hope there are more to come. Rosy and Sunny are funny and really cute when they put on costumes — Rosy’s mustache had us laughing.

RATING: Cinquain

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Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off by Kyla May is another Branches book from Scholastic, which are books aimed at readers on the cusp of transitioning to chapter books and who are independent readers. We’ve read a number of books in the Owl Diaries series, but this is a new series my daughter found at her school book fair. She was able to buy this one while at school on her own, and I’m glad she did.

Baron von Bubbles, also known as Bub, is a pug who loves his owner, Bella. Bella is a smart, creative kid, who loves to invent things, and she’s getting ready for the school fair. Bub wants to help in any way he can. My daughter can read most of this book on her own, which is great because when she wasn’t tired one evening after her activities, she asked to read just one more chapter on her own before bed. The next day, she happily told me what happened, so I wouldn’t be lost when we picked up with the reading the following night.

Bub does not like to be wet, but he does love belly rubs, his skateboard, and peanut butter. In this adventure, Bub takes flight in his quest to retrieve his favorite teddy bear from Nutz, the squirrel. I was surprised Bub made it back home in one piece.

Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off by Kyla May is full of fun adventure, and Bub is just adorable. My daughter really likes this series, and I think that she’ll likely be reading more.

RATING: Cinquain

Polar Bears Past Bedtime by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Gift
Paperback, 71 pgs.
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Magic Tree House: Polar Bears Past Bedtime by Mary Pope Osborne finds our intrepid adventurers, Jack and Annie, on a night time excursion to the Arctic. Sadly, they fail to plan ahead and arrive in only their PJs, but lucky for them Morgan La Fey has sent them some help. A seal hunter soon arrives with his huskies and dogsled and offers them some warm clothes and parkas. Although we have not read these books in order, we are aware that the ultimate goal for Jack and Annie is to become Master Librarians. To achieve this, each adventure includes a riddle they have to solve, with each successful journey, they get closer and closer to their goal.

My daughter loves the adventure of these books, and I love that she’s learning new things. She’s studied Arctic foxes in school, as well as a little bit about polar bears, but this was an eye opener for her regarding seals and polar bears alike. When the ice is cracking and Jack and Annie are in trouble, she was surprised that they learned how to save themselves by watching a polar bear. What’s even funnier, is that we saw a similar situation in a Christmas movie after finishing this book and she told the characters in the movie what they should do to escape the cracking ice.

Magic Tree House: Polar Bears Past Bedtime by Mary Pope Osborne enables early readers to see and read what the protagonists are facing, understand the dangers, and realize that solutions can be found in nature and in books. We love this series, and these kids are intelligent with different personalities. Jack’s reserve and bookish nature balance out Annie’s intuitive and adventurous spirit.

RATING: Quatrain

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

Source: publisher/TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
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Nearly 250 years after Jane Austen’s birth, her popularity continues to gain momentum. With the number of spinoffs, continuations, and variations of her work soaring each year, the impetus of her popularity has been attributed to many things, including the scholarly study of her novels and the relatively relatable topics she explored. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas takes a different approach to the discussion by examining those editions of Austen’s novels that often fell out of circulation, were read until they fell apart, were produced using the same printing plates time and again, and were cheap enough for those of the working class to buy them on occasion.

Don’t be fooled! This is not a book about those illustrious, high-priced, out-of-reach (for most of us) first editions of Austen’s novels.

Complete with 100 full-color photographs of covers that hearken back to the penny dreadfuls, yellow-backs, and dime store copies with pulp-like covers on wire racks, Barchas has sought the history of the mass produced Austen novel. Many of which are held in private hands not by collectors, but by ordinary people. Some of these covers depict Lydia making a fool of herself at Brighton in Pride & Prejudice, Mary Crawford seducing Edmund, and much more scandalous behavior.

“Austen’s reputation has benefited from every significant modern innovation in the making and marketing of cheap books over the past two centuries. That reception history, starting in earnest with her first reprintings in the 1830s, doubles as the story of the increasingly inexpensive book,” says Barchas in the preface.

Richard Bentley is often credited with Austen’s increased popularity, but Barchas makes her case that it was more than his Standard Novels reprint series in 1833. She contends that those novels were still too expensive. Barchas adds that those volumes were soon joined with far cheaper versions of Austen’s novels, which may have had a greater impact on widening her popularity. “Not only was Jane Austen present among the earliest experiments in mass-market paperbacks,” says Barchas, “but these lowly books prove how her entrance into the literary canon occurred in a much cruder fashion than most of her fans today imagine.”

Later, Penguin Books created their own paperback versions that are color-coded by type: fiction, mystery, etc. As we move through Barchas’s nonlinear history of Austen’s covers, some new editions are more elaborate with red cloth covers, cursive writing, and more traditional looks, compared to the melodramatic scenes of previous covers.

Did you know that Austen’s books were used to sell soap? Or that paintings were used as a way to sell Austen’s books? And I bet you thought Austen marketed as “ChickLit” was a recent phenomenon, but it actually first started in the 1840s. Barchas provides readers with not only gorgeously photographed covers, wonderful vignette’s about owners’ copies of Austen’s works, and so much more. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas is a must have for Janeites and Janites alike. If you’re still shopping this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with this book. Remember, most of us read books that were mass-printed paperbacks in school, not the hardcover, first editions that are coveted by collectors today. The mass-printed books are the lifeblood of any author, especially if they hope to survive century after century.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs
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I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss is a look back at the hard road of comedy and the bumpy road to stardom, but it is also explores Hart’s own life and how it impacted his future career and family. Hart pulls no punches in this one and lays everything bare, including his problems with alcohol, domestic abuse, and more.

Growing up near Philadelphia was hard, especially with a strict single mother and a father who was addicted to drugs and hardly ever home. His stories about his family are outrageous to say the least, and Hart will say that he couldn’t have made them up if he tried.

Throughout the book he offers advice he received from other comics on the scene in Philly, New York, and LA. But he also offers lessons from his own life. One takeaway that really resonated with me is that even though his mother forced them to take public transportation even when they had another option, trained him for his rigorous show schedule and the waiting on TV and movie sets that can be not only frustrating but tedious. His mother’s tenacity also inspired him to keep striving for his goals, as he faced empty bank accounts and non-paying venues.

Hart is funny throughout the audio, which he narrates, but there are moments of crassness early on when he talks frankly about becoming an adolescent boy and later in life when he’s in Hollywood. These are part of his story, and if you don’t like profanity or detailed information about sex, you may want to skip this one or those parts.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss was wildly entertaining, funny, and enlightening. I learned a great deal about where my own determination and drive comes from by Hart reminding me of those restrictive days as a kid in my parents’ home. I can now see how those restrictions helped me become the disciplined person I am. Hart’s still on a journey, but his journey is now aimed at improving the lives of his children, encouraging him in the way his mother did, and ensuring they don’t think they can skip school and do the things that he did. There were many laugh out loud moments, but there are lessons that you won’t soon forget.

RATING: Cinquain

Fables by Arnold Lobel

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Fables by Arnold Lobel includes beautiful illustrations with one-page fables, some of which still apply today. There are a few fables that could use better messages for kids, which is why parents should carefully choose which fables to read their children. This book is a bit challenging to read for my daughter, but we’ve talked about each fable and parsed the story to find the meaning of each tale.

One of our favorites was the “The Poor Old Dog,” who has no home and a worn coat and shoes until one day he finds what he thinks is a magic ring. In this story, readers learn that wishes may not always come true immediately after making them and that patience is key in making wishes, as well as ensuring they come true. “The Ostrich in Love” is a tale my daughter thought was odd because the Ostrich never talks to the girl he loves, but he does all of these nice things for her. “Love is its own reward,” the tale says, but my daughter is not convinced — she’s still young yet.

“The Hen and the Apple Tree” is a tale with a wolf naturally and an inquisitive and skeptical hen — and well she should be. My daughter liked this one, even when we discussed how hard it is to be something we are not. Another favorite was “The Hippopotamus at Dinner,” which is appropriate considering this is the holiday season in which we all tend to overindulge a bit.

Fables by Arnold Lobel provides some unique stories for kids to read together or to have read to them. The illustrations are colorful and realistic, which makes the tales all the more real for kids. While some of the lessons are outdated and could be updated a bit for kids of the modern era, parents can take that extra time to explain those stories to children in a way that makes more sense.

RATING: Tercet