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Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery (Book 7) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery by Rebecca Elliott is the seventh book in this series with Eva Wingdale and her elementary school friends. In this book, Eva and her pals are going to help raise money for their friend Mia’s sister, who needs a special chair to help her fly. Not only does this book help children realize that people who are disabled are just like us with the same interests, but it also inspires them to creatively find ways to help their friend.

However, as kids are eagerly crafting ideas to help Mia’s sister, they soon make their plans competitive, eager to see which team will raise the most money and win. Losing sight of the purpose, Eva and her friends must find a way to work together to achieve their goals. Elliott’s characters mirror their human child counterparts — male and female — and they act as elementary kids would.  They are full of ideas and creativity, but they are also eager to show their teacher and others who is the best.

Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery by Rebecca Elliott is another wonderful book in the series that makes learning fun. The questions in the back are an added touch that teachers and parents can use to discuss the reading and get kids to think more broadly about their own school experiences.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Owl Diaries: Baxter Is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Baxter is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott has Eva looking for her missing pet bat, Baxter. Eva is a very busy and social owl, but Baxter is her best friend and when he goes missing, Eva can’t help but blame herself, blame squirrels, and more. Her anxiety about not finding Baxter is fresh and keeps young kids concerned throughout the whole book.

Kids will learn how to deal with anxiety constructively in this book, as Eva gathers her friends and classmates around to search for Baxter. Even though no one has seen Baxter, they’re eager to help.

Owl Diaries: Baxter is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott is another delightful installment that helps kids navigate overwhelming feelings and loss without too much drama. Eva is an owl who looks to solve her own problems the best she can, but can accept help when she needs it. This is an important lesson for growing kids.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Said Not Said by Fred Marchant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 78 pgs.
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Said Not Said by Fred Marchant differs from his previous collections that focused heavily on the Vietnam War and the effects of war on soldiers and those nations caught in war. His poems here tow the line between direct speech to the reader and remaining deafeningly silent, requiring the reader to parse out the meaning of his lines and over-arching themes. In this collection there are poems about the Vietnam War, the Benghazi issues, and the deterioration of his sister.

The poet is both witness and subject, and Marchant has an uncanny ability to not only empathize with “the other” but to inhabit their suffering in a way that makes it his own and requires the reader to take their own ownership of that suffering.

“Twin Tulips” is particularly powerful as the narrator is running his finger down the stem of tulips painted in watercolor that falls down the page like tears she shed as she struggled to hold onto her memories and herself even as her mental faculties stripped them away. There is significant beauty in the sorrow, but there is a longing that remains with the last words — “as long as” — because we often feel the same. We want to hold on as long as we can, even though we know that time in finite for each of us.

This theme is carried through the collection and appears in “Forty Years”:

How the sound of the rust-bucket trawler named Memory followed her
wherever she went, its torn nets dragged across the floor of her being, the
silt clouds and debris fields, a stern winch sounding a lot like pain.

Said Not Said by Fred Marchant is wonderfully rendered and deeply emotional. It tracks the sorrow tied to mortality, but it also demonstrates the connection we share as a humanity. This connection needs to be cherished and never forgotten no matter how we age. It is this connection that imbues us with empathy and understanding — something we need more of in modern society.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Couldn’t resist sharing this old gem.

About the poet:

Fred Marchant is the author of four books of poetry, including Full Moon Boat, The Looking House, and his most recent collection, Said Not Said, all from Graywolf Press. His first book, Tipping Point, won the 1993 Washington Prize from The Word Works, and was recently re-issued in a 20th Anniversary Second Edition. House on Water, House in Air, a new and selected poems was published in Ireland by Dedalus Press. He is the editor of Another World Instead, a selection of William Stafford’s early poetry, also published by Graywolf Press. With Nguy?n Bá Chung, he co-translated From a Corner of My Yard, poems by Tr?n Dang Khoa, and published in Hà N?i. Emeritus Professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston, Marchant is the founding director of that school’s creative writing program and Poetry Center. He lives in Arlington, MA.

Owl Diaries: Warm Hearts Day (Book 5) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Warm Hearts Day (Book 5) by Rebecca Elliott is a delightful addition to the series in which the owls celebrate a holiday like Valentine’s Day. But the owl’s holiday is more about getting along with everyone and learning to help one another out. Elliott helps younger readers learn empathy and how to prioritize things that happen in their lives.  While making presents for family is a nice way to celebrate, it is better to share gifts with those in need and to help those less fortunate.

This series is going fast, with my daughter asking for more than one chapter to be read per night. We’re sometimes reading two chapters at a time, and the other day, she wanted to buy owl pjs so she could be like Eva Wingdale. Ms. Elliott is missing out on merchandising here.

As always, the book is told in diary format with colorful illustrations. This format makes it easy for younger readers to follow along, and my daughter is getting to know the days of the week better than ever by sight.

Owl Diaries: Warm Hearts Day (book 5) by Rebecca Elliott is just one in a series of books to share with your children at bedtime. Eva is a delightful, caring little owl who is still learning how to see beyond her own concerns.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Finding Momo by Andrew Knapp

Source: gift
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Finding Momo by Andrew Knapp is photography-activity book for young and old alike. If you ever had fun looking for Waldo, you’ll have fun looking for Momo. Knapp’s photos of Momo are inventive.  Whether in fields or outside homes, Momo is easily spotted with his black-and-white fur, but there are some instances where he blends right in. Knapp even includes a key in the back if you need a little bit of help.

My daughter had a good time when this book arrived.  I spent another day on my own checking out Momo and seeking his cute little face.  It’s clear this dog and his owner go on a lot of adventures together. I may just have to follow Momo on Instagram where it all began.  How about you?

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Andrew Knapp, born in Sudbury, Ontario and has travelled extensively with his border collie. In his first book, New York Times Bestseller Find Momo (2014), the reader is introduced to the hide-and-seek loving Momo who is cleverly camouflaged in each photo. His second book, Find Momo Coast to Coast to be released May 19th, 2015, and features photos of landmarks and odd finds on a road trip from coast to coast across the United States and Canada in a VW camper van. Andrew is also the co-founder of We Live Up Here, a multimedia project founded to connect and inspire folks in his hometown and across the world through collaborative art.

Owl Diaries: Eva and the New Owl (Book 4) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs
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Owl Diaries: Eva and the New Owl by Rebecca Elliott is the fourth book in this illustrated series of chapter books for younger readers. My daughter is so eager to read these, it is tough to say no even when it is a school night and it’s past her bedtime.

Eva’s class learns that a new owl will be joining the class, and the whole place is aflutter with anticipation. Eva is determined to make friends with the new owl, and to make sure that the new owl is not friends with Meany McMeanerson, aka Sue.  Lucy, Eva’s best friend, also wants to be friends with the new owl, but Eva is so enthusiastic that she loses her focus and starts to neglect her best friend.

Without preaching too much, Eva’s mother offers her daughter some sound advice about friendships.  Elliott certainly understands what keeps younger kids interested in stories — colorful pictures and stories they can relate to — and this fourth book is definitely engaging.

Owl Diaries: Eva and the New Owl by Rebecca Elliott will teach kids about what it means to be a true friend and how new owls shouldn’t take the place of the old. I love that this series has comprehension questions in the back that are fun for kids, allowing them to revisit the story after they’ve finished reading it.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Owl Diaries: A Woodland Wedding (Book 3) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: A Woodland Wedding by Rebecca Elliott is the third book in this series, which does not necessarily need to be read in order. I’m so glad we took a chance on this series of books. My daughter is so excited to hear about Eva and her escapades with her classmates every night. I don’t have to make reading a long, chapter book a chore. It’s a breeze with Elliott’s colorful pictures and fun adventures.

Imagine yourself as a little girl and your teacher is getting married, then take that a step further with Eva who creates an entire wedding planning club for herself and her classmates. Of course, Sue appears to be mean again in this one, but there are reasons behind her behavior. It’s a good teaching moment for kids. It enables them to see that because someone is in a bag mood doesn’t necessarily mean they are not a nice person. They might have other concerns. Kids need to learn how to empathize, and this book can provide that.

Owl Diaries: A Woodland Wedding by Rebecca Elliott is delightful, and my daughter is eager to start the next book. I’m wondering if the author plans to write a series based on Eva’s brother, Humphrey!

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the UK with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Owl Diaries: Eva Sees a Ghost (Book 2) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva Sees a Ghost by Rebecca Elliott is book two in the series and Eva’s class is told a spooky story, which sets imaginations afire.  Eva sees a ghost, but there’s a problem: no one in the class believes her.  Even her friend Lucy eventually loses faith in Eva’s ability to discern reality from imagination. Again, Elliott strives to tackle every day issues that young kids come across in school — peer pressure, being liked, being believed, and more.

Eventually, Eva and Lucy gear up for a ghost hunt, staying up until sun up to see the ghost. Will they catch the ghost on film, or will more drastic measures be needed?

Every night we read a chapter together before bed, and it was a struggle to get her to stop at just one chapter.  She loves Eva and her imagination and each book is chock full of colorful illustrations.

Owl Diaries: Eva Sees a Ghost by Rebecca Elliott is delightful as Eva is a brave young owl full of conviction, and she’s a strong role model for young kids.  This series is shaping up to be very engaging and full of wonderful advice (without being advice) for younger kids.

“I love that owl book because it is funny and the best in the whole wide world,” says my daughter.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the UK with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott is a series of books for first and second graders that my daughter was not initially sure she wanted to read.  I bought her a couple books in the series at her book fair after she picked out two books she really wanted.  First, I picked these books because teachers had been talking about how engaging they were, and second, I picked this because it is written in diary form — something my daughter has started doing in her own notebook. It’s a format that she can easily recognize and connect with.

We read a chapter an evening before bed, and sometimes she would read along, and at other times, she sat back and let me read to her.  It was a good experience to see how Eva’s big idea for a festival came into being — not as a solo project but as a team effort from the entire class. Eva is like any kid my daughter’s age, she has best friends and sometimes friends, and there is the one kid that she thinks is mean.

Elliott has a vivid and childlike imagination that kids will immediately connect with, and there are even reading comprehension questions in the back to help young, developing readers think about what they’ve been reading in terms of plot and characterization. Owl Diaries: Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott is a wonderful series of books that will foster imagination, teamwork, and more. My daughter was eager to read each chapter and she cannot wait to start book 2.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the UK with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 52 pgs.
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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, our book club pick for May 2018, is an adaptation of the author’s TEDxEuston talk in Africa. To talk about gender is often uncomfortable, and it is often met with platitudes, like things are so much better for women now and what’s the big deal if someone greeted the man you’re with but not you. These are statements of dismissal and an attempt to nullify the validity of the discussion about equal rights for all sexes/genders.

Adichie is from Nigeria, but the situations she speaks about are from all over the globe, including the United States.  These are situations in which women (through socialization) feel that they must dress or act a certain way when in the workplace in order to be respected.  However, assertive behaviors in male co-workers are still rewarded but not favorable in women of the same position.  Adichie uses examples from her own life and her interactions with friends to illustrate her points about culture and its need to evolve in order to meet the needs of modern society, as well as the needs of humanity as it continues to evolve.

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” (pg. 46)

Her discussion of how many American women strive to be “likeable” demonstrates how women are groomed over time to view their worth as only as a man would perceive them to be.  There are notions of pretending and how women often must pretend that they like something or act a certain way because marriage is the ultimate goal. Because what would women be without marriage? “The language of marriage is often a language of ownership, not a language of partnership.” (pg. 30)

While men and women are biologically different, Adichie explains that today’s society is not as it was when men hunted and women made the home — strength was necessary to lead. Intelligence, creativity, and more are needed in today’s society to keep productive, efficient, and creating a new world in which we can be happier and fulfilled.  When women thank their husbands for doing one chore after both have come home from work but a man does not thank his wife for all the housework she does daily, what does that signify? Shouldn’t we be grateful when either spouse shares the housework load and works a job outside the home? Shouldn’t we equally share the load in family life?

“But by far the worst thing we do to males – by making them feel they have to be hard – is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.” (pg. 27)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, our book club pick for May 2018, is thought-provoking and a conversation starter. We cannot pretend that gender discrimination and expectations do not exist any longer. It must be acknowledged before it can be fixed by teaching both boys and girls to be who they are and not to pretend to be a particularly “gender” assigned to them by an out-of-date culture and society.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Inspired by Nigerian history and tragedies all but forgotten by recent generations of westerners, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels and stories are jewels in the crown of diasporan literature.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 12 CDs
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Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, includes not only past experiences with her siblings, her mother, and her father, but also editorial notes and emails between herself and her editor as she struggles to write a book about writing — a book the ends up being a memoir of a writer.

Readers take a journey with Tan through memorabilia and letters between herself and her mother. It is an emotionally read memoir, with deeply sad losses from her childhood and her own internalized memories of slights she received from her parents.  Imagine how children view our comments and reactions to their behaviors; Tan makes a study of those things in her memoir as she strives to assess her own writing and her own quirks as a writer.

Through her creative reflections on her past and her own writing process for The Valley of Amazement and other books, readers are given a glimpse into her life, her emotional baggage, her forward thinking perspective on women and their accomplishments, and her devastation over the recent election. Do not think she’s overly political here, because it is more about her emotional reflections on those events and how she perceived her parents would have voted.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, is a valley of amazement all its own, and readers of her novels will enjoy learning about her struggles with her parental relationships, the secrets she uncovers and speculates about, and her emotional confessions about it all.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Amy Tan is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and what it means to grow up as a first generation Asian American. In 1993, Tan’s adaptation of her most popular fiction work, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film.

She has written several other books, including The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent book, Saving Fish From Drowning, explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition into the jungles of Burma. In addition, Tan has written two children’s books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot on encouraging children to write.

Currently, she is the literary editor for West, Los Angeles Times’ Sunday magazine.

The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 400 pgs.
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The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert is a historical fiction novel that is told from both Letti and Marco’s points of view as their lives take different turns than they expect with the rise of Nazism, WWII, and its aftermath. But at its heart it is a romantic novel Lettie finds her soulmate in the most unexpected place.  Joubert’s detail in describing Italy and South Africa create a vivid world in which Letti and Marco live, and these characters face some tough trials.

Marco was a strong character filled with integrity and love and his determination and hope filled these pages from beginning to end.  He infused each character he encountered with a strength they did not know they possessed, and he makes the pages turn.  From his love of history and Da Vinci to his ability to go on even after he loses his childhood sweetheart.

Letti, on the other hand, is weaker, living in the shadow of her friends and feeling out of place next to the beauty of the village and the one from the richer family.  Like her father, she yearns to be a doctor and to care for others, even as she realizes her childhood crush is not meant to be anything more.

“The war seeped into the homes. The lowing winds blew it in through the front door when someone came in from outside. It oozed through the floorboards and the closed shutters.” (pg. 39 ARC)

Lettie’s strength comes later when she leaves for medical school and is on her own, away from the pressures of her friends and family. She’s able to see her goal and reach for it with both hands. Her hard work and thirst for knowledge make her the dedicated village doctor she becomes. But like all of us, even knowledge can take a back seat to fear and loss.

Although the ending for Lettie seemed a bit too convenient, it was understandable given her early years in her home village. The quick resolution so many years after WWII may have been truncated, but The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert is a journey worth taking and it reminds us that life is not a straight line and is very unpredictable. But love and happiness are possibilities that emerge from the ashes of our best laid plans.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

International bestselling author Irma Joubert was a history teacher for 35 years before she began writing. Her stories are known for their deep insight into personal relationships and rich historical detail. She’s the author of eight novels and a regular fixture on bestseller lists in The Netherlands and in her native South Africa. She is the winner of the 2010 ATKV Prize for Romance Novels. Connect with Irma on Facebook.