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Spirit Riding Free: The Adventure Begins by Suzanne Selfors

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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Spirit Riding Free: The Adventure Begins by Suzanne Selfors is the tale of Lucky Prescott and her family’s move out west while her father works on the railroad expansion through the west. On her ride from the city to Miradero, Lucky sees a mustang riding fast and is amazed. But when the mustang is captured, Lucky is devastated, especially when she learns from her father that he’ll likely be broken and sold to someone, essentially losing his freedom.

Lucky has some trouble fitting in, especially when her aunt Cora insists that she wear a dress in the heat. She’s no longer learning to be a proper lady in the city and when she gets to school, most of the girls are wearing pants. She has a misunderstanding with Pru and Abigail, but Maricela seems to want to be her friend — too bad she’s a bit stuck up and hates horses.

My daughter loves this television show on Netflix and watches every season. This book follows much of what happens in the first season of the show, so we were not surprised by what happens. She still enjoyed reading this together at night before bed. She still wanted more pictures. This was definitely a book you’ll want to read with younger kids, not let them try to read it on their own. The language should be easy to follow, but the lack of pictures makes younger kids get bored easily, even when they are 9.

Spirit Riding Free: The Adventure Begins by Suzanne Selfors was a good book for gals who like horses and adventure, but this was definitely a book that adults will want to read with younger readers who still need pictures to pay attention. We really loved riding along with Lucky and watching her navigate a new place and find new friends.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Suzanne Selfors lives on an island near Seattle where it rains all the time, which is why she tends to write about cloudy, moss-covered, green places. She’s married, has two kids, and writes full time. Her favorite writers are Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Dickens, and most especially, Roald Dahl.

Frankie Sparks and the Class Pet by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Frankie Sparks and the Class Pet by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is a third grader who loves her best friend, Maya, and loves science. When her teacher informs the class that they are going to get a class pet, she has her heart set on getting a rat. Her teacher lays out the criteria:

1. Fit in aquarium.
2. Cost less than $50.
3. Be easily portable.
4. Be able to be left alone for the weekend.

While she completes all of her research on rats at home through the internet, books, and information from her aunt Gina, her other classmates have barely begun. Her aunt works with rodents at her job, and Frankie must solve the one problem with her rat idea — how to feed them every day even when the kids are not at school to do it. My daughter struggled to read some of the larger scientific words in this book, but I loved that they included explanations for the kinds about what those words mean. I also liked that Frankie loved science and that it was incorporated into the book without being overly boring.

My daughter’s favorite part is the end of the book, even after the class pet is selected, and when Frankie realizes that she shouldn’t force Maya to vote for the rat when she wants a betta fish and when she apologizes to her friend for being not so nice. Frankie Sparks and the Class Pet by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is a great introductory book for early readers to learn about science, experimenting, solving problems, and being good friends.

RATING: Quatrain

The Haunted Library: The Ghost Backstage by Dori Hillestad Butler

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Haunted Library: The Ghost Backstage by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a solid third book in this series in which Kaz is beginning to take lessons from Beckett about different ghost skills, including how to pick up solid objects. He’s not doing very well with his lessons, but Beckett insists that he learn. When Claire provides Kaz with an opportunity to escape his grueling lessons, he jumps at the chance.

One of Claire’s classmates saw a ghost during play rehearsals for Jack and the Beanstalk. Kaz isn’t thrilled with all of the noise at Claire’s elementary school or the rush of kids everywhere, but he soon finds a way to navigate without having solids pass through him and making him feel all weird. Kaz easily eavesdrops on conversations and reports back to Claire, but he seems to forget that her classmates will find it odd that she’s talking to herself all the time.

My daughter loves guessing who the ghost might be in each of these books, whether it’s someone in Kaz’s lost family or a classmate. But one thing is for sure, Kaz is growing stronger as a ghost every book, and we can’t wait to see what new ghostly skills he picks up along the way.

The Haunted Library: The Ghost Backstage by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a solid mystery with a fun cast of characters. As this is set in the school for the most part, we rarely seek Beckett and Kosmo, the ghost dog. We missed them, but it was good to see Kaz get inspired to take action to help a kid being made fun of by others. We’ll definitely be reading more of these.

RATING: Quatrain

Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Source: Gift
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Nancy Clancy: Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, is the first in this chapter book series about a girl who loves Nancy Drew and wants to be a detective just like her. While Drew’s cases take her on scary adventures and the criminals are creepy, Nancy Clancy’s adventures are tamer, often involving classmates and her sister, among others.

Nancy and her best friend, Bree, are amateur detectives and when they overhear Rhonda and Wanda talking about a secret in their year and how one doesn’t want to tell Nancy and the other one does, Nancy and Bree get to sleuthing. They even go through the girls’ backyard looking for clues while Rhonda and Wand are at soccer practice. What my daughter loves about these books is kids working together to solve mysteries (I used to love mysteries, too, as a kid). What I love about this series is the harder words that she has to sound out, like “concentration,” and the sprinkling in of French words that we had a great time using repeatedly after I explained what they meant.

Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, contains more than one mystery to be solved, which keeps the excitement going. I would recommend these early chapter books for other kids who like mysteries.

RATING: Cinquain

The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic by Dori Hillestad Butler

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, starts where the last book left off in which Kaz is still mourning the loss of his ghost family, but is eager to help his new friend Claire with her ghost detective agency and hopefully help himself find his own family.  In their first case, Kaz and Claire have to navigate how they will get Kaz to new places to find ghosts. At Mrs. Beezley’s house, Kaz takes a trip in a water bottle so he doesn’t float away on the way to the “scene” of the haunting. The attic they check out is dusty and the woman’s home always has all of the windows open, which poses a significant danger to Kaz.

My daughter was always eager to read this book each night, sometimes reading two chapters per night. We finished it really much faster than I expected. Kaz and Claire are fun young characters that she identified with in terms of emotion and curiosity. We were a little astounded that Claire would go out on Mrs. Beezley’s roof and climb down a tree, but I suspect most kids her age would do dangerous things if their parents are not watching.

The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a fun read, with delightful illustrations. We love the idea of ghost detectives and hope that Kaz finds more of his family as the series goes along.

RATING: Cinquain

Nancy Drew Clue Book: Pool Party Puzzler by Carolyn Keene, illustrated by Peter Francis

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 97 pgs.
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Nancy Drew Clue Book: Pool Party Puzzler by Carolyn Keene, illustrated by Peter Francis, is a fun mystery that younger kids can read without parents worrying about too much danger. These are mysteries that kids could do on their own with little adult help. I loved Nancy Drew as a kid, but I knew that the ones I read in middle school were not right for my younger daughter. These, however, are perfect. Nancy, George, and Bess are the Clue Crew and they love solving mysteries. All are invited to Deidre Shannon’s eighth birthday party (sweet half sixteen birthday party). At this party, each guest is told to wear a sea creature or similar themed costume. Deidre, of course, is a spoiled, popular girl with a blog who wants all of the attention on her at her party. She is the queen of the sea.

Nancy, George, and Bess learn about topiaries, interact with teenagers, and meet a mystery guest who doesn’t speak but has pink toenail polish. When the party’s big surprise — Marina, Queen of the Mermaids — is ruined by a snake in the pool, the clue crew gets to work on solving who slung the fake snake into the pool to ruin the party. I love that they write down possible suspects and investigate each one by not only talking to them but also listening to their conversations and following them into joke shops. These books still have illustrations, which my daughter loved, especially since she’s never seen a topiary before.

Nancy Drew Clue Book: Pool Party Puzzler by Carolyn Keene, illustrated by Peter Francis, also offers younger readers an opportunity before the big reveal to think about all the suspects, write down their own clues, and come to their own conclusions about who the culprit is. My daughter and I discussed all the clues and suspects while reading and before the big reveal. She was happy to learn that she had guessed correctly at who the snake slinger was.

RATING: Cinquain

The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, opens with Kaz, a young ghost boy who quickly loses his family when their haunt is torn down. As the wind carries him away, he finds himself in an unfamiliar library where a young girl, Claire, notices him. She’s the granddaughter of the librarian but she can see ghosts on her own without them calling attention to themselves. Claire seems to think she’s an amateur detective, and she carries her own notebook around with her in the library and records information about the ghosts she meets. The only problem is that Kaz really doesn’t know anything about the “solid” world and he has trouble being a ghost. Kaz really prefers that people don’t walk through him and he doesn’t like passing through walls.

My daughter and I read this together and she liked the early chase of Kaz throughout the library when he realized Claire could see him. And along they way, they become friends. One thing we wondered about was why Kaz was not as sad as we expected when he learned none of his family was in the library, too. Much of this story was focused on uncovering the mystery of who the ghost in the library was, but by the end, Claire and Kaz have become friends and plan to help him find out where his family has gone.

The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, was a challenging story with unfamiliar words, and while Kaz seemed clueless and relied on Claire to teach him, we enjoyed the mystery. We hope the next installments will have more of Beckett, who also lives in the library, Grandma Karen, and Claire’s parents, and maybe a ghost or two more.

RATING: Quatrain

Isadora Moon Goes Camping by Harriet Muncaster

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Isadora Moon Goes Camping by Harriet Muncaster is a delightful book that stretches the imagination of young early readers in which Isadora Moon, half vampire and half fairy, finds herself nervous about show-and-tell at school. But once she starts telling her class about her summer vacation camping near a beach, she becomes so engrossed in her own tale she and you will nearly forget she’s nervous to speak in front of her classmates.

Isadora’s dad is the glammed-up vampire in the family and his hygiene habits become a bummer for some of the other campers over the summer, and her mom just takes it all in stride, helping him pare down his suitcases for their vacation in the rough. It must be fantastic to have a mom who is a fairy because she can create anything you’d want, but it’s all in the boundaries she sets for Isadora. What my daughter loved was the adventure and the Isadora’s favorite animal, Pink Rabbit. I loved that he was a stuffed bunny who had expressions and ould walk around wherever Isadora did.

This book is a little above where my daughter’s reading level is now, so there were times when she struggled with certain words, but we worked on how to sound those out and what those words meant. It was a good way to stretch her reading skills without losing her interest in the story. We’ll likely be looking for the first two books in this series, since somehow we ended up with only book 3. Starting with this book, however, didn’t seem to be a problem. We didn’t feel like we were missing anything. The cover of our book suggests a lot of color, but most of the illustrations were black and pink. We’re not sure why, but it didn’t detract from the things that mattered in the story. The illustrations did enhance some of the action for us. We also loved the family photo album at the end of their summer camping trip. That was a nice touch.

Isadora Moon Goes Camping by Harriet Muncaster is a wonderful book about learning to take risks outside our comfort zones. I love how adventurous Isadora is and how willing she is to make new friends and go the extra mile for her family. My daughter often wanted to read “just one more chapter” each night, which is a tell-tale sign that she enjoyed the book and loved the characters.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Harriet Muncaster studied illustration at Norwich University College of the Arts before going on to get an MA in children’s book illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. In creating the art for her first book for children, she was thrilled to have found a good outlet for her lifelong fascination with miniatures. She lives in Hertfordshire, England.

Olivia Otter Builds Her Raft by Dara Kass and Jessica Piazza, illustrated by Abe Tensia

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Olivia Otter Builds Her Raft by Dara Kass and Jessica Piazza, illustrated by Abe Tensia, is a delightfully illustrated picture book that teaches younger kids about what it means to work with others and craft a reliable family net they can rely on. The colorful watercolor paintings – that’s exactly what they look like — compel younger readers to think about water movement and the life of an otter in its natural environment. Olivia Otter is swept up in a storm stronger than the ones she’s experienced before and she has nothing to hold on to, but she knows she’s a strong swimmer and a survivor. Olivia misses her mom and her family, but their memories are still with her.

Kids will easily read this book after some practice as Kass and Piazza have chosen words that young kids are already familiar with. My daughter and I loved that Olivia wanted to build her own raft of otters. Slowly over time she does just that, and these otters know that they can count on each other. When her small group stumbles upon a larger group of otters, it’s time to choose to live with more otters or be in their small group. Kids will learn what it means to be part of a larger society in this book — how to share and care for others who are not blood relatives, but are their family nonetheless.

Olivia Otter Builds Her Raft by Dara Kass and Jessica Piazza, illustrated by Abe Tensia, is a delightful picture book about survival and what family actually means. It will also teach children that no matter their gender, they’re equally capable of great things. Ultimately, I hope that my daughter and other young kids who read this book will learn to build their own rafts, expanding their family wide enough to support them no matter where they are in the future.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Authors:

Jessica Piazza is the author of two full-length poetry collections from Red Hen Press: “Interrobang” (2013) and, with Heather Aimee O’Neill, “Obliterations” (forthcoming, 2015) as well as the chapbook “This is not a sky” (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Southern California, a Master’s degree in English/Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University. She is co-founder of Gold Line Press and Bat City Review and a contributing editor at The Offending Adam. Her poetry has appeared in Agni, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Rattle, No Tell Motel, 32 Poems, Forklift, Ohio, National Poetry Review, Pebble Lake Review, Anti- and 42 Opus, among other places.

Dara Kass, MD is the founder of FemInEM. An emergency medicine physician and advocate for the advancement of women in medicine, she is passionate about creating a community where women in EM can act as champions for one another. She is a graduate of SUNY Downstate Medical School and Kings County Hospital’s residency program.

Abe Tensia was born in Wyoming and spent most of her childhood as an indoor kid/reluctant car camper.  After relocating to Maine to attend Bowdoin College, she realized that nature were pretty cool after all and began sharing her favorite bits through pen and ink drawings.  Her work celebrates creative play and the natural wonder and whimsy of the great outdoors, both things near and dear to her own heart.

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 brother 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

OTHER Reviews:

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum is an adorable photography spread that will melt your heart with cute little baby animals. Esbaum uses rhyme to pinpoint the different aspects of these babies from webbed toes to wings. There are babies big and small, furry and feathery, and all full-fledged cute.

The book is for kids just learning words and different shapes, but my daughter loves cute baby animals (don’t we all). We would argue that this is a photography book for all ages. The images are crisp and detailed, and some are down right fun to look at. Esbaum’s witty rhymes make the book even more enjoyable for younger children — it’s almost song-like.

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum is a great way to introduce young children to the natural world, different species of animals (which are all labeled in the final pages), and words like big and small. These images will make you smile, which is another reason just to have this book around.

RATING: Cinquain