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Alone! by Barry Falls

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Alone! by Barry Falls is a colorful picture book that focuses on how to adapt to change, make friends, and find balance. Billy McGill lives on a hill and he lives there alone, at least until a mouse decides to enter his life. He’s distraught with all the skittering and heads into town for a solution — a cat. The only problem is that the cat and the mouse run about the house, and it forces him once again to head into town for a dog. You can see where this little story is headed by the animals on the cover.

Billy is used to being alone and having his quiet time, but as we all know, life often throws us curve balls and we have to figure out how to deal with change. Billy doesn’t do well with change at first, and gets so upset he yells, even as he turns to a vet and a hairdresser for help with these animals tearing apart his house. Falls does a really spectacular job of creating a rhyming story that doesn’t sound trite or forced, and it will definitely engage younger readers immediately.

Older readers will find Billy a bit mean at first, but as the story progresses they see him change and become more accepting and able to navigate the new things in his life, while still maintaining that peace and quiet he loves about living on the hill. Alone! by Barry Falls would be a fantastic addition to any school library or child’s home library.

RATING: Cinquain

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May is the fourth book in the series, but readers could start with any book in the series because they are self-contained episodes and include enough background for kids if they start in the middle. Baron von Bubbles, aka Bub, is still a big fashionista, but in this one his owner, Bella, has a new focus — creating a pet talent show.

Bub learns some new show biz words and learns how sometimes assumptions about others are not accurate. My daughter loves this series, especially that Bub is afraid of water and Nutz the squirrel is always causing trouble. Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Got Talent by Kyla May is a cute story about a talent show and a pug that learns to work with other pets who may not be his favorites.

RATING: Quatrain

Frankie Sparks and the Lucky Charm by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Frankie Sparks and the Lucky Charm by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is another strong book in the series that helps kids learn about science and investigation, while having fun. We love that this series provides tips on how to make your own designs and solve your own problems through science. In this one, Frankie is wondering about whether leprechauns are real, and she decides that setting a trap is the best way to find out. One problem, if she proves they don’t exist, her friend Maya might just be devastated, since she believes they are real.

Kids will learn about designing foolproof traps for leprechauns and how to design things with potential failures in mind. But how Frankie tackles her friend’s possible sadness over the results of her experiment will teach children to consider others’ feelings and work together to solve problems. It also was good to see that Frankie has more scientists in her family. Her Aunt Nichelle is working on a space garden, but of course she has to do some experiments on Earth, rather than space, but the ultimate goal is to enable astronauts to grow their own food in space. The exchange between Frankie and her aunt was fantastic. It demonstrated that kids are not alone and that they can lean on their elders to learn more and grow.

Frankie Sparks and the Lucky Charm by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is a strong series of books in which kids can not only learn how to work with friends and classmates, but also adults. Along they way they will garner skills in experimentation and design, among others. We highly recommend these books.

RATING: Cinquain

The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth will remind readers of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, though here the tree is not personified, there is no Lorax, and the messages are very clear cut. In Haworth-Booth’s book, the focus is on the group of villagers who are seeking a place to live — the desert too hot, the valley too wet, the mountains too windy — until they find a forest with the perfect amount of light and shadow and breeze. But they soon need to build shelters and then homes to protect themselves from the natural elements, and they build and build until they are walled in and blocked from one another. One tree remains, which they call a weed. The children from different families are sent out to cut down that last tree for various structures, but the children have other ideas.

The people in this village are not demonized as taking from the world around them — the message is clear without being heavy-handed. However, it is clear that as they separate themselves from one another by barriers, their happiness declines and their ability to enjoy life falls. But is that because of their use of their resources and the scarcity of them in their present? Not necessarily. While the use/overuse of resources is clear in this book and can be talked about by parents and children, the authors is seeking to address the separation of families from their communities and their perceptions of others as a source of unhappiness.

The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth is a gorgeous picture book that looks like crayon-colored drawings that kids can easily identify with. The text is definitely easy to read for younger readers, and the subject matter is broad and important for parents and their children. It would also make a great addition to school libraries and classrooms. I loved the redemption of this village in the book — we can all make positive changes.

Frankie Sparks and the Big Sled Challenge by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Frankie Sparks and the Big Sled Challenge by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is the third book in the third-grade inventor series that combines science, engineering, and social quandaries in one fun story. Frankie wants to enter the Big Sled Challenge after descending Extreme Maximus, the largest hill in their town on her saucer sled. The experience was a bit jarring, especially when her classmate Lila Jones points out that Frankie did hesitate to go down the big hill not once but twice. Frankie now feels like she has to prove something to herself and Lila. She wants to prove that she’s the best third-grade inventor.

Frankie and Maya need a third teammate, but Frankie soon finds out that her practical choice because of her size and smarts is already on another team. She must cope with disappointment. Ravi is enthusiastic to join the team and he brings with him a lot of ideas, but Frankie is very dismissive and seems to think because she’s an inventor that she’s in charge, but that’s not the meaning of teamwork. In this book, Frankie must expand her horizons, learn patience, and understand what it means to be part of a team.

These books can be read out of order, but you’ll have a greater understanding of Frankie and her struggles in social situations if you do read them in order. Frankie Sparks and the Big Sled Challenge by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, as always tells a story using science in a kid-friendly way, offers tips for kids at the back of the book on how they can do their own inventing, and provides life lessons about working in teams, socializing with others, learning how to compromise and develop patience.

RATING: Cinquain

The Haunted Library: The Ghost at the Fire Station by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant

Source: Purchased

Paperback, 128 pgs.

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The Haunted Library: The Ghost at the Fire Station by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is the sixth book in this series that pairs a young elementary school girl, Claire, with a ghost boy, Kaz, and sets them off on haunted mysteries to solve. Kaz has a case of his own, tracking down his lost family, and throughout the series he’s had a little bit of luck, but there are more missing members of his family to find.

C&K Ghost Detectives, however, are called to work on another ghost mystery — this time at the local fire station. Some of the firefighters have heard moaning and their blankets have been stolen in the night. Sparky, the fire station dog, also seems to sense where the ghost is in the station, refusing to enter the TV room and sometimes the main garage where the fire trucks are. Is the dog a ghost detector or is his strange behavior due to something else? That’s what Kaz and Claire are there to find out.

My daughter loves the humor and fun in this book, as well as the antics of Little John, Kaz’s brother. This is a series that is fun and full of adventure. The illustrations are great and there are some new characters introduced who we’d like to see in future books. The Haunted Library: The Ghost at the Fire Station by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a delight with fresh mysteries and stories to carry the books into the next. We definitely recommend reading these in order.

RATING: Quatrain

The Magic Doll: A Children’s Book Inspired by African Art by Adrienne Yabouza, illustrated by Élodie Nouhen

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 32 pgs

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The Magic Doll: A Children’s Book Inspired by African Art by Adrienne Yabouza, illustrated by Élodie Nouhen, is an inspirational tale of a family in a small village in West Africa in which a girls explains the special way in which she was born. Unlike other newlyweds, her mother and father struggled to conceive a child in their first years of marriage. The father suggests that she have a carved doll made to hasten the fertility process. The mother does so and carries the wooden child around with her.

This story is touching in how it tackles the struggles of fertility and the traditions of Akua-Ba fertility figures of the Akan people of Ghana. My daughter asked a lot of questions about these dolls and what was going on, and many of these questions were answered in the back of the book. We had a good discussion about this cultural tradition. We loved the collage-like images and the colors. It was a gentle story complimented by the color-scheme chosen by the illustrator.

The Magic Doll: A Children’s Book Inspired by African Art by Adrienne Yabouza, illustrated by Élodie Nouhen, was a wonderful story about family, fertility, and relationships between mothers and their children.

RATING: Quatrain

The Little Dancer: A Children’s Book Inspired by Edgar Degas by Géraldine Elschner, illustrated by Olivier Desvaux

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 32 pgs.

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The Little Dancer: A Children’s Book Inspired by Edgar Degas by Géraldine Elschner, illustrated by Olivier Desvaux, is the perfect holiday gift for the ballerina’s in your family, as well as the artists. Not only will children see ballet through the eyes of a young child who’s a ballerina, but they will also see the wonder captured by the hands and eyes of Edgar Degas.

Jeanne’s mother sacrifices everything to move to Paris to help her daughter achieve her dreams, but while ballet is not precisely what she’s after, her role in the background on stage catches the eye of Degas. Marie, another ballet dancer in the corps, has taken ill and Jeanne is asked to stand in as a model until her return. This will mean additional money for her family.

Degas’ techniques are explored, and the illustrations are gorgeous reproductions of his art. The entire book is similar to his style. While the book focuses on the awe of ballet and art, it does not shy away from the desperate times many of these ballerina’s faced as members of poor families.

My daughter and I loved this book, and it probably doesn’t hurt that her favorite movie that we’ve seen a million times is Leap! about a girl facing similar choices, and not always making the best ones. Here, Jeanne seems to have a good head on her shoulders and makes some good choices to earn her family more money. While we do not know exactly what happens to her career, it does provide a look at the ballet corps’ use of children to fill the backstage and the unique opportunities some of them found there.

The Little Dancer: A Children’s Book Inspired by Edgar Degas by Géraldine Elschner, illustrated by Olivier Desvaux, is definitely a book you’ll want to share with your artists and ballerinas.

RATING: Cinquain

Frankie Sparks and the Talent Show Trick by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Source: Purchased

Paperback, 128 pgs.

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Frankie Sparks and the Talent Show Trick by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is the second book in this third-grade inventor series. Frankie wants to be like her idol, Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic, and she and her magnificent assistant Maya are going to audition for the school talent show. They have been practicing their magic act in front of their families, but the audition doesn’t go so well when Maya comes down with a case of stage jitters. What’s an inventor to do?

Of course, Frankie asks her friend if she still wants to do the talent show. She can’t do it alone and she really doesn’t want anyone else to be her assistant, so it’s up to Frankie to come up with a solution to the problem. First she has to do some research, which is why she heads down to the local magic shop. But over the course of school and other daily activities, Frankie gets an idea from an unlikely source.

My daughter and I had a great time reading about the magic tricks and I love telling really lame jokes, which is why Frankie’s classmate Ravi is so endearing to me. We love how caring Frankie is about her family and friends and how caught up in finding a solution she gets. We were impressed by her creativity and how she saw an ordinary kitchen utensil as something more. This book will help kids tap their own creativity and learn that they are never too young to be problem solvers. And we love that the “design” process is mapped out and explained in the back of the book — kids are even challenged to find their own solutions to help their friends or family members.

Frankie Sparks and the Talent Show Trick by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, may have her own idols that she looks up to, but she’s definitely a role model for younger kids. She can help them strive for more, be creative, and learn about science, math, and art all while having fun. We can’t wait to pick up book 3.

RATING: Cinquain

The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, Illustrated by Aurore Damant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is another adventure in which Kaz must use his newly learned ghost skills to help Claire and his friends. Kaz finally learned how to pass through walls without feeling “skizzy” in the last book, but he’s still reluctant to use his skill, until his little brother “Little John” goads him into it. But now he has a new mystery on his hands in Beckett’s secret room inside the library.

There are a bunch of ghostly objects that don’t shrink when Kaz and his friends hold them while shrinking, and they are dying to know why. They also discover a secret envelop that they want to show Claire, but can’t because it won’t pass through the wall. Meanwhile, Claire goes on a class trip and learns a bit of history about the library before it was a library, as well as some family secrets.

My daughter loves this series of books from the mysteries to the funny antics of Kaz, Claire, and now his little brother and his dog. I’m not going to spoil any of the secrets in this one. The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a fun ride and will keep you guessing.

RATING: Cinquain

Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott, which is the 13th book in the series, and thrusts Eva into a new friendship role once again. Eva and Sue tend to clash on things, and when Sue is cast as the lead in Treetop Owlementary’s new play, Snowy White, Eva is disappointed. But she is cast as the mirror and as Sue’s understudy (which was a new word for my daughter to learn) and she gets to help with making costumes.

Eva’s a creative little owl, but she gets disappointed and jealous like other kids. She even finds that telling a white lie to her grandmother weighs heavily on her, but she learns that telling the truth doesn’t mean that her grandmother will love her less. Her grandmother assures her that she’ll love her even if she’s the mirror and not the lead role.

My daughter really loves this series and while most of it is graphics/illustrations and diary entries, she really feels like Eva is a close friend and she gets to see what Eva is thinking and feeling. This is the kind of book that can help kids learn how to process their emotions. There are some words she has a tough time sounding out, but she eventually gets them down pat, as some of those harder words are repeated throughout the book. Teachers could use this series to teach kids larger compound words in a context.

Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott is another stellar edition to the series, and my daughter will likely continue reading this one. It’s easier for her to read and it’s a good in-between book when I have her read more on-grade-level books in the evenings. This series has been a real winner.

RATING: Quatrain

Other reviews of this series.

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa hadn’t even been out of the package more than 10 minutes when my daughter snapped it up to read on her own after her first day of class. She is an artist, but sometimes she is not confident in what she chooses to create. In some cases, she creates something that is temporary and can be discard or transformed into something else. This is part of her process, I think, and I try not to interfere even if I want to keep her art permanently — this is where my phone camera comes in handy.

Krysa has created a book that artists and those who are just starting to get interested in art will love. It tells children that there are artists everywhere and that there a number of art jobs available for those who decide to make art their career. My daughter’s favorite part of the book is when it is interrupted for an important message about art bullies or as my daughter called the image on the page “the art blob.”

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa is a delightful read about being yourself and how art can turn into not only a career but also a lifelong passion. The goal of this book is to inspire kids to just create no matter what it looks like. The pictures are colorful and engaging, and the page on glitter is fantastic and so true. We really enjoyed this one.

RATING: Cinquain