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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

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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

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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

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

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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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