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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

Diary of a Pug: Paws for a Cause by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Paws for a Cause by Kyla May is the third book in this delightful diary series for first and second graders. My daughter loves this series, which is why we keep reading them, and any practice she can get is fine by me. In this installment, Baron von Bubbles and Bella discover a lost kitten and they are only able to take care of him for the evening before Bella’s mom tells her she has to bring him to the animal shelter. When they drop off the kitty reality hits hard for both Bella and Bub. They soon realize that animal shelters have money for food and little else to keep these soon-to-be-adopted pets happy. Bella and Bub decide it’s time to help.

What we love about this series is that these characters have big hearts and big ideas. Maybe the first try doesn’t always work successfully, but they continue to try harder and make some headway. They take a step back, reassess, and begin again. Some times they have a little help and a little inspiration from others. But through perseverance, they’re able to find a solution and reach the goal they set out for themselves.

Diary of a Pug: Paws for a Cause by Kyla May has some great illustrations, characters, and thought bubbles. Don’t forget the thought bubbles that show how Bub is truly feeling about a situation. The final page always has some great questions to get the kids thinking about what they just read as well as how they would react in certain situations. It’s a great way for parents and kids to engage with the text and have a conversation.

RATING Quatrain

Other Reviews:

The Haunted Library: The Five O’Clock Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 114 pgs.
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The Haunted Library: The Five O’Clock Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is the fourth book in the series in which Claire and Kaz embark on mysteries involving ghosts. This young girl has befriended a ghost, Kaz, who found himself blown away from his family and alone in her grandmother’s library. Following the last book, another student has decided to hire Claire and her detective agency of two, though solids think Claire is the only detective. She heads over to David Jeffrey’s house to investigate with Kaz and Cosmo, Kaz’s dog, safely tucked into her water bottle. We really get a kick out of the ghosts searching the house while Claire is talking to her fellow solids.

Will this ghost who only appears at 5 p.m. come out and reveal himself? Kaz tries his best to uncover the ghost but to no avail, but he is beginning to suspect that an older sister is behind the happenings in the Jeffrey’s house. My daughter loves these because she get to keep on guessing as clues are revealed, and sometimes she gets it right. That wasn’t the case with this mystery, however. But it’s fun to try, right?

We suspect that throughout this series we’ll meet up with more of Kaz’s family, and we have fun guessing which ghost relative we’ll run into next. Beckett, the other ghost who haunts the library, has also become a favorite, as he tries to teach Kaz some new ghost tricks. Kaz is a very reluctant student, and sometimes their interactions are reminiscent of a parent-child relationship. The Haunted Library: The Five O’Clock Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, was a good mystery with an unusual ending that taught my daughter about electromagnetic interference in a simple way. But we’re ready for the next book, we’ve been dying to know what’s in that secret room at the library since the first book.

RATING: Cinquain

Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Anuki Lpez

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Anuki Lpez, is set in the world of animals who are civilized, except when it comes to dogs and cats. Dogs and cats are still sworn enemies and whenever they’re near each other, look out. Oscar’s dog family runs into Molly’s cat family on the way to the Western Frontier Park. The size of this book was a bit daunting for my daughter, so she had me read this to her, but I assured her that the text was definitely on her level and she could read it herself. But this book worked as a great motivator in that I would only read to her if she read from her book for a certain amount of time. So as a reward, this book fit the bill because the story was engaging from the beginning with the dogs and cats already fighting before they even got to the park. You can only imagine how much worse it got when Oscar and Molly end up missing in the wilds of the park where the magical creatures — weaselboars, mountain lions, and bears. Luckily, Oscar is a Dogg Scout, which can help them both out of scrapes in the wilderness but only after they decide to call a truce and work together.

My daughter loved the conflict, the silly names, and the fun information about cats and dogs. We loved how these young “kids” navigated the dangers of the woods, and it was nice to see that the wild was a little more nice than expected. Molly and Oscar also learn some valuable lessons about how differences can be an asset, as well as how they can learn to get over past expectations to see their “enemy” in a different light. This is a great story about coming together to solve problems and leveraging the positive qualities of each animal to do that. In the end, this is a fun story about a new friendship against the odds.

In true James Patterson fashion, Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Anuki Lpez, is a page turner. My daughter often asked me to read another chapter, even if we had already read several. She wanted to know what happened next. She is, however, disappointed that this is not a series of books. She really wanted to read another book about Oscar and Molly or even some of the other animals in this newly created world.

RATING: Cinquain

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