AN UNLIKELY PAIR

My Monster Burrufu

Written by Alberto Corral

Illustrated by Alessandra Sorrentino

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This chapter book is targeted for eight to twelve year olds; the easy going storytelling style and charming illustrations interspersed throughout make it visually appealing as well. I can’t make up my mind which character I love the most, Olivia, the seven year old mistress of the monster’s house or Burrufu, the melancholy monster.

At the beginning of the adventure, Olivia is about to move from the city to a home four hours away in the country. She immediately endears herself to me when I read the note she left to the new tenants asking them to take care of the house and sending them hugs and kisses. Upon arriving at the old three story house, Olivia and her dog Tula begin to explore the home’s nooks and crannies. They hear noises in the attic; her father, Steve, tells her jokingly that maybe it is a monster. Olivia thinks he is making fun of her, and when he assures her that a monster in the house is good luck, she feels relief.

Olivia can’t sleep and goes down to the kitchen to have some milk and cookies. To her surprise she spies a furry white claw stealing cookies! So the adventure begins….Olivia is determined to lure the creature out by setting a cookie trap. She discovers that the monster lives in the attic and is a writer like her father. Because Olivia’s dad spends lots of time in his study writing, she has lots of time on her own. Olivia learns that her friend Burrufu can make himself very large when he frightens people; he is fearful of going outside and scaring people. Olivia wants to make him feel wanted and secure so she tries to provide him with courage. One day Burrufu is discovered and chaos ensues. Will Olivia be able to remain friends with her monster, who is really a talented and sensitive writer or will they both be forced to relinquish their friendship due to the fears of others?

This book contains approximately one hundred pages and ten short chapters. It can be used as a classroom read aloud or read independently as a chapter book for readers in the middle grades. There is plenty of humor and adventure. The plot contains enough twists and turns plus thought provoking issues to challenge the middle grade reader. Highly recommended.

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VERACITY OF VELOCIRAPTORS

Meet the Velociraptor: Fun Facts and Cool Pictures

Written by Julian Hawking

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The author sets out to set straight the facts about velociraptors made famous in the Jurassic Park movie, which are in many ways misleading. They were not huge animals, probably the size of a large chicken; they were appear to have been solitary animals, and they were warm blooded, not cold blooded like the large dinosaurs roaming the earth at that time.

The velociraptor’s name means swift seizer and it flourished in the Cretaceous period about 75 million years ago, shortly before the dinosaurs were wiped from the earth by some disaster, probably a meteor. It probably did not live in the United States but in a hot, arid climate like central Asia because no skeletons have been found in the U.S. Their bones are hollow like that of a bird They probably had feathers, not the scales of cold blooded reptiles. The animal probably stood only two or three feet tall and weighed about 30 pounds similar to the size of a human toddler. Characteristics that the movie presented accurately include the over-sized back feet claws and the serious teeth. The velociraptor had a large brain compared to most dinosaurs and fairly sophisticated sight, hearing and smelling. They probably foraged and hunted for food and had a lifespan of about twenty years. With their long back tails, velociraptors probably had a good sense of balance and could jump very well.

So are we surprised that Hollywood actually modeled the dinosaur in the movie on the larger deinonychus, but changed the name to velociraptor because it had a better ring to it? Children and adults who are into dinosaurs now have the real scoop. I read the kindle version on an HD Fire, but the photos could not be fully appreciated. Print versions show better detail. Recommended for ages eight and up.

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CANINES TO THE RESCUE

Treasure From The Past (Big Honey Dog Mysteries Easter Special Edition)

Written by H.Y. Hanna

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This is a special Easter mystery adventure tale in the Big Honey Dog Mystery series. In this chapter book geared for nine to twelve year olds, the beautiful Great Dane and canine friends assist their human owners in solving a mystery from the past.

At the outset, the reader meets Big Honey and some of her canine friends who are playing outdoors while their masters celebrate a beautiful Easter day. The talk turns to the top of the slope where they spy mysterious onion shaped domes in which rumor says a creepy witch lives. Suka, the Siberian Husky, swears she wears black and has creepy claws. Of course they decide to investigate and are startled to find an ominous black figure before them. Turns out to be a old woman guarded by her huge black dog. Our canine friends call out to their owners who come to the rescue.

But the true mystery is about to materialize. The poor old woman named Irina is starving and in danger of losing her house. Years ago she escaped the Russian Revolution with her mother and Nanny. Hidden among their few belongings were a valuable Faberge jeweled egg and a red ruby. After Irina’s parents died, she was forced to sell most of her belongings to pay off their debts. Hidden in a letter that her grandmother wrote are the clues to solving the mystery of where these valuables are hidden. Together with Mishka, Irina’s faithful dog, the indomitable canines head up to the attic to search for clues. They are attacked by a barn owl, but nothing deters them from their mission. Will the fearless canine friends be able to save the day for Irina and Mishka?

The novella is well written combining mystery, history and humor. It is fun to real a tale told from the canine viewpoint. The animals walk their humans outside and cleverly gain the upper hand. Highly recommended for children age nine and up. Adults will find the short story appealing and amusing as well.

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SAFARI GONE WRONG

Lost in Lion Country

Written by Blair Polly and D.M. Potter

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This book is an interactive adventure for children age ten and above. The setting is Serengeti National Park. A young boy traveling in a Land Rover on safari is our protagonist. He is standing beside the truck taking photos when suddenly it zooms off. No one appears to notice that he is missing. Suddenly he is alone being chased by hyenas faced with his first decision. Should he climb an acacia tree or follow a dried creek bed to get out of viewing range? At the end of each chapter, the reader is given the opportunity to determine the outcome of the story. Each section has two choices. Readers may decide to go back and change their mind or reread the story an entirely different way.

Students will enjoy being in control of the outcome of their adventure. The author provides tips on how to navigate the story on different types of devices. The size of the chapters make them perfect for teachers to use as a short classroom read aloud over a period of several days. Topics are interesting for adventure lovers, environmentalists, animal lovers and enthusiasts of African culture. Highly recommended for reluctant readers. The complexity of text is just right for middle school readers, but is not condescending. As an adult, I found it pleasurable to read as well.

REALITY OR ILLUSION?

Young Plato and the Cave

Written and illustrated by F.A. Chekki

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This is a wonderful and innovative book for children in middle grades and older. It serves as an introduction to one of Plato’s works, The Allegory of the Cave, as well as a bird’s eye view of ancient Greece and its importance to the Western world today.

At the beginning of the book, the reader meets the philosopher Socrates and his student, Aristotle just finishing a lesson. Portraits of Socrates and Aristotle are given as well as thumbnails of the poem which has Plato visiting the oracle in the cave to discern its mystery. Side by side with the allegorical tale, the author presents what he calls, “Bites” of Greek knowledge. These include the government of Athens, Mount Olympus and its gods, the Library of Alexandria, Greek education, the Oracle of Delphi, notions of Arete, and Greek architecture, Greek theater, art, religion, and geography. These small bites pack an abundance of material on each page.

The black and white pencil drawings of the allegorical tale are combined with humor to contrast nicely with the colorful photos of sculpture, paintings, and Greek artifacts. Students are introduced to a plethora of subjects in an easily digestible format. Teachers have an unlimited field of possibilities when using this book as jump off point of discussion for history, literature, philosophy, government, art and science. Any child age nine and older should be able to find an area of interest for further exploration. As a historian, I was impressed by the succinct but pithy descriptions and the well balanced text. Highly recommended to parents, librarians, teachers and budding scholars who want to learn about ancient Greece in a nutshell! I am confident that most readers will be encouraged to explore to learn more.

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THE DIRT ON DINGOES

Dingo Facts: Easy Learning For Kids (Amazing Australian Animals)

Written by Sara Woods

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This book is one of the amazing Australian animal series. It will enlighten the reader about what kind of animal a dingo is, where it lives, what it eats, how it moves and breeds, how it is threatened, and why it is important. The book packs a lot of information in thirty-four pages. While the author targets the book as a read aloud for younger children as well as an independent reader for older children, I think it more appropriate for the latter group.

Unfortunately, my travels have not yet taken me to Australian so I am unfamiliar with this animal. Looking at the photos, I immediately thought of a gray wolf and later learned from the author that the dingo is a subspecies of that animal introduced to Australia by seamen about 4,000years ago. I was fascinated to learn that dingoes are double jointed at all their joints, and that they use their paws as we do our hands. They can even open door knobs. Their ears stand straight up and can rotate backwards; they can rotate their heads 180 degrees for better vision. Most dingoes are monogamous and will mate yearly averaging four to six pups for about ten years. The mother will eat, swallow and regurgitate food to feed young much like a bird.

Landowners and hunters are the biggest threat to the dingoes, but crocodiles, snakes, and lack of food and water also factor in their survival. More contact with domestic dogs as urban sprawl progresses could eventually lead to extinction. Farmers who see them as a threat have engineered the world’s largest fence (3,488 miles) to protect sheep and farm lands. But dingoes are special animals because as the only native dog to Australia, they are apex predators at the top of the food chain who protect many smaller mammals and the native natural grasses. Some areas of Australia have set up sanctuaries to protect the dingoes.

This series will eventually include eighteen books about Australian animals. It certainly makes an excellent, well-organized reference source for classrooms in the elementary grades and libraries. Teachers could also use many of these books in science units comparing and contrasting with other animals. Highly recommended for children age seven and up. Adults who read these books to children will find themselves being entertained and informed as well.

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SMELLY STORIES

Seriously Stinky Animals (A Children’s Animal Book With Pictures)

Written by Sophia Aguilera

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This book is different from most animal nonfiction books because it has an unusual focus—stinky animals. Humans do have a tendency to think that many animals lack the cleanliness we might prefer, even in our pets. Nothing can top the animals discussed in this book! They are big and small, cute and ugly, and geographically diverse. A few of them are probably familiar to you, but there are many that you probably have never heard discussed. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

The Giant Petrel looks like a giant sea gull with some nasty habits. If you get too close, it vomits up a combination of digested food and oil and sprays it all over you. When you try to escape, it tries to push your nose into it. This bird lives in the Southern Hemisphere way down south where it is very cold. Bombardier Beetles are less than one inch long and live only for a few weeks. When threatened they emit smelly poisonous gases that are as hot as boiling water. These beetles have enough spray to get off twenty-nine shots before the chemical runs out. This type of beetle hides under bark and rocks and lives all over the world except for the Arctic and Antarctic. These tiny carnivores eat other insects. One commonly known stinky animal is the skunk. Skunks don’t smell bad unless approached or threatened. Usually just raising the tail is enough to scare predators. They can spray up to five times and up to a distance of fifteen feet. Skunks hesitate to use their spray because once it runs out, it takes their body almost ten days to make more, leaving them defenseless during that time period. Perhaps the fiercest stinky animal is the Tasmanian Devil. Their teeth and jaws are strong enough to cut through a steel trap. They eat almost any other animal including their own species. Once they kill an animal, they will actually get inside of it while they eat. This makes them really stinky when they come out!

The author gives information on many more animals. After each description, four questions are presented to see how well you remember what you read. Of course the answers are provided to self check. While the picture on the cover might imply that this book is for a younger child, the illustrations inside are actual photographs. The text is more appropriate for tweens, teens and adults. This book is well written with a good dose of humor. Highly recommended for children who are animal lovers, and as a fun reference book for teachers and librarians.

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