Archive for February, 2016

WAGONS HO!

Wagon Train Kids Headed West for Gold

Written by K.B. Shaper

Wagontrainkids,pic

Middle grade historical fiction tale focusing on Jack and his younger sister Mary. The family lives on a farm in Connecticut. One day the children are shocked to learn that their parents are selling everything and heading West on a wagon train in the hopes of finding gold in the California hills. The author traces the journey as the family heads north to Albany and then west to Missouri. There they meet Mr. Booth, the wagon master who will guide them to California.

Shaper goes into detail about the supplies and the preparation needed to prepare for the journey. I do think more time should have been spent describing in detail what the children saw on the journey. In that respect the plot is a bit uneven. One night the members of the wagon train observe someone watching them. Jack and Mary are warned to run if their father signals them. The adventure begins when the children become separated from their parents and are left on their own. A kindly stranger rescues them and brings them into San Francisco, where they work to earn their keep. Will the children be reunited with their parents and what happened to the rest of the members of the wagon train?

The story ends abruptly, if satisfactorily. Some readers may question whether telling the children to run and hide and that they will be found when the danger is past is a realistic scenario. The plot features a traditional nuclear family story with a bit of history about the mid nineteenth century, but may be short of adventure for some 21st century readers. I would still recommend it as an easy chapter book for early middle grade readers. Teachers might use it as a read aloud to supplement this period of American history.

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HUNTED OR HAUNTED?

Malaika

Written by Van Heerling

Malaika,pic

Interesting novella for teen and adult audiences. The author’s intention is to provoke discussion, and to that end, he provides discussion questions at the end of the almost one hundred page story.

The protagonist is an American who has left his wife and children to live a simple life in Kenya, just outside the jungle. He tutors Absko, the son of Abasi, for fresh tobacco and necessities. One day he is visited by a lioness. He names her Malaika, which means Angel in Swahili. They soon develop a strange friendship. Malaika’s pride do not seem to approve, nor do they attack. Abasi warns him that no good can come of this alliance; if the lioness comes near the village she will be killed. Will she be accepted by her pride and can the human feline relationship endure?

The story also illustrates the tender relationship of the American with Abasi, and his promise to help him achieve his dream of journeying to America with his wife and child. This tale probes the heart and soul of each of the characters and the fate of each as their roles play out.

Very well written with nicely developed characters and imagery. Paints an interesting portrait of African life along with a psychological study of the novella’s characters. Thoughtful and provoking; highly recommended as a classroom discussion topic or book club discussion group study. Recommended for ages twelve and older.

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DEATH AND DISNEY

Fantasia: A Short Story for Children and Adults

Written by Jane Turley

Fantasia,pic

This book is a short story containing 5,000 words. Fascinating plot combining the iconic character of Walt Disney with the subjects of cryogenic suspension and climate change. I would not recommend the book for young children, but children age nine and older will certainly enjoy it and have plenty of questions to ask after reading it.

At the outset we meet a doctor and his patient, Walt Disney, who has just emerged from a sixty-five year cryogenic suspension. The year is 2031; Disney awakes both crusty and humorous. He inquires if his film, “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” won the Oscar. Disney has much to learn about modern technology and film making. Soon he is busy reintroducing himself to this strange new world, where New York and London are flooding and viewers are able to transport themselves inside the films they are watching. As Walt grows stronger, it appears to the doctor that this first successful cryogenic resuscitation will be a total success. The ending is totally unexpected.

In less than twenty-five pages, Turley spins an interesting tale raising lots of questions for young and older minds. Great choice for parents and teachers to raise discussions on modern technology, medical science and climate change using a non-scientific story-telling format.

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THREE DIVERSE STORIES

Oliver and Jumpy: Stories 31-33

Written by Werner Stejskal

Illustrated by Mario Tereso

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If you haven’t read any of the Oliver and Jumpy stories, you are in for a treat. Oliver is a stylish tomcat who is best friends with Jumpy and Joey, two kangaroos. The first tale takes place on New Year’s Eve in Oliver’s treehouse. Every year the crockery and cookery in his kitchen come to life to entertain Oliver and his friends. Children will delight as the colorful objects cook, clean, dance, and play music, a delightful and innovative way to celebrate New Year’s Eve. In the second adventure, the three friends are playing with the whales making their way down the coast to Antarctica. But Joey gets a bit too rambunctious when he goes for a swim and a shark comes up to eat him. Oliver will have to devise a clever ploy to save his friend’s life. The third tale is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. When Oliver enters a special door of a local castle, he transforms himself into a tiny creature. Oliver becomes a tour guide for us as he leads readers through the minuscule world of caterpillars, beetles, ants, and lady bugs. We will learn what it is like to a speck in a big universe.

Beautifully illustrated with color that is a feast for young eyes. These stories teach preschool and primary school children important moral lessons and appreciation for animals, plants and the world we live in.

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DWARVES AND DRAGONS

Dingo the Dragon Slayer:Master Zarvin’s Action and Adventure Series #1

Written by M.R. Mathias

Dingo,pic

 

This author has written many short stories and young adult tales about dragons and wizards. In this selection of under one hundred pages, Mathias is aiming toward a wider audience, targeting this book for ages seven and older. There are no illustrations and the text might be a stretch for seven and eight year olds, but I do think that middle grade readers who love fantasy will enjoy the book. The characters are well-developed, the reader rapidly feels their strengths and weaknesses.

Plot centers around Dingo, a dwarf who is the great grandson of Dingo, the Dragon Master who succeeded in roping a young blue dragon. Dingo is far less famous. His job is to guard the vent holes of the cave in which the dwarves of Dropull Mountains live. One day Dingo encounters a human heading toward the cave. The old man urges Dingo to abandon his post and follow him. Reluctantly agreeing to do so, Dingo discovers a dragon wants to lay her eggs in their shaft. He must warn the king.

So the adventure is set for Dingo to somehow convince the dragon to abandon her plan. How will the little dwarf succeed in that monumental task to save his people.? Who is the mysterious old man who suddenly appears to warn them.

Readers who enjoy dragons, magic, dwarves and adventure will enjoy this book. Also makes a good classroom read aloud choice as the chapters are fairly short. Reluctant readers will find the book interesting and appealing .

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FAMILY FUN VACATION PLAN

Mommy Camp (For Dads Too) Plan the Best Summer Ever

Written by Barb Asselin

MommyCamp,pic

Practical planning guide for moms, dads, grandparents, and caregivers. This planning guide is really for any time of the year that a family knows they will have to share together. The key is to do the research and plan ahead including both indoor and outdoor activities. Camp does not have to be sleep away, and vacations need not be expensive with hotels and airfare. Depending on budget, there are numerous ways to have a great time.

Some of the ideas included will be familiar to readers like going to the beach, building a fort, or picnicking, or visiting with family members. Others stress finding inexpensive community resources like local theater, museums and libraries. Families may visit local fairs, farmer’s markets and yard sales. Asselin includes many recipes for cooking in the kitchen and crafts like home-made play dough. Gardening and volunteering opportunities can be found in any neighborhood. While the author does not reinvent the wheel, she does a good job of presenting suggestions and then providing a template that the reader can download free to implement their own ideas after discussing with their own families.

Recommended for moms, dads, grandparents and caregivers who don’t want to spend another summer or school vacation faced with children who say, “I’m bored, what can we do today.?”

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SO SAD

Runaway Smile: An unshared smile is a waste of time (Niditales Book 1)

Written by Nicholas C. Rossis

Illustrated by Dimitris Fousekis

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Readers who take the time to read the Prologue will discover the secret of this book. Plot is simple: a little boy wakes up one morning and finds that he has lost his smile. Shortly after, the reader is introduced to a set of quirky characters that will definitely make him smile. The boy’s dog, wears glasses, reads Proust and drives a car. A clothes-eating monster lives in the bedroom closet and ants windsurf across the boy’s breakfast cereal, but the boy is steadfast in his search to find the missing smile.

The boy meets several adult characters on his way to school. A workman, a man walking his goldfish, a king being photographed, the greatest salesman in the world, and a clown, each display smiles that they are unwilling to share with the boy. At school, the boy asks his teacher , but she replies that a classroom is no place for a smile and proceeds to pass out a test! By this time the poor boy is completely disheartened. When he gets home, he asks his mother how to find his smile. She reveals the secret.

The sepia toned illustrations in this book are done beautifully; they capture the spirit and humor of the tale. A poem, “Ode to a runaway smile,” included at the end portrays the cleverness and wit of the author. Adults will understand all the nuances of this story. The simple illustration on the cover is a bit misleading as to the underlying story. Young children will enjoy the pictures but probably won’t grasp some of the concepts without adult guidance. I feel the book is best suited for independent readers who enjoy different kinds of books with an unusual plot so I would especially recommend it for ages ten and older.

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