Tuesday, October 14, 2014

BLOG TOUR w/ GIVEAWAY: Claude on the Slopes by Alex T. Smith


In this latest adventure, on a winter's day, Claude goes from throwing snowballs and making snowmen to causing an all-out avalanche! In a stunning hardback edition for the first time.


After briefly considering careers in space travel, cookery, and being a rabbit, Alex T. Smith finally decided to become an illustrator. He graduated from Coventry University with a degree in illustration and won second place in the Macmillan Prize for Children's Illustration. He lives in England.

You can visit Alex T. Smith’s website here.


Another cute story about a fun loving dog and his best friend, Sir Bobblysock (who is in fact an actual sock), Claude on the Slopes takes the reader to a mountain resort where Claude and Sir Bobblysock experience a snowman building contest, sledding, and skiing.  Claude also learns the importance of safety and using an inside voice on the slopes, but will he be able to help when the worst actually occurs?  This is a humorous early reader series with only a few sentences per page accompanied by numerous exaggerated, cartoon-like illustrations. I especially love Claude's beret which reminds me distinctly of Mary Poppins' carpet bag--capable of carrying anything and everything that one could ever need.  A series that is bound to have numerous fans of all ages.


*All images are copyrighted and shown with permission of the publisher.




1 print copy of Claude on the Slopes
US only

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Monday, October 13, 2014

MIX N' MATCH MONDAY: Owls, Owls, and more Owls!

Here are some great books about owls both fiction and nonfiction. I've been working on a unit about owls for one of my classes and her are some of the fabulous books I found.


14612003Oola the Owl Who Lost her Hoot!
by Tim Bugird, illustrated by Clare Fennell
Make Believe Ideas, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-78065-487-4
Picture Book

A delightful book about a young owl who lost her hoot after playing all night.  She goes out to find it and learns an important lesson about sharing.  The darling illustrations and cute writing make this ideal for reading out loud.


by Divya Srinivasan
Viking, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-01295-4
Picture Book

by Divya Srinivasan
Viking, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-670-01650-1
Picture Book

These two books go hand in hand since the main character is the same.  In fact they work together fabulously for a compare and contrast activity. The stories revolve around Little Owl and his experiences exploring the world around him, once at night and once during the day.


The True Story of Jackson the Owl
by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen
Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Sleeping Bear Press, 2001
Picture Book

A thoroughly fascinating story about the bond between a great horned owl and the family who rescued and raised him before returning him to the wild.  The gorgeous illustrations are the highlight here as the text is a bit word heavy for reading out loud.  But still a great story.

by Laura Marsh
National Geographic Kids, 2014
Early Reader Nonfiction

A beautiful book with lots of great information as well as incredible photographs of owls.  The inclusion of jokes, a glossary, and a table of contents make this a great resource. The book also includes interesting facts, a diagram and a variety of different types of owls.

by Gail Gibbons
Holiday House, 2005
ISBN: 978-0-8234-2014-8
Picture Book Nonfiction

Gail Gibbons once again manages to create a beautiful and informative book.  Her paintings are gorgeous and she includes fascinating information about owls.  A great addition to any library. Never ceases to amaze me how much information she manages to include in a short picture book.

Animal Predators series
by Sandra Markle
Lerner, 2004
ISBN; 978-1-57505-745-3
Picture Book Nonfiction

Sandra Markle is another great nonfiction writer who writes in such an appealing understandable way that it's hard not to love her books.  Plus the photographs are amazing.

Nocturnal Animals
by Mary R. Dunn
Capstone Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4296-7119-4
Picture Book Nonfiction

Capstone Press does an excellent job of creating nonfiction for the youngest readers.  With only a few sentences they convey a great deal of information that nicely complements the beautiful photographs.

MMGM: Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake


Bestselling and award-winning author, Sharon G. Flake, delivers a mystery set in the 1950s that eerily blends history, race, culture, and family.

Octobia May is girl filled with questions. Her heart condition makes her special - and, some folks would argue, gives this ten-year-old powers that make her a "wise soul." Thank goodness for Auntie, who convinces Octobia's parents to let her live in her boarding house that is filled with old folks. That's when trouble, and excitement, and wonder begin. Auntie is non-traditional. She's unmarried and has plans to purchase other boarding homes and hotels. At a time when children, and especially girls, are "seen, not heard," Auntie allows Octobia May the freedom and expression of an adult. When Octobia starts to question the folks in her world, an adventure and a mystery unfold that beg some troubling questions: Who is black and who is "passing" for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism?

And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist? In her most and probing novel yet, Sharon G. Flake takes us on a heart-pumping journey.


There were many things I liked about this book and a few things I did not.  On the positive side, I really enjoyed Octobia May and her friend Jonah.  Octobia May is a girl full of spunk and curiosity who relishes the freedom living with her aunt gives her after being smothered by her parents after nearly dying.  Unfortunately, she tends to misuse her freedom to spy on one of her aunt's boarders, Mr. Davenport and she drags her friend Jonah into her misadventures.  Her determination to prove Mr. Davenport is a vampire exasperates her aunt and everyone else around her.  And her neighbors highly disapprove of her behavior as it is 1953 and she is expected to behave with more decorum. But slowly she starts to realize that what she thought was going on isn't what is going on at all and she better figure things out in a hurry before she finds herself losing all her new found freedom.

I enjoyed the look at a time period I am not overly familiar with and what life was like for many African Americans.  The twist that Flake adds to the story is an intriguing one and one that I don't think most middle grade readers will have spent much time pondering.  Octobia May also finds herself confronting the whole 'don't rock the boat' ideology that many people find themselves sitting in as she listens to her aunt and others talk about changes that would like to see but who are unwilling for the most part to help seek those changes.

The problems I had with the book revolve around the style of writing and the occasional use of dialect.  At first I thought these were just errors but they kept happening so I then assumed that it was supposed to be a way of speaking, which I found a bit irritating. I have no idea how realistic this is for the time (1953) and place (African American community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) but it rubbed me the wrong way a bit.  Not enough to stop me from reading the book, but enough to make it a much less smooth read.

The use of present tense didn't really bother me as it works to keep the reader knowing only what Octobia May knows which adds tension.  But the short often incomplete sentences were sometimes hard to follow and I didn't always know who was talking or to whom.

Overall, the story was enjoyable with plenty of action and tension, great characters, and an interesting setting.  But the style and writing could have been smoother.

Friday, October 10, 2014

BZRK by Michael Grant GIVEAWAY (YA)

BZRK series by Michael Grant
Ages 14 and up

Trade Paperback
2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults


Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind.  Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal:  to turn the world into their vision of utopia.  No wars, no conflict, no hunger.  And no free will.  Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human.  This is no ordinary war, though.  Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain.  And there are no stalemates here:  It’s victory . . . or madness.

BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose?  How far would you go to win?
 “With simmering pots of sexual tension, near-nonstop action, and the threat of howling madness or brain-melting doom around every corpuscular corner, Grant’s new series is off to a breathless, bombastic start.”—Booklist, starred review

Trade Paperback
VOYA Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror 2013


The entire BZRK cell--including Noah and Sadie--has been left in pieces after the last round of battle with the Armstrong Twins, conjoined brother who plot to rob mankind of its free will. Vincent's mind is shattered, and his memories hold dangerous secrets--secrets that Lear, BZRK's mysterious leader, will stop at nothing to protect.

Meanwhile, Bug Man has taken control of the President's brain, but playing with sanity is a dangerous game. The consequences can spiral way out of control, and the Armstrong Twins are not people Bug Man can afford to disappoint.

The nano is as terrifying, exhilarating, and unpredictable as ever. But the wall of secrets that surrounds it is cracking. What will it reveal? And once the dust has settled, who will be sane enough to find out?

 “The graphic descriptions of what the real and artificial creatures . . . Add in some discussable ideas on the ethics of human experimentation and a smart, simple explanation of the potential in nanotechnology . . . . Round out the experience with realistically unpredictable characters and blockbuster action sequences to complete this thoroughly enjoyable, incredibly disturbing story.”—VOYA, perfect 10 review

18710282BZRK APOCALYPSE          
On Sale: 10/14/2014      


Noah and Sadie have seen death, and it holds no fear for them. Madness does, though. And losing each other. But they will not sit back, helpless witnesses to an invisible apocalypse. The world is being destroyed from the inside out. It's time to take up the fight once more, in the streets and in the nano. And they'll give everything they have to stop the Armstrong Twins. But are the Twins the ultimate enemy? Nobody has ever known the identity of Lear, the shadowy leader of BZRK. Just who have they been fighting for? As madness spreads like a plague, one thing becomes terrifyingly clear: this was Lear's game all along. And Lear hasn't been playing fair.

 A great choice for readers with a strong stomach, an interest in the future of biomedical technology and the essential ethical debate, or anyone willing to embark on an unnerving, frighteningly plausible thrill ride all around the globe.”—VOYA, perfect 10 review


BZRK Trilogy (2 paperbacks and 1 hardback)
US only

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Feathers Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and Aviary Wonders Inc by Kate Samworth



Young naturalists meet sixteen birds in this elegant introduction to the many uses of feathers. A concise main text highlights how feathers are not just for flying. More curious readers are invited to explore informative sidebars, which underscore specific ways each bird uses its feathers for a variety of practical purposes. A scrapbook design showcases life-size feather illustrations.


I love it when I discover picture book nonfiction that teaches me something new.  While picture book nonfiction is, of course, designed to teach children, I'm always extra impressed when I learn something new as well.  To me that means the author and illustrator have done their homework and made the book as good as possible.  The author has done a fabulous job sharing information about feathers that I'd never heard before.  For example, I had no idea that some birds use some of their feathers to dig out a burrow or that the Club-winged manakin uses some of its feathers to whistle.  The comparison of feathers to other objects also makes the book a great teaching tool as well.  The illustrations are beautiful and I love the design which makes the book look like a scrapbook.  The large text is perfect for reading out loud with younger children while the smaller text adds details for older readers.  All in all a fabulous addition to picture book nonfiction in all libraries.


Since 2031, Aviary Wonders Inc. has offered bird lovers a unique opportunity: Assemble your own bird from stunningly beautiful and carefully hand-crafted parts. The birds can even be taught to fly and to sing! This slyly satirical crafter's delight is offered as the perfect antidote to extinction of birds in the wild.

Brilliantly illustrated with oil paintings and filled with laugh-aloud asides as well as sobering facts about extinct species, this mock catalog is a clever send-up of contemporary sales spin and a thought-provoking look into an all-too-possible future.


What a clever book!  There are a lot of different ways to talk about animals going extinct but I've never seen anything like this book.  The book seems to be a catalog that allows the reader to design his/her own bird by choosing the appropriate parts (torso, legs, beak, wings, and tail) from those available.  The book also sneaks in information about different birds that have gone extinct over the last few centuries because of human choices.  It's also clear that the author/illustrator had a lot of fun with the coloring of the different parts.  The colors are beautiful but clearly not real.  Some of the combinations are quite entertaining, especially when wattles and crests are added to birds that don't really have them.  The instructions on how to put the bird together after receiving the parts is also quite impressive and entertaining.  What the book reminds me of is how amazing nature really is and if aren't careful more birds will disappear and that would truly be a great shame.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

BLOG TOUR with GIVEAWAY: Can I Come Too? by Brian Patten and Nicola Bayley


Follow a small mouse's biggest adventure in this gentle, cumulative tale from a world renowned author and artist team. 
     A very small mouse decided it wanted to have a very big adventure. "I'll go and find the biggest creature in the world," it thought. Along the way it meets many different animals and when at last they find the biggest creature the little mouse feels a great sense of achievement.


Author Photo
Author Photo

Brian Patten is the author of The Big Snuggle-Up, as well as several poetry collections for children. He lives in England.

You can visit Brian Patten’s website here.

Nicola Bayley has illustrated many acclaimed picture books for children, including The Big Snuggle-Up and The Jungle Book. She lives in England.

The illustrations in this book are gorgeous!  They have the soft dreamy feel to them that I am such a big fan of.  Each of the animals stands out in a beautiful way.  The story is sweet too as the mouse leads the animals on a search for the biggest creature in the world.  And having company makes the adventure all the more exciting for the mouse.  As the mouse asks each animal if he/she is the largest creature in the world they say no and express interest in joining the adventure.  The mouse is very welcoming and inspires the others to go on an adventure as well.  This is a truly sweet story about how one can inspire many to experience things they might never have tried on their own.  A winner all the way around.

1 print copy of Can I Come Too?
US only


Peachtree Publishers

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

NONFICTION MONDAY: Chasing the Storm by Ron Miller


Huge, towering clouds build up in the sky--it's a supercell. The Doppler radar indicates that the system is rotating. But is there a funnel? Is it touching the ground? Only a storm chaser can confirm when a tornado is present--and help meteorologists warn nearby towns.


Chasing the Storm looks at the human fascination with weather, specifically storm chasers and why they do what they do.  I especially enjoyed the quotes from actual storm chasers.  The book also goes on to discuss the following aspects of being a storm chaser:

  • A Day in the Life of a Storm Chaser
  • What Makes a Tornado?
  • What's going on with the weather?
  • Meteorology on the Job
  • Official Weather Watchers
  • Being a Storm Chaser
I appreciate how precise yet readable the book is.  Since I have many students who are fascinated by the weather this would be a good book for them.  The design of the book is crisp and appealing. While I did find one editorial error, it doesn't effect the overall value of the book. The diagrams were especially helpful in understanding the conditions that lead to tornadoes and what storm chasers look for and try to measure while in the field.

Check out the Nonfiction Monday blog for more great nonfiction review for children.

Friday, October 3, 2014

FANTASTIC FRIDAY w/ Author Interview and GIVEAWAY: Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron


From T.A. Barron, the New York Times bestselling author of the Merlin Saga, comes a new fantasy world about the origins of Atlantis, perfect for fans of The Lord of the Rings, Eragon, The Beyonders and Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

In a magical land called Ellegandia, a young boy named Promi scrapes by, stealing pies, cakes and sweets to survive. But little does he know that his country is a pawn in an ages-old war between good and evil, battled both in the spirit realm and in the human world. Harboring secrets of his own, Promi teams up with a courageous girl named Atlanta and the two vow to save their land—and each other—no matter the cost. But their vow has greater repercussions than they ever could imagine—in fact, it may just bring about the creation of Atlantis, an island cut off from the rest of the world, where magic reigns supreme.

With his trademark action, adventure, and poignancy,master of fantasy, T.A. Barron explores a new mythology—the origin of the legendary isle of Atlantis. This book is perfect for fans of Rick Riordan, Brandon Mull, Christopher Paolini and, of course, T. A. Barron’s Merlin Saga.

Full_TAB_ProfilePicABOUT THE AUTHOR (from author's website)

T.A. Barron grew up in Colorado ranch country and traveled widely as a Rhodes Scholar. He is the winner of the 2011 de Grummond Medallion for “lifetime contribution to the field of children’s and young adult literature” and many other awards. T. A. Barron is the author of more than 25 highly acclaimed books, many of which are international bestsellers. They include The Lost Years of Merlin (now being developed into a feature film), The Great Tree of Avalon (a New York Times bestselling series), The Ancient One (the tale of a brave girl and a magical tree), and The Hero’s Trail (nonfiction stories of courageous kids).
Though he’d dreamed as a young man of becoming a writer, he couldn’t find anyone to publish his first novel. He joined a business, eventually became president, then decided to try again. So in 1990, he surprised his business partners by moving back to Colorado to become a writer and conservationist.

In 2000, he founded a national award to honor outstanding young people who help their communities or the environment: the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors 25 highly diverse, public-spirited kids each year. He recently produced a documentary film, Dream Big, profiling seven winners of the Barron Prize. When not writing or speaking, T. A. Barron serves on many boards including Princeton University, where he helped to create the Princeton Environmental Institute, and The Wilderness Society, which recently honored him with its highest award for conservation work. His favorite pastime is hiking, camping, or skiing in Colorado with his family.


One of the things that I have always loved about Barron's books is the vivid imagery he uses in building his world.  When I read fantasy I always look for powerful world building because it makes the story that much more believable even when full of magic and other imaginary things.  Barron does this very well.  Plus, he provides plenty of detail allowing the reader to fully immerse him/herself in the story.  In addition to the fabulous world building, Barron also creates characters that have depth with both strengths and weaknesses that the story brings out clearly.  This is done through the characters actions rather than through telling.  In this story, Promi are main character quickly reveals himself to be a rather foolhardy young man who begins the story by humiliating one of the most powerful people in the city.  And he follows that up with something even more dangerous and unfortunately he doesn't exercise enough caution and ends up imprisoned.  Interestingly this proves to be a pivotal moment in his life that changes everything he has ever believed about himself and his home.

Another thing that shines through clearly in this book is Barron's passion for the natural world.  The natural world always plays a strong role in his stories and Atlantis Rising is no exception.  The Great Forest where some of the immortal spirits dwell is vitally important in Ellandia's survival.  Because of a gift many years earlier the forest protects the country from invasion, but there are those who don't understand this and seek to control what they don't understand and the results could be devastating for Promi and his new found friends.  The question then becomes not just one of Promi's individual survival but the survival of the entire land.

A wonderful story about what being a hero really means, about risking oneself for a greater cause, and being willing to sacrifice everything for something more important.  This book would be great for more advanced fantasy readers who love lots of details in their stories, lyrical writing, and a strong dose of passion for the natural world.


*What aspects of writing fantasy to you particularly enjoy? Which aspects not so much?

I write books I would like to read. That means each story must have a character, a relationship, a place, a dilemma, and an idea that I care about. A lot.  All these qualities fit perfectly with fantasy!  And something more – fantasy lets us bend the rules of existence, highlighting tough issues of our time. In this way, fantasy is like a bent mirror. You can reflect the reality of our experience with more intricacy and power—bending life—emphasizing certain elements and de-emphasizing others.  If it succeeds, fantasy transports us to a whole new world, bizarre and terrifying and wonderful, while also illuminating our world.  The trick is to make all this feel true:  Fantasy, as I’ve often said, must be true!

In addition, fantasy gives us a chance to ask some of life's biggest questions in the context of a good old-fashioned page-turner. For example, Merlin's origin story – his lost years – let me explore the idea that all of us, whatever our backgrounds, have some special magic down inside ourselves. Just like that unknown boy who washed ashore, all of us have the potential to reach for the stars.  That point comes across much more powerfully when it’s woven into a story.

What don’t I like about fantasy?  Just how hard it is to write!  Other than that, I love exploring new worlds, characters, and ideas in this way.

*Could you give us some background on the Barron Prize for Young Heroes? Where it came from, what it's intended to do?

I created the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes because young people deserve to hear about real, live kids who are making a difference – kids who have discovered that they have the power to act on their ideals.  When I was on a book tour in 1999, I met some young people who were very cynical and discouraged, who didn’t think they mattered at all – and I realized they needed something stronger than the fictional heroes in my novels.  They needed authentic role models who are making a meaningful difference in the world. We need heroes today more than ever, and the whole point of the Prize is to share the stories of real heroic kids…and hope that those stories might inspire others.

*How would you define a hero? What makes someone a hero in terms of your stories?

True heroism is about character, not fame and glory. Every hero faces a great challenge. Whether it’s something within themselves or something from the world outside, they must reach deep into their hearts to survive—and to triumph. That’s when they find extraordinary courage, wisdom, or inspiration. Heroes give us an idea of our own potential and show us just how far we can go and how high we can climb. Heroes may never be famous, but they clearly make a difference to our lives. Partly because their actions directly touch other people, and often make the world a better place. And partly because their examples have great power to inspire.

*Tell us about the Atlantis series and where you see it going (in terms of what you can share)?

The second book picks up immediately after Atlantis Rising finishes.  But time works differently between Earth and the spirit realm. Quite a bit more could have happened up in the spirit realm than has happened on Atlantis.  You see, during that brief interval, which feels just like a few days on Earth, many perils have risen. Some of them are dangers that come from old enemies—enemies who want to control all the magic and power of the Earth. And some of the perils come from romance…and we all know how tricky that can be.

*What's the most enjoyable part of being a writer?

Writing allows me to explore — wherever and whatever I choose. It’s taken me back in time, to a distant galaxy, to the place where the sea begins, and to the origins of Merlin and Atlantis. Best of all, though, writing is a way to explore the biggest questions of life. Not to find the answers, perhaps, but to do some thoughtful exploring of the questions. The two best parts of the experience are, first, when a word or character or place or idea comes out just right — and, second, when something I’ve written truly touches someone in a meaningful way. And I’m always amazed and humbled by how much stories can mean to people!  Believe me, over the years I’ve been given some truly amazing letters, comments, paintings, sculptures, music, theatrical productions, and even clothing from fans all around the world – not to mention some loving hugs – so I feel very lucky indeed to be a storyteller.


1 signed print paperback copy of Atlantis Rising
US/Canada only

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