Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: Nightmare Club series by Annie Graves, illustrated by Glenn McElhinney

Darby Creek (Lerner Publishing) has a great new series out for your reluctant readers:

A Dog's Breakfast

#2 Help! My Brother's a Zombie

These are the first two titles in what is so far a series of eight. The basic premise is that Annie, a 12-year-old with no parents who does whatever she wants, hosts an annual Halloween sleepover, during which each attendee must tell a suitably scary story. Each title in the series is one of those stories.

The books are written around a 3rd/4th grade reading level, and the covers look 'cool' enough that the average 3rd grader would not be embarrassed to carry them around. A child who doesn't like to read, however, and who has to pick something out for school, might flip through the pages and decide he can live with this one: 

Bonus: the dog eats the annoying kid.

Some spreads have a bit more text, but at just 50 pages (the arbitrary length some teachers insist on for book reports), they appear - and are - an 'easy read'. But, it's reading! Enjoyable reading! Sure, the stories aren't really scary, and there isn't a whole lot of plot and character development, but for the intended audience, these are perfect! Once they've ripped through the series, ease them into some Midnight Library, or Araminta Spooky, and watch them start devouring books. Or, at least, not complain about it so much!

Monday, April 27, 2015

S is for Science and Silliness!

When Christopher and Sheridan were learning their letters, we had fun taking a letter each week (or so), and seeing how we could explore with it. Logan recently started showing an interest, joining in with calling out things that start with a given letter, so we decided it was time to have some fun again!

Logan picked "S" to start us off. Actually, he picked "Q" first, but mean Mommy made him switch. We began with food, because - duh, food! The kids planned the menu for the week. I cheated and gave them a list of meals I wanted to make, and let them assign them to days. We talked about who would be home when, and which days we would have less time to cook. For the few lunches we would be home we planned sandwiches, Spaghettios, and soup with sourdough bread.

Alphabet soup, of course!

Please ignore mess on floor. Shane has discovered emptying shelves, and I gave up trying to keep up with him.
For supper we had sausage bake, sesame chicken, salad (with leftover chicken), smoked sausage-spaetzle-and-sauerkraut, Sloppy Joes, and spaghetti.

For dessert all week: snickerdoodles!

Which involved sifting and stirring, as well as sugar and salt. We shared some with our church family on Sunday. I also made a strawberry cobbler type thing, but that didn't get shared with anyone:)

I wanted to try the sand foam I have seen all over the internet, but I wanted to do it outside - cloud dough is one thing, but sand + laminate flooring = bad, bad, bad. Unfortunately, the weather did not want to cooperate. I thought, surely, if I just put a big rug down first, and stress to everyone that it needs to stay in the tub...

Some colored sand plus shaving cream...

a little mixing...

and then there was Shane. While everyone else was mixing, he was happily throwing handfuls of sand.

All over.

 And then he got up and left.

Still covered in sand. Ah, well, sweeping starts with "s" too, right? I decided to give him some water to rinse off with, and to keep him busy for a bit. I added some of his bath toys.

and, knowing what letter we were studying, he got into my tools and added two screwdrivers. He also added the lid to my deep fryer, but I took that out because a) doesn't start with "s", and b) water + deep fryer = bad, bad, bad.

Meanwhile, the new puppy snoozed through the whole thing. 

"S" is also for sisters, so we made sparkly sun-catchers to send to ours.

Logan got his all the way done and brought it to show me...and dropped the wrong end, so the beads went running everywhere. Poor guy! We got it all put back together, though, good as new.

Then, science, using the book I reviewed Friday! 

Daddy cut open the shiny stones (aka geodes) we got on our trip a few weeks ago. Look at them sparkle in the sun!

 One of our favorite parts of exploring a letter is going on a walk to look for things that start with it. We saw lots of stumps, including a two-seater,

We stopped to put on a silly show.

saw signs, sticks, stormy sky, 

and dozens of other things, and then got to a friend's house.


OhmiGOODness! When did you get THOSE?!

I took a million pictures, none of which turned out because everyone was moving so much.

Daddy kept teasing me that goats don't start with "s", but they are small and sweet, so there!

Kela wasn't so sure,

but the kids liked them,

 and Shane tried to take them home!

We also made word lists, watched Sesame Street, sorted shoes, and added a sparkly "S" to our Willy Wonka tree:

Next week: "G" is for Grandma!

Friday, April 24, 2015


I had today off, so I planned to stay home all day with the kids, get some house cleaning done, work on the letter "S".

But then Sheridan had a cute idea for a birthday present for Grandma, but we didn't have what we needed here, and Logan had outgrown his shoes and needed new ones anyway, so after everyone was finally breakfasted and dressed, we headed into town.

Our first stop was a thrift shop where I hoped to find some of the things I needed, much cheaper. While I was getting all the car seats unbuckled and everyone out, I noticed a giraffe in the window that would be great for my youngest granddaughter. Once everyone was ready to go in...I realized they didn't open for another hour.

So, back into the car seats, and on to Walmart, which of course didn't have what we needed for the present either, but did have something relatively close. When Sheridan realized Logan was getting shoes, she tearfully insisted that I HAD to get HER more shoes, because there was still room in her drawers! I suggested a new dress instead, since the ones she hasn't outgrown tend to look like they were worn to do messy art or to play outside (because - surprise - they were). She thought that was a GREAT idea. So, of course, Walmart has exactly one rack of really ugly dresses. But, they had fiddler crabs! Her name is Adila. I am still not sure how that one happened.

Back to the thrift store, which had some of what I needed, at half of Walmart's prices, but I had already bought most of it at Walmart. Almost forgot the giraffe, which was the only reason I went back there.  Found two play dresses. Then to the mall, for a church dress. This day at home with the kids was rapidly slipping away from me, but once I had promised a new dress, there was no way out without a meltdown. Fortunately, we found one we both agreed on, at a great price, right away. Pleased, I let them stop to throw pennies in the fountain.

Shane fell in.

Yes, all the way in. Briefly submerged.

That water is cold, fyi.

Carried a soaking child to the car, but only had dry diapers, not dry clothes.

Except for the dresses from the thrift shop. Sorry, kid!

Sheridan asked if they could skip naps when we got home, and since I now needed them to do that thing for Grandma's birthday, I said they could. She promptly fell asleep on the sofa. When she woke up, she felt a bit warm to me - 102.4. They started the project anyway, and soon Shane needed his second bath of the day. At least, this time, I was able to take his clothes off first.

Realized the poor crab was still in the plastic bag from Walmart. Pulled the old tank out and set it up. Light doesn't work. Don't particularly care right now.

Just as I started supper cooking, Sheridan started screaming. She had swallowed a coin. A coin. Really? Really??? Simultaneously made phone calls and Googled. Daddy got home from work at this point, and I think thought briefly of going right back out. E-mailed Grandma to inform her that, not only will I be bringing her a sick child tomorrow, but we will need her to save any poop that is produced. Ate supper. Encouraged Sheridan to eat a lot.

Got kids ready for bed. Discovered Shane was taking Logan's clean socks out of his drawer, one at a time, and throwing them into the toilet.

If anyone needs me tonight, TOO BAD! I will be in bed, with a pillow over my head.

Review: Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, by Liz Lee Heinecke

I am one of those librarians who still likes getting print catalogs (hello - I'm ordering books in print, why would I want to look at them on your web site?), and I love getting catalogs from new (to me, anyway) publishers. A couple months ago I received one from Quarto Publishing group, and immediately saw several titles that looked interesting. But - flexibound? What exactly is that? Most importantly, is it something that will hold up on our shelves? I e-mailed the company, and they graciously sent me a copy of this title:

Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family Friendly Experiments from Around the House

"At-home science provides an environment for freedom, creativity and invention that is not always possible in a school setting. In your own kitchen, it's simple, inexpensive, and fun to whip up a number of amazing science experiments using everyday ingredients. Science can be as easy as baking. Hands-On Family: Kitchen Science Lab for Kids offers 52 fun science activities for families to do together. The experiments can be used as individual projects, for parties, or as educational activities groups. Kitchen Science Lab for Kids will tempt families to cook up some physics, chemistry and biology in their own kitchens and back yards. Many of the experiments are safe enough for toddlers and exciting enough for older kids, so families can discover the joy of science together."

First, the binding - think very flexible but sturdy sort of plastic, the look of a shiny paperback but heavier. The actual end binding looks to be quite firmly stitched, nothing that is going to come loose any time soon. I think it will be fine in our nonfiction or chapter books, and I may even give it a go in the picture books.

As for the content: what a fun book! We love trying out science experiments at home, and this has all the classics: Diet Coke and Menthos, for example.

The thing is, while explosions are always good for attention, I have a hard time explaining on a three-year-old level exactly WHY they happened. What I loved about this book is that each experiment comes with a paragraph or two of scientific explanation that is simple enough for even those of us with giant mental-science-blocks to understand and paraphrase as needed. 

We tried many of the experiments, and plan to do more. Most use very simple, cheap materials. 

A head of purple cabbage, shredded and boiled,

add some baking soda to one portion,

and some vinegar to another,

and you are learning about acids and bases! Plenty of juice left in the pot to try out other substances. Of course, now that you have baking soda and vinegar, you HAVE to put them together - outside!

Minor explosion!

And it turned back to the original purple. An unintended experiment happened when I tossed this mess in the dirt - and it all fizzed and bubbled! Acid soil? I think we need more cabbage...

Monster eyes were fun. Put plain eggs in vinegar overnight, and the shells dissolve, but the membranes remain. You can pick them up, and they feel rubbery - squeeze, and the liquid egg runs out.

Another unintended lesson, bubbles formed on the eggs and made some rise to the top and then sink as they popped - two lessons in one!

Logan is mad because his hasn't risen yet.

You've seen the food coloring in milk one on Facebook, right?

Okay, cheesy ones, THAT'S realistic.

This one (on page 56) deals with surface tension, but happened too fast to take pictures. It worked, though!

And then we played in the water for a while, because - water!

I plan to get this on the shelves at some point, but we are having too much fun playing with it right now! I do also plan to buy more from Quarto, because this one was a definite hit all the way around.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Anyone But Ivy Pocket, by Caleb Krisp

When publishers send books to reviewers, they sometimes add a little attention-getter; a bookmark, a postcard, etc. This one came with a letter that tickled me enough that I have to include part of it here:

Esteemed Reader,

To be honest, I am horrified.
Practically bedridden.
Naturally I blame Greenwillow.
Publishing Anyone but Ivy Pocket was their idea. And now they tell me that my literary creation needs help. It is wickedly impertinent! They say I must throw myself at the mercy of the greatest band of blackguards and ne'er-do-wells the world has ever known. I speak, of course, of booksellers, librarians, teachers, and reviewers...

Well, any time someone refers to be as a ne'er-do-well, I feel inclined to like them, and the type of speech here - sort of an aristocrat making fun of aristocracy - is definitely something I enjoy. It puts me in mind of the Incorrigibles series. And causes me to use phrases like "puts me in mind of".

Anyone but Ivy Pocket

Ivy Pocket is a walking disaster, at every turn enraging and appalling the fancy aristocrats she works for. But our protagonist doesn't see herself that way at all. In fact, she's convinced she's rather wonderful, perfectly charming, and extremely talented. When Ivy finds herself abandoned and penniless in Paris, she has no idea how she will get back to England. Fate intervenes when Ivy is called to the sickbed of a dying duchess and is charged with delivering a spectacular (and possibly cursed) diamond necklace to Matilda Butterfield on her twelfth birthday. From that moment on, Ivy Pocket is propelled towards her remarkable destiny in a surprising adventure full of villains, mayhem, and misunderstandings.

The dedication was equally appealing: "For my housekeeper, Mrs. Cuttlefish, who I buried in the garden." Although, that did set off quite a discussion on Facebook, ending with the determination that it should be "whom I buried." Really, Mr. Krisp, one who is writing about a maid with all the natural instincts of a major newspaper editor should know that.

I don't want to give away a single detail of the actual story, I will just say that I found Ivy even more appealing than she finds herself, I found her versions of the truth much more intriguing than the actual truth, and I am very much looking forward to the sequel(s). Barbara Cantini's illustrations are absolutely perfect, and made me think of a cross somehow of Edward Gorey (but with cleaner lines) and Tim Burton, with maybe some David Catrow (think Cinderella Skeleton). I googled her to see what other books she has illustrated, would appear, none! Not in the US, anyway, although she does have some cute items available on Zazzle. Good find, HarperCollins!

This is definitely one to go to the top of your to-order pile if you are a librarian, and one to buy IMMEDIATELY for your quirky young reader - I'd say anyone between 3rd and 8th grade. I have already added Krisp's name to my list of authors whose books I automatically buy. Yes, I enjoyed it that much! After much internal debate, I have decided to add this to the library collection, and buy Sheridan her own copy in a few years - so, it is on our shelves now, and ready to reach, as Mr. Krisp's letter puts it;

"the children who will inevitably fall in love with her."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Who the What?

I'm seeing a small trend in my TBR pile...

Clark the Shark: Tooth Trouble

Two Clark the Shark books today...

Clark the Shark Takes Heart

Clark is really growing on me, as a big lovable - toothsome - lug. In "Tooth Trouble", we learn there is one thing sharks might be afraid of...dentists! ("It took his mother, two dads, and a dental assistant to get Clark into the dentist's chair.") Of course, it turns out this dentist isn't scary at all - she even tells really HORRIBLE jokes, just like our dentist! (Sorry, Dr. Westover, but we have to call it like we see it.) It's great to see a beginning reader that is actually a good story, not a forced collection of vocabulary words. Another great passage:

"Billy-Ray Ray says dentists are mean and scary," said Clark.
"Billy-Ray also told you that whales can fly," said his mom.
"Oh, yeah," said Clark.

In Clark the Shark Takes Heart, Clark wants to impress Anna Angelfish, but he tends to go a bit overboard, with some unintended results. When he finally goes with sweet and simple, he of course gets the girl. Er, fish.

Then we have:

Splat the Cat and the Hotshot

Splat can hardly wait to put on his uniform, tie knots, and build a fire. But when a new member of the group does everything just a bit better than everyone else, Splat wishes he could have a chance to shine. Thanks to some sticky mud, he might get to show what a great outdoors-cat he really is!

I am not as big a fan of Splat, as his books tend to be hit-or-miss. Reviews of a couple I liked can be found here and here. This one is thankfully without the gimmicks of lift-the-flaps or stickers, and I was equally thankful that the author (actually Laura Driscoll) did not take the path of Scott, the impressive new scout, being arrogant, or Splat being peevishly jealous. Splat admires Scott's abilities, Scott is happy to help Splat out, and when Splat gets the chance to return the favor, nobody has to feel bad about it. Definitely one to circulate among the kids (and maybe the grown-ups!)

Hey - say, "Rob Scotton's Cat Scout Scott" three times fast.

Never mind, I can't say it once.

Charlie the Ranch Dog: Stuck in the Mud

Charlie has a new picture boo out, too, which we are waiting on. The first thing my kids do upon picking up any Charlie the Ranch Dog book, is look for the chipmunk on each page. A couple spreads don't seem to have one, which will cause no end of consternation in my household. Other than that, I think the kids will enjoy the story - heck, anything involving mud makes them happy!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Review: Who Wants a Hug? by Jeff Mack

Who Wants a Hug?

Everyone likes hugs, especially when Bear gives them! Everyone, that is, except for Skunk. Bear really gets on Skunk's nerves. He's too happy . . . and he's always giving way too many hugs! Skunk has the perfect plan to keep Bear from giving any more hugs. Will it work?

Okay, I'm kind of with skunk on this one. Not a big hugger - my bubble, your bubble, y'know? But, I generally go with  a simple, "No, thank-you," rather than resorting to some of skunk's tricks. Kids will get a huge kick out of the results when skunk's tricks, predictable, backfire. Bear is cartoony, and skunk looks a step away from death's door, while the blissful expressions on the animals' faces can make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside just by themselves. A great read-aloud for groups or individuals. And, since I don't mind hugging kids at all, it will be easy to wrap this one up with huge (and hopefully not stinky) hugs all around!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Picture Book Reviews

Joey and the Giant Box

When Joey decides to keep the giant box in which the new dishwasher arrives, he comes up with a very special use for it — and does a mitzvah along the way.

Nothing beats a big empty box! 

We couldn't settle on a single pirate flag design
One of my all-time-favorite books is Christina Katerina and the Box,, by Patricia Lee Gauch. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis is another recent favorite. Joey is the first I have seen, though, to think of using the box to help other people.

Parts of the text are forced, as the author tries to both impart the lesson of helping others and insert some Jewish terms, with the result that they sound more foreign than familiar. This easy read could be a good way to introduce a canned food drive to a classroom, however - or to motivate your kids to finally let you get that big box out of the living room!

Goodnight Already!

Meet Bear. He's exhausted. All he wants is to go to sleep. Meet Duck, Bear's persistent next-door neighbor. All he wants is to hang out . . . with Bear.

Or, this could read: "Meet Ami. She's exhausted. All she wants is to go to sleep. Meet Shane, Ami's energetic one-year-old..."

Feel free to insert your own toddler's name, mommies! We all feel for you, Mr. Bear. Every time you are almost asleep, here comes Shane Sheridan Logan Christopher Duck, with increasingly implausible reasons for why he needs to wake you up. And when he finally falls asleep...

Very cute, in text and in illustrations (doesn't Bear look familiar EXHAUSTED there?), sure to tickle both kids and adults!

**My review copy came with a little...sign-on-a-stick thing, but I see no indication that it comes with every copy. Included on the back, though, are some general tips for calm bedtimes (nothing you can't find by googling), and a list of things to find in the book: pink bunny, light switch, popcorn, flour bag, wooden spoon, band-aid, and telephone.

Birthday Rules

When it comes to birthdays, no one knows how to party like Percy! Just follow his simple rules—like #2 "Happy times call for happy measures" and #9 "Be careful what you wish for"—to make the most of your celebration. Even when the cake has been consumed and the presents put away, Percy still has a trick up his sleeve to make a birthday extra special! 

Murfin's illustrations are enjoyable, but the rhythm of the text is off frequently enough to be jarring. I wouldn't select it as a read-aloud, but a child with an upcoming birthday may enjoy it. Be aware, however, that the celebrations are very one-cultural, and a child may be just as likely to ask why they don't do something Percy does, or why he doesn't do something they are used to (where is the pinata??!!) It is also focused quite heavily on gifts ("anything is good that comes wrapped up in a bow...There's no time like the present for a present!") and other material pleasures. A supplemental addition to a collection.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Plant Experiments series by Nadia Higgins

Have I mentioned that I go a little nutso with planting in the Spring? I have? Oh, okay. Well, then.

As I may or may not have mentioned, I find it hard to wait until it is safe to plant things outside, and I don't have much room to plant inside. There are also those pesky little things called kids and cats, which make the life expectancy of any sort of houseplant rather short.

Fortunately, there is also this little thing called work, which has (besides books) many high flat surfaces and a whole lot of natural lighting. When I started here ten years ago, I had one philodendron, one spider plant, and I inherited a large aloe. Now, the room looks like this (if you are standing on a chair, which I will ask you to please not do if I see you, so please don't):

Yes, I see that dead leaf, I'll get it in a minute. The point is, I DO have a place to satisfy my need for green, and to maybe play around a bit in the dirt. Or, to experiment, even:

Experiment with Parts of a Plant  Experiment with a Plant's Living Environment
9781467757331                             9781467757317

There are four other titles in this series. You can also experiment with a Plant's Roots, Photosynthesis, Pollination, and What a Plant Needs to Grow. I would be interested in seeing if there is any repetition of activities - for example, between the Roots and the Parts of a Plant titles, or the Living Environment and Needs to Grow - has anyone seen those titles together?

In general, I love the quality of Lerner's binding, their illustrations are always clear and colorful, and any time I can add simple but accurate science books to the junior reader section, I am happy!

As for specifics: Parts of a Plant begins by describing the six main parts of a plant, but then acknowledges that not all plants have those parts (mosses, for example, don't have flowers or seeds). Bravo, already doing better than the textbook I had when I was teaching second grade! The first experiment involves finding out how much water a plant takes in through its roots, suggesting that you use crab grass. I wish I had known - I just spent three days pulling crab grass out of the children's garden outside. I'm sure it will be back - if anyone would like to try this experiment, help yourself! 

I wondered if they would account for evaporation, and they did - I would have used a control glass, however, which could provide a whole extra lesson, and they didn't spend any time explaining why you have to rule out other factors, but - again, simple is the key. Other experiments include the good old colored carnations, transpiration (plant sweat), and seed transportation (I would have liked to see other options used here, as well). Fun facts, glossary, further reading, and an index round out the end of the book (with a table of contents at the beginning) - I appreciate Lerner treating young readers like 'big kids' in this regard, letting parents/teachers get them used to using such at an early age.

A Plant's Living Environment covers temperature, worms, pollution, and water storage. Any of these simple experiments would be great for a first science fair, and we do plan on getting the rest of the books as soon as we have the funds. All in all, a great addition for school or classroom libraries, or for any kids who like to explore and find out "why"!