Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book Review: 'The Night Before St. Patrick's Day' by Natasha Wing

✰✰✰ In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, two children decorate the house and set traps for the tricky leprechaun. With streamers, shamrocks, and plenty of shiny things, how can the leprechaun resist? The next morning at breakfast, there's a loud clatter. The traps have worked! It seems like the little leprechaun has met his match and must reveal the location of his gold. However, as the kids soon learn, the leprechaun always gets the last laugh.

The Bottom Line: This is a cute St. Patrick's Day take on the classic Christmas poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Recommended for storytime for kids ages 3 - 6.

Details: The Night Before St. Patrick's Day written by Natasha Wing & illustrated by Amy Wummer. Hardcover picture book published by Grosset & Dunlap in 2009. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-448-44852-7

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Review: 'The Perfect Storm' by Sebastian Junger

✰✰✰✰ When the storm of the century hit, the Andrea Gail was on its way home with a boatload of fish. Unfortunately, the Andrea Gail was in the wrong place at the wrong time as every single factor precipitating this situation had to come together perfectly. The Perfect Storm takes the reader to the very center of the storm with waves over 100 feet high. We meet the crew through their family and friends and learn about dangers of the fishing industry. While we'll never know exactly what happened aboard the Andrea Gail, Junger made every effort to craft an authentic and engaging read.

The Bottom Line: Survival stories are a popular topic and this book definitely keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. It's a fast-paced read with lots of information. Highly recommended for fans of adventure, survival, suspense, and tragedy.

Book Club Notes: This book was the topic of a brand new book club featuring nonfiction books and the films based on those books. Club members can either read the book, watch the film, or both. It was fascinating to note the differences between the two formats, and surprisingly every member chose to read the book. About half of us watched the film as well, and we noted the addition of a character (Irene) in the film. The average rating for this book/film was 4.25 out of 5. Most of us really enjoyed the book even though it's been out for around twenty years.

Our discussion focused on the fishing industry, which most of us knew little about. We also discussed the weather and the rescue efforts. Additionally, we discussed how the author crafted this book by using accounts from people who had been in similar situations to those he was writing about. We also took the time to compare/contrast the book to the movie. Those of us who had both read the book and watched the film thought the movie adaptation was very well done. This book is highly recommended for book clubs.

Discussion questions can be found at Reading Group Guides. Finally, we also discussed some movie trivia, which can be found here.

Details: The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger. Paperback published by W. W. Norton & Co. in 2009. 233 p. ISBN: 978-0-393-33701-3

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Review: 'The Other Wes Moore' by Wes Moore

✰✰✰✰ Once upon a time there were two Baltimore boys named Wes Moore. Both boys had difficult childhoods without their fathers present. Both struggled in school. Both played sports and hung out on street corners. Both got into trouble with the police. Then things changed. One Wes Moore grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar and combat veteran, while the other Wes Moore ended up serving a life sentence in prison.

How could two boys with such similar childhoods end up in two completely different places? Was it fate? Or was there something else at play? When author Wes Moore learned about the manhunt for the other Wes Moore, he couldn’t let go of the idea that it could have been him the police were looking for. Where did their parallel lives diverge? Did the author simply make different choices or was it just chance that led them down their respective roads? This book takes a fascinating look at what makes a difference in a child's life.

The Bottom Line: Author Wes Moore delves into the difficult issues of poverty, education, sociology, racism, and drugs in his debut book. Part biography and part autobiography, Moore takes a look at both the striking similarities and startling differences between the himself and the other Wes Moore. Moore's honesty and engaging writing style will appeal to both young adults and adults. Highly recommended reading for those interested in social issues. Also, recommended for high school and college reading.

Book Club Notes: Our group often tackles challenging issues, and this book brings up many. We looked at the role of the family, growing up fatherless, faith, race, education, inner city life, and personal decisions. We also discussed life in prison and how that situation affects a person. We chose to discuss this title during Black History Month and were able to discuss many African American role models as well. 

Our group gave this title an average rating of 3.8 out of 5. This was an engaging and quick read. It provided us with valuable insight into the issues faced by children growing up in the inner city. We agreed that the author did a great job at making comparisons and contrasts between the two young men while trying to remain objective. The group enjoyed a lively discussion about just what it was that made a difference, and we each had a different answer: lucky breaks, mentors, faith, support systems, personal choices. Perhaps it was a combination of factors that made a difference too. We highly recommend this for book clubs and also high school or college discussions. 

There is an abundance of discussion questions online, including at both LitLovers and MPPL

Details: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. Paperback published by Spiegel & Grau Trade Paperbacks in 2011. 250 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-52820-7 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review: 'Secret Valentine' by Catherine Stock

✰✰✰✰½ From author and illustrator Catherine Stock comes a gentle story of a mother and child making cards to celebrate Valentine's Day. The little girl's mother explains that "'s a day to tell people that you love them." Together they make paper hearts and decorate the cards. When Valentine's Day arrives the little girl discovers that receiving cards is fun too, especially when one of the cards is a surprise.

The Bottom Line: As part of the The Festive Year collection of  holiday stories, this picture book about celebrating Valentine's Day is a winner. Stock's illustrations in watercolors and colored pencils are soft and engaging. With a focus of thinking of others and making cards instead of buying them, this sweet and tender story is perfect for classroom and library storytimes. Highly recommended for little ones ages 3 - 6.

Details: Secret Valentine written & illustrated by Catherine Stock. Hardcover picture book published by Bradbury Press in 1991. 26 p. ISBN: 0-02-788372-8

Friday, February 2, 2018

Book Review: 'The Secret of the First One Up' by Iris Hiskey Arno

✰✰✰✰ Little Lila is a groundhog with a problem. It's winter, but she's not sleepy. Everyone else has already gone to bed. Lila wonders about what happens all winter long. She also wants to know about the secret of the first one up.

Uncle Wilber isn't telling, but he challenges Lila to be up earlier than anyone else. When Lila finally wakes up, she races Above Ground and finds all of the neighbor animals waiting for her. They all want to know if she sees it. Sees what? Lila looks around. What's the secret? Check out this charming tale about weather folklore to find out.

The Bottom Line: With notes about the tradition of Groundhog Day, this picture book is a gentle and fun read for kids in preschool to grade 2. The tale is engaging, and the pages are filled with lovely, soft illustrations in acrylic, colored pencil, and gouache. Enthusiastically recommended for storytime or bedtime reading.

Details: The Secret of the First One Up written by Iris Hiskey Arno & illustrated by Renée Graef. Hardcover picture book published by NorthWord Press in 2003. 32 p. ISBN: 1-55971-867-6

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book Review: 'Counting on Snow' by Maxwell Newhouse

✰✰✰✰ This visually powerful and stunning board book features unusual arctic animals in the winter snow. Readers count backwards from ten caribou down to nothing as the light snowfall becomes a blizzard.

The Bottom Line: Besides the engaging folk art in oil and linen, the beauty and cleverness of this book is in its simplicity. Newhouse uses a very limited color palette to illustrate the arctic landscape, and the text is large. This sturdy book is perfect for classroom or library story times for tots in preschool. Little ones will be fascinated as the animals blend into the snowy background just like they do in real life.

Details: Counting on Snow written & illustrated by Maxwell Newhouse. Hardcover board book published by Tundra Books in 2017. 24 p. ISBN: 978-77049-992-8 NOTE: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: 'Little Penguins' by Cynthia Rylant

✰✰✰½ Snowflakes are falling, and winter is coming. Five little penguins prepare for winter fun by finding their mittens, boots, and scarves before venturing out into the snow. After playing in the cold, warm cookies await before snuggling into bed. Hurrah! Winter is here. 

The Bottom Line: The use of large type and simple words that repeat make this a winner for beginning readers. Soft illustrations convey the story well, and the use of a limited color palette will keep little ones focused on the story. Recommended for storytime or bedtime reading for kids in preschool.

Details: Little Penguins words by Cynthia Rylant & pictures by Christian Robinson. Hardcover picture book published by Schwartz & Wade Boks in 2016. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-553-50770-6