Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Today's read... A Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer

We, currently, live less than a day's wagon ride from Laura Ingalls Wilder's home. Actually, I even had the honor to take part in their Children's Literature Festival with my own middle grade novel a year or two ago. So, when I got my hands on today's read, I was more than a little curious to peek inside. 

This one follows a girl and her family from the Ukraine to the prairies of North Dakota, and that during the homesteading period. I'm expecting historical goodness with heart and adventure. Plus, I'm curious to see what the cranes have to do with all of it. So, let's dive in!

by Susan Lynn Meyer
Union Square Kids
Middle Grade Historical Fiction
263 pages
ages 8 to 12

This heartwarming, beautifully written middle-grade historical novel about an untold American frontier story is destined to be a cherished classic. 
North Dakota, 1905
After fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire, eleven-year-old Shoshana and her family, Jewish immigrants, start a new life on the prairie. Shoshana takes fierce joy in the wild beauty of the plains and the thrill of forging a new, American identity. But it’s not as simple for her older sister, Libke, who misses their Ukrainian village and doesn’t pick up English as quickly or make new friends as easily. Desperate to fit in, Shoshana finds herself hiding her Jewish identity in the face of prejudice, just as Libke insists they preserve it.
For the first time, Shoshana is at odds with her beloved sister, and has to look deep inside herself to realize that her family’s difference is their greatest strength. By listening to the music that’s lived in her heart all along, Shoshana finds new meaning in the Jewish expression all beginnings are difficult , as well as in the resilience and traditions her people have brought all the way to the North Dakota prairie

GOODREADS   /    AMAZON   /   B&N   /    KOBO


The pioneering spirit shines bright while weaving in historical themes with cultural care and adding interesting tidbits along the way.

Shoshana and her family can't remain in the Ukraine. As Jews, their lives are constantly threatened. So when the day arrives to pack up and head to America, Shoshana has very mixed feelings. She, her mother, and her siblings head to North Dakota, where her oldest brother and father have already spent the last years building up a farm. With a dugout as their house, English difficult to understand, and survival on the land not guaranteed, Shoshana must figure out how this new life works.

The second I saw the cover, The Little House on the Prairie popped into my head...and that wasn't wrong. The first chapters take place in the Ukraine, opening with the persecution Shoshana and her family face. While the family boards the ship, sails to America, and then, takes a train until they finally arrive in North Dakota, the reader has a chance to get a glimpse at Shoshana and several of her family member's personalities, hopes, and concerns. From there, life on the northern plains with all of its difficulties, wonders, and dreams unfolds...and this in a way, which offers nods toward the still-loved novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder. There's the father's fiddle, a mother's beloved belongings, a lofty shop-owner's daughter and so on. Even the pacing and direction reminds of the above novel. And yet, this book takes on a life of its own.

The Ukrainian origins give Shoshana and her family an intriguing twist. The author has done her research and this shows on every page. From the Yiddish phrases to details surrounding cooking, school life, and more, there is quite a bit for readers to discover and learn. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Shoshana's life in the Ukraine first (to help deepen the understanding of the changes she faces and what she left behind), but there is quite a bit going on in this read already. Not only are the historical details and homesteading side interesting, but themes such as Indian displacement and cultural/religious suppression are also addressed...and that in a natural way. This one is not only great for classrooms and libraries but will draw the interest of more than a few homeschoolers.

And here she is...

Susan Lynn Meyer is the author of two previous middle-grade historical novels—Black Radishes, a Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner, and Skating with the Statue of Liberty—as well as three picture books. Her works have won the Jane Addams Peace Association Children’s Book Award and the New York State Charlotte Award, as well as many other honors. Her novels have been chosen as Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selections, included among Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year, and translated into German and Chinese. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Wellesley College and lives outside Boston.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Happy Book Birthday, Lia Park and the Heavenly Heirlooms by Jenna Yoon!

It's celebration time! Today's read is hitting the shelves today and is the second in the Lia Park series. I did read the first one (yes, you can gasp in amazement) and enjoyed it quite a bit. So, when this one came out, of course I wanted to take a peek. 

Ready for magic, adventure, and mystery, too?

by Jenna Yoon
Middle Grade Fantasy
352 pages
ages 8 to 12

Perfect for fans of the Gifted Clans and Aru Shah series, this thrilling second book of the middle grade fantasy Lia Park series sees Lia and Joon on a mission to protect important magical objects—and themselves—from a mysterious enemy.

Twelve-year-old Lia Park and her best friend, Joon, are now full-time students at International Magic Academy after defeating corrupt diviner Gaya, and their first assignment is an ambitious one. The evil nine-headed monster and King of Darkness, Jihaedaegukjeok, wants to destroy the three Heavenly Heirlooms that create fire and light to plunge the world into darkness and destroy humanity.

The heirlooms can only be destroyed if they are all together, so over time, they have been hidden carefully with magic. Except now, one of them is missing. Lia, Joon, and their classmates have been tasked with recovering the lost heirloom and bringing it to IMA for safekeeping. They expected the task to be difficult, but the number of obstacles the magic trainees run into makes Lia start to wonder if the sabotage could be coming from someone inside the school.

GOODREADS    /     AMAZON    /     B&N 


If magic and adventure weren't enough, this read works in Japanese mythology, friendship, and family love, too.

Lia is off to the IMA (International Magic Academy) and, of course, Joon is with her. While excited, she's also a bit unsure. Not only does she do her best to hide her white streak of hair to avoid attention (doesn't want others knowing she's the famous girl who defeated Gaya), but everyone else there has known about their magic for years. When her magic refuses to function properly, she's the center of the school's gossip, and even Joon seems to be taking sides against her. But these personal problems are going to have to be shoved aside. The King of Darkness has appeared and is determined to destroy the world if someone doesn't stop him.

This is the second book in the Lia Park series and continues Lia's adventures after book one. While it isn't too difficult to sink into this read without reading the first book, I'd still recommend starting at the beginning since earlier events are mentioned several times.

The first chapters start off with rich imagination as Lia enters the IMA for the first time. The magical surroundings and details create a whimsical atmosphere for the academy. This does remind of similar settings, though: broken into four houses/sections of students, a type of choosing ceremony... It's magically familiar while still being original and does draw in. 

Lia's frustration and uncertainty makes her easy to identify with, especially with Joon's behavior (which had me wondering but might work with a big twist at the end). Then, there are the new friends...or not. While the forming friendships appear golden, there's enough doubt and suspicion to even keep that aspect uncertain. Around every corner, a new secret appears and nobody seems to be telling Lia everything. Not even Joon. So, tension is definitely kept high on this end. The occasional family warmth adds lovely balance to all of this.

While monsters keep Lia and friends on their toes, it's the workings of the IMA (and more?) which dig the mystery and secrets in deep, and prepare the foundation for the books to come. These hints trickle in during the rest of the action, making sure there isn't a single boring moment, and promises tons of richness and intrigue to come. With all of this, the 350 or so pages go by quickly, and the last chapters felt rushed. But it ends well enough, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Lia Park and her friends will face next.

And here she is...

Jenna Yoon studied Art History at Wellesley College and received her master’s degree in Korean art history from Ewha Womans University. She’s lived about half her life in both Korea and the United States. When she’s not writing, Jenna loves to travel, find yummy eats, play board games, and take skin care very seriously. Currently, she lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two kids.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Today's read... Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong

I'm back! But I bet none of you realized I was even gone. After one of my sons graduated from high school, we took a road trip down to southern Colorado and New Mexico to see the wonderful sites that area of the world has to offer. It was a ton of fun... of course, not everything ran smoothly, but that's where the memories are truly made.

Anyway, today's read was my nightly go-to book before bed at the hotels. After reading this authors duology, These Violent Delights, I was looking forward to diving into her new series. Plus, this takes place around the 1930's in China and centers around the problems of the Japanese victory and the political situation...which really thrilled me since I'm just finishing up a Chinese drama, which also centers around this time frame. 

Today's read is the first in a trilogy and came out Fall last year (2022). The second book is scheduled to hit the shelves in September with the third already in the works. Oh, and this one was recommend to the best list on Goodreads for 2022.

Foul Lady Fortune, #1
by Chloe Gong
Margaret K McElderry
YA Historical Fantasy
528 pages

The first book in a captivating new duology following an ill-matched pair of spies posing as a married couple to investigate a series of brutal murders in 1930s Shanghai.

It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and the stage is set for a new decade of intrigue.

Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound. In short, Rosalind cannot die. Now, desperate for redemption from her traitorous past, she uses her abilities as an assassin for her country.

Code name: Fortune.

But when the Japanese Imperial Army begins its invasion march, Rosalind’s mission pivots. A series of murders is causing unrest in Shanghai, and the Japanese are under suspicion. Rosalind’s new orders are to infiltrate foreign society and identify the culprits behind the terror plot before more of her people are killed.

To reduce suspicion, however, she must pose as the wife of another Nationalist spy, Orion Hong, and though Rosalind finds Orion’s cavalier attitude and playboy demeanor infuriating, she is willing to work with him for the greater good. But Orion has an agenda of his own, and Rosalind has secrets that she wants to keep buried. As they both attempt to unravel the conspiracy, the two spies soon find that there are deeper and more horrifying layers to this mystery than they ever imagined.

GOODREADS    /     AMAZON     /    B&N     /      KOBO (Audio)


Intrigue, conspiracy, secrets, and deadly situations mix with politics, romance, and a touch of magic to create an exciting ride. 

Rosalind isn't only one of the most feared assassins of her time, but she hasn't aged a day for several years. Her past hasn't exactly been riddled with sunshine, and guilt as well as secrets drive her forward to amend for many mistakes. When her handler assigns her to a mission, which doesn't target someone with their death, she's not sure how to take it. Worse, she's been assigned a partner to act as her husband...a playboy, who is as different from her as different could be. Somehow, they need to discover the secret plans of the Japanese as well as uncover the reasoning behind the murders plaguing Shanghai.  But as secrets come to light, the danger...and chaos...grows.

I did read this author's duology, These Violent Delights, and recommend reading that before hitting this series because this new series takes place a few years after the events explored in that duology. Since several of the characters reappear in this book, it would spoil some aspects of that tale if a reader were to go back to it after reading this new series.

The book starts out with a bang, landing the reader smack-dab in the middle of Rosalind's latest mission. And it works well to launch into the thick weave, which makes up the rest of the book. While Rosalind stands at the center of this series, rich sub-characters make it a read, which is hard to put down. This world is full of complicated intrigue and intentions, making it impossible to know what is truly going on or who is pulling what strings (and a little confusing, at a good way). The characters drive this forward in the most delightful ways. There are some, which are simply likable, while many are slippery, at best. The intentions are well hidden and impossible to guess, and this makes it grabbing until the end.

The main characters are a little hard to embrace, and that fits them well. Both Rosalind and Orion are masters of their craft and hard to get connect to because of this. It's no problem to root for Rosalind—luckily, the author spends quite a bit of time letting the reader really get to know her before the large twists hit. Orion, on the other hand, comes across as endearing, but never really sinks in enough to make a perfect romantic connection to Rosalind...almost but the gap between them never truly shrinks. While there is cute banter, the chemistry isn't quite there. But considering the ending (no spoilers, though) and the fact that there are two more books on the way, this might be exactly the way it needs to be. So, I wasn't disappointed. Not yet. (Gosh, there's so much going on in this read!)

While the book holds a very steady, gripping pace with character depth and building intrigue, about 3/4ths the way through, it suddenly shifts gears with a huge twist. This hits hard and flips everything on its head in a way, which I'm still not sure settles in right...although the logic and reasoning is pretty much there. Again, it will depends on how the tale continues from here. So, I'm definitely wanting to read book two because this book is quite a ride and promises tons to come.

I do want to throw in that this is sold as a young adult book, and I'm not sure why. Rosalind might be '19', but she stopped aging, making her truly in her early twenties. She acts way too mature for a teen as do almost all characters in this read. Most of the characters are adults. She works with mostly adults, is faking a marriage, and deals with other adult agents. A few characters are stated to be 18, but if these announced ages were dropped, I'd have never ever guessed the characters weren't adults. But YA-ers are sure to enjoy this read, too. I just see this fitting for older audiences, too.

Summed up, this is a very well-woven and thrilling read for fans of rich historical settings with a side-dish of fantasy.

And here she is...

Chloe Gong is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Secret Shanghai novels, as well as the Flesh and False Gods trilogy. Her books have been published in over twenty countries and have been featured in The New York TimesPeopleForbes, and more. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she double-majored in English and international relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Chloe is now located in New York City, pretending to be a real adult.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Today's read... Love Makes a Garden Grow by Taeeun Yo

Today's read had me greenhouse dreaming. I've always wanted a greenhouse...and will build one in the future. It's on my bucket list. Right now, I'm all about outdoor gardening and have, actually, expanded my garden size, this year. I'm hoping for quite a bit of corn, cucumbers, ocra, some broccoli and a few watermelon, too. Lettuce, radishes, bok choy, and sugar peas have already graced us with their presence. Still, I dream of a big enough to set a small table and chair inside to enjoy writing, reading, and a cup of tea.

But I have a feeling today's read goes beyond simple plants and packs tons of heart. 

by Taeeun Yoo
Paula Wiseman Books
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 4 to 8

From the bestselling illustrator of Strictly No Elephants comes a sweetly personal and stunningly illustrated picture book about a young girl who grows closer to her grandfather by tending to the garden with him.

When I am as small
as a sprout,
Grandfather’s garden feels

A young girl observes the bugs and blooms and the rich smell of the soil of her grandfather’s garden. Her grandfather hums as he waters his treasured plants. And when he gives the girl a flower of her own, caring for it teaches her to feel her grandfather’s love.

Even as time passes and her grandfather’s garden grows smaller and the girl grows up, she never forgets what she learned or loses her closeness with her nurturing grandfather.

When my daughter is as small
as a sprout, we visit Grandfather

Inspired by the author-illustrator’s own family, this beautiful and personal story celebrates the love that binds families and makes us who we are.

GOODREADS   /    AMAZON    /   B&N   /    KOBO


Love and family bloom and radiate on every page to create a heart-filled read.

A young girl spends time with her grandfather in his greenhouse and garden, enjoying their time together. She watches as he waters each plant, and he even gifts her one full of blossoms. As time goes on and she grows, his garden becomes smaller and smaller. Still, she remembers those moments, and while his garden isn't large, the love and flowers never completely disappear.

This is a celebration of family, especially the love between a grandfather and grandchild. Starting with a young girl and the hours she spends with her grandfather and his plants, the book progresses through time. The girl grows and goes her own way, while the grandfather ages, and while he doesn't lose his love for gardening, age forces him to draw back. Time flows calmly forward like a gentle stream. While the girl grows older, a bitter-sweetness takes over as she dreams and thinks of her grandfather. The entire thing ends like a loving hug, making it a feel-good-read with heart.

The scenes are bright but thanks to the sponged texture, carry a gentler tone. The feelings come across clearly, whether happy, sad, or longing. The bright, pink blossoms of the gifted flower pop just enough against the the greens and more neutral blossoms to catch attention without demanding it. And as a cute extra, there's the dog which ages right along with the girl. A new one appears when her own daughter joins the tale, adding a subtle message, which slides right in with the rest of read. 

This is a book to cuddle up with and enjoy for quieter reading times. Plus, it can be used to inspire small green thumbs it grow their own flowers to create gifts of love.

And here she is...

Taeeun Yoo has twice received the prestigious New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award. She has illustrated many books, including Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, which has been published in fourteen countries. The New York Times called it a “sunny, smart, tongue-in-cheek tale.” She is also the illustrator of Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan, which received five starred reviews and was named a best book of the year by many publications. Her other books include So Many Days and Only a Witch Can Fly, both by Alison McGhee, and Round by Joyce Sidman. Taeeun was also the recipient of the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Society of Illustrators’ Founders Award. She lives in South Korea with her family.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Today's read... The Mermaid With No Tail by Jessica Long

Today's read comes from an author, who has been quite successful in several areas. Not only is this book from her coming out around the end of September, but she also is a 29 Paralympic Medal holder. So to say that I was curious to take a peek at this read is an understatement. Plus, I've always had a soft-spot for oceans and sea life...yes, that can include mermaids.

by Jessica Long
Illustrated by Airin O'Callaghan
Sounds True 
Picture Book
32 pages
ages 4 to 8

SEPTEMBER  26th!!!

Dive into this illustrated picture book, where a mermaid with no tail decides she wants to compete in the Mermaid Games. The other mermaids make fun of her for being different. But her adoptive turtle parents are supportive and encouraging, and her shark coach Phelpsy teaches her to swim using her arms. The mermaid trains hard, maintains a good attitude, and eventually wins the games.
Inspired by the life of Paralympic champion swimmer Jessica Long, The Mermaid with No Tail celebrates the importance of dreaming big and the power of being different.



Beautiful, underwater illustrations meet heart and determination in all the right ways.

The little mermaid lost her tail fins shortly after birth, which wouldn't be bad if the other mermaids wouldn't tease her constantly. Worse, yet, she'll never be able to take part in the Mermaid Games...or can she? When she decides it's time to give it a try, she seeks out the help of the strongest swimmer in the ocean, a shark, who just might be able to help her out.

The lovely illustrations are already enough to make this book worth a peek. The ocean scenes are inviting and create the perfect backdrop for a cute mermaid. The fish swirl as this little mermaid comes to life, her personality shining on each page. Readers/listeners will enjoy flipping through this one on their own and taking a peek at each scene again and again.

While the first pages do start with a bullying theme, this tale is all about determination. The little mermaid doesn't really let the other mermaids get to her but gives a satisfied and friendly impression. It's wonderful to see how she takes fate into her own hands and puts in the effort to achieve her goals. This doesn't come easily but takes time and hard work. Listeners/readers will have no problem cheering for her until the very end.

The text is a little long for the youngest readers out there, but it works very well for a read-aloud in a story time setting or as a read to cuddle up with. Readers, who have a pretty good grip on their words, will be able to hit this one on their own.

Obviously, this read also is a great way to lead into a discussion or theme surrounding the Paralympics, which also makes it great for classrooms and homeschoolers. 

And here they are...

Jessica Long is an American Paralympic swimmer. She has won 29 Paralympic Medals, making her one of the most decorated athletes of all time. Jessica is a speaker, author, advocate, and sports personality. Learn more at

Airin O’Callaghan is an illustrator and artist. She received a bachelor’s degree and MFA in fine art in Amsterdam, and an MFA in illustration in San Francisco. Airin lives in Berkeley, California. Learn more at 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Today's read... Amy Wu and the Ribbon Dance by Kat Zhang

I want to scream 'Happy book birthday!' to today's read, but it doesn't come out for four more days. So, it's close but not quite. This is one in a series of books surrounding the cute character Amy Wu. I can say that because I have already joined Amy Wu on an adventure or two and do smile at her antics. These take a peek into the Asian culture, while giving kids ideas for crafts, cooking and more.

by Kat Zhang
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Simon & Schuster
Picture Book
40 pages

COMING MAY 30th!!!

When Amy Wu learns about Chinese ribbon dancing, she can’t wait to try it out herself in this charming and brightly illustrated fourth installment in the Amy Wu picture book series.

Amy Wu loves to move. From wriggling to shimmying to toe-tapping, she just can’t keep still, not when there’s music all around her! So when Amy sees Chinese ribbon dancing for the first time, she has to try it out. Only, how can she throw the perfect dance party when she doesn’t have the perfect ribbon for her dance?

A special story from Mom may be just the thing to get Amy moving to the music again.

GOODREADS    /    AMAZON    /   B&N    /    KOBO


Amy Wu's curiosity and energy radiates from every page and is more than a little contagious.

Amy Wu always has something to do and seems to be in constant movement. It's almost driving her mother insane, but when Amy sees girls dancing on a show, she knows what to do next. Dance. But dancing alone is a little boring. With a few friends and their instruments, she's ready...but the dance ribbons are still missing. She tries to construct her own, but finding the right materials isn't as easy as she thought it would be.

I had to smile during the first pages as Amy Wu wiggles and jumps and squiggles and leaps everywhere and that non-stop. It makes a reader want to bounce around with her. When the instruments and ribbons come into play, Amy's excitement, again, has readers wanting to join in. So, while this book does tell a fun tale about friendship, frustration, and working things out, it also inspires to get moving, make instruments, and dance. 

The illustrations are as cheerful as Amy Wu and let the atmosphere radiate with bright illustrations. Even when she's a little frustrated, the scenes come across clear and without bogging down in negativity. There are moments to giggle and moments to sigh. It keeps the read in the pages and makes Amy Wu come across like a normal, bubbly girl.

While there are messages surrounding friendship and problem-solving, the author also weaves in aspects of the Chinese culture. The dancing girls on the show are well-illustrated and do invite with their costumes and grace. As for the dancing ribbons...well that makes a great project for readers to enjoy themselves. There are instructions at the end of the book and ideas on how they can be constructed as well.

This is a nice edition to the Amy Wu series and does more than simply offer a pleasant read.

And her she is...

Kat Zhang loves traveling to places both real and fictional—the former have better souvenirs, but the latter allow for dragons, so it’s a tough choice. A writer of books for teens and children, she spends her free time scribbling poetry, taking photographs, and climbing atop things she shouldn’t. You can learn more about her at 

Charlene Chua draws many things, from baos to dragons, and everything in-between. When they are not drawing, they enjoy cooking, reading, and playing with their cats. Charlene grew up in Singapore, an now lives in Canada. Her favorite baos are still char siu baos, and her favorite dumplings are air-fryer wontons!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Today's read... Black Cat White Cat by Stef Hickman

Today's read radiated happiness, the second I saw it. And who doesn't enjoy a cute cat story? This one rotates around getting along with others and differences. So let's take a peek.

by Stef Hickman
Picture Book
ages 4 to 8

An infectious rhyming read-aloud!

Join Duncan and Moses - two unlikely Cat friends as they show the animals in their town the power of acceptance and friendship.

With their positive attitude and a willingness to embrace differences, Duncan and Moses teach us that being unique is truly great.

This heartwarming tale is a must-read for children of all ages, as it reminds us to treat others with kindness and respect, no matter how different they may seem.

This book is perfect for parents to read aloud to their children or early readers will have no problem getting through it on their own.

Black Cat White Cat makes a great gift to the ones you love for any occasion.



Friendship is blind to many differences and two cats can prove it.

Duncan and Moses might appear to be as different as different can be, but these cats are the best of friends. When they happen across animals arguing in the park, it's time for them to let their friendship shine.

This is a straight-forward read and super cute. Duncan and Moses are two, wonderful cats, who get along splendidly and have each other's backs. This wholesome relationship drives the read forward and gives the entire thing good vibes. The arguing animals have enough unexpectedness to make readers/listeners smile, and the entire thing radiates goodness and friendship pure. It's an enjoyable read to just pick up and enjoy.

The text is written in rhyme, and this flows smoothly and naturally. It's printed in white on black text-boxes in a slightly larger font, making it easy to spot on the illustrations. This also makes it easier when reading aloud. The text is kept simple and short, making it great for less patient and younger listeners. 

The illustrations are bright and bold. Duncan and Moses are portrayed as adorable cats, and the other animals carry individual, quirky flair. There are some proportion issues on several pages, and a bit of a pasted feel, which could have used more care. I doubt listeners will care or notice, though.

I enjoyed this one more than I thought and see it as a great, quick read for group and individual settings.

And here she is...

Stef Hickman is an Australian author and illustrator. 

Stef's cat companions are the stars of all her children's stories. These cats have more personality than most humans, and they provide Stef with endless inspiration.

When she's not busy dreaming up new stories, you can find Stef perfecting her pilates moves. And if you want to catch her in her natural habitat, head to the beach. Stef loves nothing more than soaking up the sun, listening to the waves, and getting inspiration for her next book.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Today's read... Serafina and the Black Cloak: The Graphic Novel by Robert Beatty

The original form of today's read appeared in 2015 and became a best-selling series. I remember taking a look at it and enjoying the dark twists, too. When I heard that it was coming out, now, as a graphic novel series, my fingers itched to get a hold of a copy. This first one did come out beginning of April, and I had to wait until now until I could finally take a peek (the woes of having too many books to read). 
So, let's see how well this more visual version brings Serafina's adventure across. 

The Graphic Novel
based on tale by Robert Beatty
adapted by Michael Moreci
Illustrated by Braeden Sherrell
Disney Hyperion
Middle Grade Historical Fantasy  /  Graphic Novel
128 pages
ages 8 to 12

Robert Beatty's best-selling gothic fantasy about an unforgettable heroine is now a mesmerizing graphic novel with rich, atmospheric illustrations.

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity…before all of the children vanish one by one.

Readers who enjoy history and mystery and like their thrills and chills in visual form will delight in this graphic novel adaptation of a bestseller.



With darker images and historical details, this is a thrilling read, which will have kids hiding under their blankets long after bedtime.

Serafina has spent much of her twelve-years, living in the basement of a manor with her father. She's not allowed to let anyone know she exists or her father would lose his job. But she's found her own usefulness and serves the house as the unknown rat catcher...something she's amazingly talented at. When she hears screams in another section of the basement, she rushes to save whoever is in danger despite what it means to her own existence. But when she sees a creature in a dark cloak absorb a little girl, she barely escapes with her life. Still, she can't let the horror be ignored and tries to figure out a way to stop whatever evil is at large before more children disappear.

The graphics in these pages take on a darker tone, sticking mostly to the drearier atmosphere...and this works very well. Serafina's world is a darker place as she's spent most of it in the basement and out only at night. The scenes are well placed and keep the tension high, while still allowing the time period and characters to come across nicely. There was a time or two, where the frame order threw me for a moment, but the rest is an easy read. It was easy to get lost into the tale and hard to put the book down until the very last page.

To make sure this hangs closely to the original tale, there seems to be an fairly even divide between dialogue (speech bubbles) and explained plot and thoughts (presented in when text in black rectangles). This mix keeps the events clear and allows the reader to dive deeper into Serafina's head. It's well suited for the middle grade level and will pull even slightly older readers in.

It's a grabbing story with surprising twists and turns. Not only does Serafina find herself up against a dangerous creature, but learns more about herself. So, there is quite a bit of character depth going on as well. It also hits upon friendship and learning to step past the comfort zone. More sensitive readers might be bothered by the creepiness of the creature and a couple more aggressive scenes. Those, who enjoy a touch of fear and shadows, will enjoy this one quite a bit.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Today's read... A Home for Every Plant by Matthew Biggs

Today's read swings into the nonfiction realm and botanical world. Add the colorful cover, and I was excited to get a peek. It hit the shelves earlier this month, right in time for the growing season in our part of the world. I saw 'our part' because this book covers various climates and the plant life, which is found in these areas. It promises to introduce interesting plants and offer a variety of knowledge...and that in an interesting way for middle graders.

And I'll give a little bit of a hint at the goodness this one holds in store by saying that this one is hitting my possible favorites of 2023 list, too.

Wonders of the Botanical World
by Matthew Biggs
Illustrated by Lucila Perini
Phaidon Press
Middle Grade Nonfiction
128 pages
ages 6 to 10

Journey across 40 incredible habitats around the world to discover the biggest, boldest, and stinkiest plants Without plants there would be no life on Earth, but most people are blind to their impact. This stylish and informative introduction to plants sets out to cure ‘plant blindness’ by introducing children to 66 amazing plants from the six major climactic zones around the world. From the smelliest, such as the massive Titan Arum of the Indonesian rainforest, which stinks of rotting flesh to attract insects, to the hardest-working, including peat moss, an overlooked bog plant that helps protect our planet by trapping carbon dioxide, readers will learn about the vital role of plants in Nature through detailed, vibrant illustrations and fascinating facts. Children will also learn how to use their new-found knowledge of the plant’s natural environment to care for the plants around them and at home. Matthew Biggs’ research included consulting eminent botanists around the globe and referencing scientific papers. This book teaches children about plants in the context of their natural environment, and is ideal for geography and biology curricular tie ins, as well as being a book that will inspire children to love and care for the plants around them. This is the perfect compendium for plant-lovers, budding gardeners, and would-be botanists and nature-lovers alike. 



The vibrant, rich world of plants unfolds on every page with tons of information and even do-it-yourself hints and tips.

This book rotates around plants, hitting many different habitats to demonstrate how diverse and amazing this form of life truly is. Broken down into various climates, everything from deserts to tropics and more is explored. Sixty plants are explored, and these aren't simply mentioned and skimmed over, but the author takes the time to portray each one, explains each one and points out its special attributes along the way. These are very well illustrated to make sure the reader sees and understands each bit of information. To give readers a more hands-on experience, there are suggests of various plants from each of the six zones, which can be grown at home, mentioned and explained as well. 

If the topic of plants seems boring, this book proves otherwise. The information is brought across in an interesting, easy-to-read-and-digest manner. The illustrations fill most of the page, allowing the details and explanations to have something to root into, so the reader sees immediately what is meant. The text is clear and concise, never talking down nor rattling on more than necessary. Each mentioned attribute is explained in a way, which makes sense and teaches about planets and their habitats. And the plants chosen are interesting, offering often unexpected characteristics, which are sure to grab readers' attentions. All the while, the habitats and climate conditions and their effects on the plant life in these areas is also presented, making this even great for homeschoolers or smaller research.

Not only is it fun to flip through this book and discover all the interesting information about plants, but it offers sections, which show readers how to grow their own. Several options are presented with brief descriptions, growing tips, things to watch out for, and more. And this is brief, while offering enough for kids to dive right into their own planting projects.

I would recommend this one all the way up to 12 years of age, and believe it to be a valuable resource. It's vibrant, interesting, extremely informative, and fun.

And here they are...

Author Matthew Biggs, a graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is a wellknown British gardener, broadcaster and author of fifteen gardening and plant related books. He is a panel member on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time.

Illustrator Lucila Perini is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her illustrations can be found in leading publications, advertising campaigns and digital media worldwide, including the Los Angeles TimesThe Washington PostThe Boston Globe, Airbnb, Citroen, and more.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Today's read... The Puppy Adventures of Porter and Midge by Giselle Nevada and Jennie Chen

Those dreaming of having their own puppy are going to want to take a peek at today's read. This picture book for ages 7 to 10 centers around how to train puppies/dogs in daily life situations and adventures. As a parent and dog owner, this one struck my let's see how it is.

Out and About
by Jennie Chen and Giselle Nevada
Illustrated by Ann Kelble
Raise the Woof Press
Picture Book
38 pages
ages 7 to 10

CJ and Lora are on a mission. They want to ride on a float during the Independence Day Parade with their new puppies. But their camp counselor says puppies need basic puppy training before they can be in the parade. How will CJ and Lora train their puppies to be confident, calm, and open to learning new things? Will they be ready in time to ride the float in the parade?

The Puppy Adventures of Porter and Midge: Out and About  is an introduction to early socialization and training for puppies that will make them outstanding canine citizens and wonderful family pets. Kids will love following along with the two puppies' story as they learn about how to take care of their own pup.  Use the included checklists to go on real-life adventures together with your furry friend!



Set in story and picture book form, this read heads into the theme of training puppies in situations young readers will recognize.

CJ and Lora adore their new puppies, Porter and Midge, but in order to take them to all those places they would like to go, they'll need to train them first. Luckily, they receive guidance on how to introduce their puppies to various situations, which will help the puppies handle everything they will explore.

While this is a picture book, the text is heavier and more geared for ages 7 and up. It offers a nice story, following CJ and Lora through the process of training their puppies, Porter and Midge, in daily situations. The entire time, information surrounding puppies, their habits, various problems to keep in mind, as well as tips are fed right in. It makes the information easier to digest and more interesting. Plus, it helps readers to see exactly how this relates to their own lives. At the end, there is a check list, which readers can use when training their own puppies.

The illustrations are well done and hold many details. They show Porter and Midge in a very natural way, and help readers to visualize the scenes and possible things to watch out for. It makes the information in the text clear in life settings.

There is quite a bit of information offered, and this hits on a more practical side. Of course, this isn't thought to give kids the complete ability to train puppies on their own, but gives them tips and insights which will support the training a help in a positive way. Since information is the main point of this book, the story comes across as such and does center on this. 

I found this an interesting way to bring across training tips and thoughts in a natural light, which young pet owners can more easily identify with and understand.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Today's read... Swinging For Joy by Aishah Hight

Once glance at the cover on today's read, and I was more than ready to take a peek. The colors and... okay, I have a soft spot for cute, little doggies... but I think this cover is very lovely. Plus, the promise of positivity makes it a read, which invites to be picked up. Now, let's see if the inside is as good as it promises to be.

London Learns
by Aishah Hight
Illustrated by Whimsical Designs by CJ
Cellar of Purple
Picture Book
32 pages
ages 4 to 8

In this delightful rhyming picture book, a dog with a disability saves the day. And the historical significance of what the canine heroine finds, culminates in hope and joy.

After enjoying swinging in the park, London and her amazing dog Joy encounter a young boy who's lost a family treasure. Inspired to help, Joy springs into action, leading London and the boy on a delightful adventure to find it. Will they find what they're looking for and discover the legacy behind the lost treasure?

Swinging for Joy is a heartwarming reminder that an act of kindness can become the bond of friendship. Aishah Hight creates a rhythmical tale that inspires young readers to care for others, be hopeful, and in so doing, find joy.



Positive feelings and joy radiate from these pages and are sure to leave a smile on the face.

London and her dog, Joy, share a wonderful relationship and especially enjoy swinging together on the playground. When they see a boy crying, he explains that he's lost something very important to him. London tells him that if simply tells Joy about his desire to find the hat, it might become true.

This is a sweet tale, which weaves the willingness to help others around a teensy-tiny bit of the magic surrounding the imagination and heart. London's love for her dog warms and comes across with goodness pure. The dog is blind, but this isn't concentrated on and makes the dog seem that much more special...because maybe whispering into its ear does make wishes come true. It's a sweet thought and plays well into the story. Add the willingness to help others and new friendship, and it's sunshine pure.

The illustrations swing right into the atmosphere with bright colors and radiant scenes. The dog, despite its blindness, comes across as playful and lively as any cute dog should be. London's cheerful personality is also apparent in every scene. The setting is familiar and invites in as well. 

The text works very well as a read-aloud. Those more sure of their words can pick this one up on their own, too. There is a gentle, rhyme, which flows in subtly and extremely smoothly, and the vocabulary fits well to the age group. 

This one does take a small, historical twist as the boy searches for an important heirloom. I was disappointed to see that this aspect appeared only as a dream-like illustration, when it could offer so much more. A short explanation from the boy...just two sentences or so...would have brought quite a bit of light onto the meaning of the Tuskegee Airman without bogging down. And young listeners love learning when it comes in small, digestible, interesting bites.

It is a lovely read with tons of goodness. I do see classrooms and other group settings enjoying this one. 

And here she is...

Aishah was born in Queens, New York but spent her teen and adult years in Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up in diverse communities influences her writing and fuels her passion for uplifting and empowering children. Aishah’s children’s books include themes of kindness, hope, and overcoming challenges. When she isn’t writing, Aishah works as a project manager, watches suspense movies, and spends time with her family. Swinging for Joy is Aishah’s first published children’s book.

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Instagram & Facebook: @aishahhightbooks