Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Groundworld Heroes by Adrian So

by Adrian So
Monarch Educational Services
Middle Grade Adventure
149 pages
ages 8 to 12

AUGUST 6th!!!

When Groundworld is on the brink of extinction, it takes one mole with courage to save the day.

When Benjamin, a junior mole digger, witnesses a human invasion of his homeland, he must find his long-lost courage and unite two culturally distinct realms to fight the intruders and save his kind from extinction. What perils lie before him as he ventures into the unknown? Can Benjamin go up against a rough bunch of illegal animal trappers before it's too late? 

Meet the Groundworld heroes as they defend their country's sovereignty and save their fellow citizens from capture and extinction. 

Perfect for fans of Kate Dicamillo and Roald Dahl.

GOODREADS   /    AMAZON    /    B&N


The underground world and it's brave characters make this a tale to enjoy from beginning to end.

Benjamin is a junior mole digger and doing his best to learn his profession in Groundworld, an underground civilization of animals which is slowly disappearing thanks to the changing world above. When the humans dig into the ground and break through the ceiling of Groundworld, the civilization is threatened to be completely destroyed. Benjamin does his best to save those around him but is separated from his crew and even left behind. Determined to find a way to reunite with is family and friends, he not only runs into more danger than he could ever dream but finds himself on a mission to save them all.

In some respects, this book reminded me of Watership Down by Richard Adams, but while there are a couple, similar, small aspects, Groundworld is a realm of its own. Groundworld is an imaginative world, which draws in with its charm, burrows harboring stores, schools, and more...and that just below the ground. The animals are sympathetic as they carry enough familiarity for readers to connect with, while diving into a realm of fantasy. Add Benjamin, who is a mole to adore, and it's a tale, which is easy to get lost in and enjoy.

The author doesn't wait long until the first danger hits, thrusting the entire realm into panic. The danger is clear, and the threat deadly. Benjamin is a clear underdog, who doesn't have high aspirations. His humbleness and determination make him easy to root for as he hits one difficult challenge right after the other. The author adds surprising twists to head in unexpected directions, and this works especially well at the end. There are moments to hold ones breath, and others to make a reader sigh. It's well-paced and promises excitement the entire way through.

While the dangers and tension rarely relax, there's enough lightness and humor to keep it at the lower, middle grade level. The messages surrounding the environment are present and clear, but there are others which hit upon themes such as working together, working past prejudices, perseverance, and more. These slide right in with the action and heart to add richness to the plot.

Especially the younger end of the middle grade audience will enjoy the shorter length, while working into a story which resembles the larger reads. It never talks down to the reader, but opens up an exciting world, where heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

Friday, June 21, 2024

The Super Berries Scam by Natasha Deen

by Natasha Deen
Illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum
Stone Arch Books
Middle Grade Mystery
74 pages
ages 8 to 12

AUGUST 1st!!!

A young girl uncovers the truth behind an online health fad in this installment of the Cyber Sleuths chapter book series. Dalia Gopie is shorter than all her friends. Then she discovers that her favorite social media influencer is promoting a miracle fruit—one that guarantees to make anyone taller overnight! Is this online fad the real deal, or is the popular influencer selling a tall tale?

With the help of other Cyber Sleuths—a network of mystery-solving kids—and legit online resources, Dalia uncovers the truth about this too-good-to-be-true product. Created in partnership with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), this action-packed chapter book is perfect for young readers and demonstrates valuable media literacy skills. Books in This Series: The Lip-Sync Scandal, The Sasquatch Suspect, The Sham City of Atlantis, The Super Berries Scam



Online promises of amazing products are exposed for potential lies in a read with fun characters and quick pacing.

Dalia is sick of being the smallest in her group of friends, especially since middle school is only a few weeks away, and she's the only one who hasn't seemed to get her growing spirt. She's ready to try about anything to no longer be seen as the smallest member. So when one of her favorite online influencers shares information about a miracle fruit, which can make people grow inches over night, Dalia has to have some. Of course, they're expensive, and they taste awful, but these fruits are the answer to her wish. Even when her friends and family don't seem to understand, she isn't going to give up...and she might just be taking things a little overboard, too.

Right away, readers meet Dalia as she tries to push down her anger after being teased by her friends for being the shortest in the group. Their intentions aren't mean...just the normal poking friends do...but this time, she can't push off the frustration. Her attitude is understandable, and readers will be able to sympathize with her situation. After all, everyone has things which they wish they could change about themselves, especially when it makes them stick out a little. Her excitement at seeing a 'solution' offered by someone she enjoys watching on the internet is also understandable, and the author takes this aspect on with care. Little by little the lie breaks down, exposing the deception bit by bit. It's well laid out in an easy-to-follow manner and brings the message home.

Dalia and the other characters come across realistically. They are friendly and kind, but not perfect. The relationships are warming and flow at a nice pace along with the plot. There's drama, rough moments, a little humor, and emotional twists. Add the mystery, and there are even surprises to keep the pages turning.  

This series is aimed at those who have a good grasp on their words but aren't ready to dive into more difficult reads quite yet. I'd recommend this one to the lower end of the middle grade level if not upper chapter books. The illustrations are well done and accompany the text nicely. Along with the larger font and short chapters, it creates an easy read for the intended audience.

I look forward to diving into the other books in the series and see what adventures the friends will face next.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Lies of Alma Blackwell by Amanda Glaze

Isn't the cover on today's read grabbing? I want to learn more about that house. I want to know what it has to do with the ocean (?). Mostly, I want to know how the horror side will work in. I'm ready to be drawn into a dark world and see where this goes. Now, I'm not really a horror fan...I'm a chicken...but this one sounds intriguing, and I'm even willing to be scared along the way (time to check those closets!). 

So, let's dive in and see where this one goes.

by Amanda Glaze
Union Square & Co.
YA Gothic Horror
384 pages

AUGUST 27th!!!

For over a century, the Blackwells have protected the town of Hollow Cliff from vengeful spirits. 

Seventeen-year-old Nev is ready to take over for her ailing grandmother as the town’s witch protector—unlike her mother, who left when Nev was a child and never looked back. When a stranger arrives at Blackwell House of Spirits to fill a tour guide opening, Nev reluctantly offers him the job. Nev doesn’t trust Cal Murphy. He knows more than he’s letting on about Blackwell House—and about Nev herself. But Nev soon learns that she has been lied to her whole life. 

By following the trail of clues left behind in Blackwell House by her most powerful witch ancestor, Nev uncovers an unspeakable legacy of murder and lies...and realizes that a stranger may be the one person she can trust.  



Shadows and secrets meld with spirits and magic in a dangerous weave of deadly lies.

At seventeen, Nev has already come to terms with the fact that she'll never leave the small town of Hollow Cliff. Thanks to the sudden onset of cancer, her grandmother can no longer protect the island from the evil spirits, leaving Nev as the only one who can take on the task. While Nev is expected to use her magic to keep the deadly spirits at bay, modern life goes on. She and her grandmother run a tour business for seasonal tourists. After all, the legends and history surrounding the town and Blackwell House leave chills down almost everyone's, none would ever begin to believe any of it is true. Which it is. And isn't. As a stranger works his way into her life, she begins to reveal the truth, and that is the most dangerous thing of all. 

Witches and manors with terrible secrets set the stage for a dive into a creepy tale full of deceit. During the first chapters, the small town on the shoreline comes across as a place with quaint flair, tons of history, and friendly residents...and horrible secrets. Nev hits the first page with energy. She knows and has long accepted her fate as the next protector of the town and is ready to keep it safe from the evil spirits who only want to kill. The darker side already heads into play as she considers the recent death of a resident, who was murdered by the spirits. Not that she can tell anyone because even the residents  need to hear that the horrible tales are things of the past. And here's where the odd balance comes in. The townspeople are very well aware of their paranormal history/truth because none of them can leave the town for long or they go mad. So while the first chapters present a very normal life with beach parties and tourists bumbling through the town, the unsettling part builds in the background as a building storm that everyone knows is there but doesn't acknowledge completely (except Nev and her grandmother). These first chapters also offer a slower start than I prefer, and that for the first 50 or so pages, but once the tale gets going, it grabs and holds until the last page. 

The tension is as high as the stakes, and the dark tones add a delightful edge to the increasing chills. Secrets come to light in unpredictable ways and at surprising times. Each one is well laid and not easy to see coming. These flow along with haunting smoothness and notch up at the right moments. While there are some questions surrounding the magic, which are never revealed, the mystery sinks its claws in deep to create an intriguing read.

There is romance, and this fits very well to the intended audience level. It steers clear from cliche love triangles and insta-attraction to promise a nice arc on this end, too. While strong and very present, it doesn't overtake the main plot, which was also nice to see. 

Fans of dark secrets with paranormal dangers and a touch of magic are sure to enjoy the chills and thrills of this read.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Penelope's Balloons by Brooke Bourgeoise

I smiled when I saw the title and cover of today's read. The elephant reminded me a bit of the very popular Babar series...and don't even get me started on red balloons (yep, Nena's song is now running through my head.) So, I'm hoping this one will be a lovely read...and my expectations are high because of the above reasons. Is that fair? Nope. Not at all. But readers hit books with all sorts of reasons and thoughts, and I'm hoping this read lives up to mine, too.

Let's see if this books is as cute and warming as I hope it is!

by Brooke Bourgeoise
Union Square & Co.
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 4 to 6

From a dynamic debut creator, here is a charming and endearing picture book about an elephant’s quest for acceptance—destined to become a modern classic.
Penelope loves her ten red balloons. She spends every moment with them, taking them with her everywhere she goes—school, ballet class, and the market. But when she loses all her balloons, Penelope is devastated. With a gentle nod to perennial classics in its art style, Penelope’s Balloons is a celebration of differences, embracing your identity, and, especially, friendship.

​Debut author-illustrator Brooke Bourgeois beautifully explores childhood passions, identity, and anxiety in this timeless story about the power of friends, family, and community.

Penelope's Balloons is an imaginative elephant book that promotes themes of identity, community, and emotional growth. Perfect for anyone in search of anxiety books for kids, as well as parents and educators looking for read aloud kids books ages 4-6 that spark discussion around managing worries, embracing differences, and the power of friendship.

GOODREADS    /    AMAZON    /     B&N   /    BOOKSHOP


The joy of red balloons follows a sweet elephant through a lesson of treasures and friendship.

Penelope adores her ten, red balloons and takes them everywhere she goes...and I mean everywhere. Never willing to part with a single one, she even takes them to school. There, she must be very careful not to let her friends with spikes, horns, or sharp teeth come too close or the balloons might pop. But all of her careful maneuvering fails as a sudden storm hits while she's walking home, and the balloons float away. Except for one, and she'll do anything to protect what is left.

The red balloons draw focus to the story, and it's easy to understand why Penelope is excited by them. After all, there is something magical about balloons. Penelope's sweet, seemingly carefree personality comes across clearly right away, making her a character, who would be fun to play with and meet. This offers a wonderful foundation before her extreme caution sets in. While readers will clearly see what's happening and know there's a problem, Penelope is still sweet enough to wish that everything turns out well for her. There's a lot of character arc as she learns an important lesson about material fixations versus friendship, and it flows nicely with the tale.

The story grabs with various emotions as it dances through fun moments, growing problems, tenser situations, sadness, and happy realization. These are strengthened through the well-done illustrations, which make the characters and world come to life. The illustrator places the bright red balloons against earthier tones during most of the read, allowing them to stand out in accordance to Penelope's fixation. At the end, when she realizes what her true treasure is, the red dims down to match the rest of the world. It's clever and subtle.

I do hope to see more of Penelope and her friends, since this is a lovely introduction to a world with many possible adventures to come.

And here she is...

Brooke Bourgeois is a cartoonist, writer, and illustrator originally from New 
Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and Private Eye, amongst other publications. Penelope's Balloons is Brooke's debut author-illustrator picture book. She invites you to visit her online at

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Lonely Planet Kids America's National Parks

With yesterday's read, we jaunted into outdoor fitting for summer vacation! Today, I'm taking things a step further with two partner books, which invite kids to head outdoors and explore themselves. 

by Alexa Ward
Illustrated by Mike Lowery
Lonely Planet Kids
Children's Nonfiction
256 pages
ages 6 to 12

Calling all adventurers! Are you ready to explore America's 60 amazing national parks?

From Acadia's seaside cliffs and coves to Zion's enchanting red valleys, take a journey through the United States' most spectacular and exciting landscapes with America's National Parks from Lonely Planet Kids.

With awesome facts, photos and illustrations on every page, you'll discover erupting geysers, exploding volcanoes, howling wolves, soaring eagles, mountains, glaciers, rainforests and more throughout the continental USA, Hawaii, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands.

America's national parks are bursting with gasp-worthy wonders: the world's largest tree with branches stretching 400 feet into the sky; the planet's grandest canyon 6,000 feet deep; a crystal-clear lake deeper than the Empire State Building.

Meet the animals roaming each park, including gators, bison, gray wolves, spotted salamanders, great horned owls, bald eagles and grizzly bears, and find out the best activities, like snorkeling, white-water rafting, hiking, winter sports, exploring ghost towns and geyser watching.

GOODREADS    /     AMAZON    /     B&N

by Lonely Planet Kids
Children's Nonfiction
96 pages
ages 6 to 12

Say goodbye to boredom with this awesome US National Parks activity book that's packed with word games, drawing challenges, and brain-busting facts like you wouldn't believe. Perfect for a rainy day or a long-distance vacation, kids will also discover super-cool secrets and epic knowledge about America's wildest spaces. 

Come and explore! From deciphering head-scratching word scrambles about Nevada's Great Basin National Park, to searching for hidden turtles, jellyfish and crabs in a vibrant underwater image of the Virgin Islands National Park; kids can treasure this on-the-go companion and flip through its pages anywhere and everywhere. Whether you're whiling away the hours at an airport, or you're driving at snail's pace on a road trip adventure, this fun-filled National Parks activity book will keep curious minds entertained for hours on end. Inside America's National Parks Activity:

- The ultimate kids' activity book for wildlife enthusiasts and lovers of the great outdoors with fantastically fun word and picture games themed around the 63 US National Parks
- Includes wild and wonderful facts about the legendary animals, extreme landscapes and tallest trees that can be seen during a National Park excursion
- Encourages a greater appreciation for our natural world and promotes these beautiful destinations as areas to explore and enjoy
- Hours of entertainment with interactive activities color by numbers, seek and find, word scrambles, word searches, make your own, crossword puzzles, mazes, spot the difference, fill the blanks, quizzes, step-by-step draw your own, connect the dots, personality quizzes, matching games, doodle pad, picture games, and more



The excitement and variety that America's National Parks comes across in a way, which will have readers wanting to visit almost every single one and discover it themselves.

The main book, America's National Parks,  is thick, sturdy, and packed with National Park goodness. It begins with a map of the US, where each park is marked by a colored number. These work together with the Table of Contents to help readers immediately find the parks closet to them or those near where ever they might be headed (and all others, too). Before heading into the main chapters, there is a foreword to inspire and an explanation of S.T.A.R.S. (safety and responsibility). Each park (chapter) begins with a big, lovely photo, a corner with quick facts about size and such, and a short tidbit about a specialty of the park. The next two pages offer a few more photos, a couple paragraph description over the park's highlights, and list of things to do and see. It's short, sweet, and gets across the 'good stuff' about each one without dragging on and on.

It's enjoyable to simply flip through this book and take in the wonderful scenes. The variety each park has to offer comes across clearly, and it awakens the traveling spirit. There are small illustrated animals added in here and there, which add a touch of humor and lightness. But then, this isn't a heavy read, anyway.

The text fits well to the middle grade age group as it stays concise, while still delivering the important facts. It's written as if the author is directly conversing with the reader. It never talks down to the audience, but rather, naturally discusses different aspects of each place in a way, which awakens curiosity. Some even offer a more atmospheric glimpse as to what a visitor might experience. Then, the 'Things to See' and 'Things to Do' drop in with a couple hints to help readers dream or plan of what a visit to the park may look like. These include many free as well as a few money-dependent activities and also make sure the animal/bird life isn't forgotten.

The activity book is available separately from the main one and does make a lovely partner to round the experience off. It follows the same order as the chapters/parks in the main book and offers a brightly illustrated puzzle or activity for each one. This hits a large range of possibilities, from mazes to riddles to word searches and more. They fit the middle grade range nicely and hold a positive atmosphere thanks to the illustrations. The answers to each one can be found in the back. This book can be used alone, but when added to the main book, does work together very well. 

Anyone who is vacation dreaming and has National Parks in their plans...or wants to learn more about the parks in the in for a fun read with this set.

And here she is...

Lisa M. Gerry has written for a broad spectrum of publications including National Geographic Traveler, Teen Vogue, Forbes and more. She is the author of 100 Ways to Make the World Better, Water! Why Every Drop Counts, and How You Can Start Making Waves To Protect It, with more books on the way. From mind-boggling mazes to bemusing fill the blanks, this wildly fun activity book is sure to keep young minds engaged during a day of travel or an afternoon spent indoors - all whilst encouraging readers to better understand our amazing planet and learn how we can best protect it. Add it to your pack-list for your next family adventure or keep it close to hand to doodle, decipher and discover all that America's outstanding National Parks have to offer.

Lonely Planet Kids - an imprint of the world's leading travel authority Lonely Planet - published its first book in 2011. Over the past 45 years, Lonely Planet has grown a dedicated global community of travelers, many of whom are now sharing a passion for exploration with their children. Lonely Planet Kids educates and encourages young readers at home and in school to learn about the world with engaging books on culture, sociology, geography, nature, history, space and more. We want to inspire the next generation of global citizens and help kids and their parents to approach life in a way that makes every day an adventure. Come explore!

Monday, June 17, 2024

Death Valley Summer by Brandon Wallace

With summer comes tons of outdoor time, and today's read heads exactly in that direction. This is the third book in a series, which tackles the outdoors as two boys hit various adventures. This time, they're off to camp, and according to the blurb, they are in for quite a time.

I'm excited to see where this one heads, so let's grab our gear and explore these pages!

Wilder Boys
by Brandon Wallace
Middle Grade Adventure
205 pages
ages 8 to 12

Two brothers try to lead lost campers to safety in the fourth adventure of the Wilder Boys series.

The boys help out at a wilderness camp near Sequoia National Park, a day’s drive south of the Sierras. The camp’s main draw is a multi-day trek traversing woodlands, mountains, and desert during a team-based orientation competition that will take them to the edge of Death Valley. When Jake and Taylor’s team counselor is badly hurt in a flash flood, they must galvanize the lost campers to find shelter, aid the injured counselor, and supplement their low supplies with what can be found around them. At first, stumbling across a ghost town seems like a lucky break from the scorching heat of summer, but the town is already occupied by counterfeiters who are none too pleased about their operation being discovered. The boys must use all their resourcefulness and knowledge of the outdoors to protect their teammates from the criminals and the elements.

AMAZON    /      GOODREADS    /     B&N    /     BAM!


The outdoors is an exciting place, but even seasoned adventurers can't be prepared enough for the possible dangers which might arise.

Jake and Taylor are glad to be back near the Sequoia National Park and their grandmother's cabin, but that stay is short as they head on to summer camp. With several outdoor adventures already overcome, they are more than prepared to take on whatever the camp might offer. It's the other campers, which throw the first issues thanks to their various personality quirks. But the group is going to have to find a way to work together, especially since they're headed into a five day competition to follow a hike through some of the roughest parts of the area. It should be fun, but as Jake and Taylor already know, nature tends to hold plenty of surprises.

This is the third book in the series, and I haven't read the first two. That didn't really pose any problems, since this adventure does hold its own. But there are repeated mentions of the past tales, so I would recommend starting this series from the beginning just to stay on top of things.

Outdoor adventure and survival fans are going to want to take a peek at this one. It takes two boys and places them in some of the most difficult situations nature has to offer. While it begins with smaller problems, such as fixing a roof and learning to work together with new people, the troubles after that increase in severity, one right after the other. The dangers they face are deadly, and the solutions take quick wit, ingenuity, and outdoor knowledge. While this did start out a little slower, it picks up pace quick and mounts in tension until the very end. And it is a tense ending.

While the two boys tackle some of the worst problems nature (and man) has to offer, the author also weaves in plenty of outdoor knowledge. This is woven right into the tale and melds well with the story. Outdoor fans might recognize some bits of information, but others will offer new insights. Either way, the mix creates a grabbing read to get lost in.

And here he is...

Trekking solo across the remotest corners of Wyoming and Montana as a young man, Brandon Wallace learned how to survive the hard way in the harshest conditions nature could throw at him. Having spent the subsequent two decades as a trail leader, passing on his knowledge to a generation of budding adventurers, he turned his hand to fictionalizing his experiences, and the Wilder Boys series was born.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Kathi Q. Builds A Time Machine? by Jo-Ann Scranton

Doesn't every kid try to build a time machine at one point or another? At least, I and my siblings did. My own kids, too. The results were always....hmmm...interesting? Let's just say that the trains, airplanes, and boats turned out much more complete. Oh, and rocket ships. I'm guessing that time machines are such an 'all possibilities' thing, which makes the construction of one completely left to the imagination. 

I am curious to see where today's book goes and what Kathi Q. considers a time machine. I'm betting it's going to be a bigger surprise than what even my own kids came up with.

by Jo-Ann Scranton
Illustrated by Gabi Moraes
Tielmour Press
Picture Book
ages 4 to 8
44 pages

Kathi loves to tinker and make new machines, but what happens when she tries to make a TIME MACHINE? Things get a little... Upside down! At first, things seem more fun being upside down, but how far can her day go before she needs to change things back to normal...if she can!

This is a unique and original fiction story with STEM-related themes, brilliant illustrations, and an ending that will leave readers of all ages wanting more of Kathi Q!

Bonus: Remember to check out the seek-and-find adventure at the end of the book!



Building a time machine packs more than a few silly surprises, which flip the world as readers see it upside down.

Kathi loves to invent all sorts of things and can't wait to start on a new idea. While eating breakfast, it hits her—she could build a time machine! It's off to the garage to put together all sorts of...well, whatever she finds. Soon her machine is complete. She switches the switches, zips the zippers and more. When the poof of purple smoke settles, she hasn't traveled through time by even a second. Instead, the world has turned upside-down. 

This tale gets those inventor brain-gears turning and inspires readers to see what they can create. Kathi Q. is presented as a character with tons of energy, determination, and ready to take on anything (in the building world). Her excitement is contagious. It's fun to watch her head into the garage, take all sorts of odd and ends, and put them together to create an unique box-thing...ummm...time machine. When silliness ensues, not only are giggles sure to come, but it also gives readers a small nudge to see the world from a different perspective. 

Not only is the enjoyable play between reality and imagination-driven fantasy fitting to the age group, but the text rides at the appropriate reading level. It allows those who have a grip on their words to read it alone and practice their skills, while also making a fun read-aloud, which is sure to grab the curiosity of even more reluctant readers. The illustrations carry an energetic atmosphere and do a lovely job at bringing across details to make the upside-down reality come across nicely and with humor. 

There are a few aspects, which do go against the logic of the likes to follow an opposite gravitational pull...but this adds to the silliness. And imagination has its own rules. 

It's a cute read with creative inspiration and will draw more than a few smiles. 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Sejal Sinha Dives for Diamonds on Neptune by Maya Prasad

I'm excited about today's read  because I'm ready to jet off to space, too, and find a few diamonds. Who wouldn't be? This is the third book in a series for beginning readers. I haven't read the first two (can't break that habit!) but don't believe that will be an issue. The cover screams fun and I already adore the pets (?) on the cover. 

Anyone else up for a quick adventure?

Sejal Sinha #3
by Maya Prasad
Illustrated by Abira Das
Chapter Book Adventure
128 pages
ages 6 to 9

In the third book in the chapter book series about a young Indian American girl who loves science and has a big imagination, Sejal and the gang soar through outer space—perfect for fans of The Magic School Bus and Over the Moon !

Sejal’s puppy eats the page in her notebook with her best ideas. Her little brother throws a tantrum over string cheese. Sometimes, Sejal wishes she could escape being a big sister. After an embarrassing snot incident, her older cousin Ash is ready to leave the planet, too.

Ash has been working on a very cool science project about a theory that it rains diamonds on Neptune. Treasure hunting on another planet sounds like the perfect out-of-this world adventure to Sejal! But getting to Neptune might be harder than she and Ash think, especially when they find a couple of stowaways in their spaceship…



It's off to space and beyond in an exciting read with nibbling puppies, math-genius cheetahs, and maybe a diamond or two along the way.

Sejal is fed up with life around her. Her puppy eats her notebook of ideas, her little brother throws a tantrum about everything, and she just can't seem to get a little calmness anywhere. Her older cousin Ash accompanies her on a walk with the puppy, which doesn't end much better, but Ash's science project gives her a great idea. Supposedly, diamonds form on Neptune, and one would make the perfect present for her grandparents, who are visiting from India. Now, her and Ash just need to transform a paper box into a rocket ship and and get one.

This is the third book in the series. I haven't read the others, but that isn't a problem, since each book holds a single adventure to make great standalones.

The power of imagination comes across with the brilliance of a gem to create an exciting adventure. While this begins rooted in reality, it jets off to space with a little humor, moments of tension, and a box full of curiosity and determination. From lacking fuel for the space ship to an unexpected stop on one of Neptune's moons, the tale stays quick paced with more than a few surprises. The entire time, the thin line between reality and fantasy blurs and illustrates how fun imagination can be. I had to smile when they first entered space and Ash says, "I forgot how strong your imagination is, Sejal!" And yet, the ending holds something, which will have many readers questioning if it was only the imagination. It's a lovely balance to make dreams take flight.

While this is a fun adventure, there's also a decent amount of science and facts worked in. With natural flow, Sejal's mother and Ash discuss the diamonds and Neptune. As Sejal considers heading there to get a diamond, the cheetah (stuffed animal) jumps in with technical support and explains certain facts as they mold into the adventure. Some are basic (like gravity), while others offer some lesser known insights. All of this melds very well into the action, keeping all dryness far away. 

The entire read is very well set for chapter book readers, who are sure of their words but need more time and practice. The font is larger, the chapters short, and the lovely illustrations add plot assistance while adding atmosphere to the excitement. It's a fun read from beginning to end, and I am looking forward to see what other adventures lay in store.

And here they are...

Maya Prasad is a South Asian American author, a Caltech graduate, and a former software engineer. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where she enjoys hiking, canoeing, and raising her budding bookworm kiddo. She’s the author of young adult novel Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things and the Sejal Sinha chapter book series. Maya has also had short fiction published in Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YACast of Wonders, and Voyage YA. She is passionate about creating brown girl leads in children’s literature.

Abira Das is a freelance artist with experience in book illustration, graphic design, and video game art. She is the illustrator of the Sejal Sinha chapter book series.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Villains Academy by Ryan Hammond

Today's read promises a little evil fun and adventure. The School for Good and Evil is the first thing I thought of when seeing this, but with just the evil part, obviously. This read should be sillier, though, and it's for chapter book readers. So, I'm expecting lighter fun.

Let's go see how horrible these villains truly are!

Baddies in Training
by Ryan Hammond
Simon & Schuster
Middle Grade Fantasy
255 pages
ages 8 to 12

Being BAD has never felt so GOOD! The first in a villainously funny, highly illustrated young middle-grade series from author-illustrator Ryan Hammond. For fans of Amelia FangDog Man and Grimwood. Don't miss the second installment, How to Steal a Dragon, out in October 2023, and the third installment, How to Win the Gruesome Games, out in April 2024!

‘Frightfully fun – Villains Academy had me cackling from the very first page!’ Katie Tsang, co-author of the Dragon Realm series
‘I loved the spookily funny Villains Academy. It's a work of (evil) genius!’ Jenny McLachlan, author of The Land of Roar

Welcome to Villains Academy – the most prestigious villain school in the ENTIRE land. You will either leave here as a fully-formed villain . . . or in tatters.

It's werewolf Bram’s first day at Villains Academy. He really doesn’t feel like a villain at all, but the coveted Villain of the Week trophy is up for grabs, and Bram knows he’ll have to dig deep. With the help of new friends Mona the elf-witch, Bryan the lion, Shelia the ghost and Tony the skeleton, can Bram find his inner badness and become the villain he's always dreamed of being?



If you think school is hard, you haven't seen the Villains Academy, yet.

It's Bram's first day at the Villains Academy, and he's ready to give his best...if he felt like a villain, but he doesn't. Bram isn't sure he has a villainous bone in his body, and the teachers are noticing that, too. Everything he does ends up as a fail, and the other students make fun of him as well. When the teacher declares a group project and divides everyone up, no one is thrilled to have Bram as a teammate. Then, the Furyflumps are stolen, and the teacher blames Bram...for no real reason! Soon Bram has two strikes against him. With the third, he'll be out. Somehow he has to find his inner-villain, or he'll end up back at home and have a lot of explaining to do.

This is a fun, school drama about bullying and not fitting in, but in a very different way. Bram is a werewolf, and his hopeful-villain classmates include everything from witches to lions to toads to ghosts and more. It's a very original mix, which lets imagination fly. There is magic, but only a smidgen since villains come in all types with a huge variety of talents. Instead, it's the competitive aspect with its problems, which drive this tale forward. It's entertaining to see what the teachers expect villains to learn. Not only does it bring in more humor, but the contradictions bring a little food for thought.

The book fits well to those readers, who are sure of their words but aren't quite ready for heavier reads. The text is presented in a larger font with larger spacing for easy reading. Every two-page spread holds an illustration, which not only breaks up the text but also adds to the story and atmosphere. The tale flows quickly as there are many surprises, sticky situations, and lots of humor woven in. And there are enough emotional snippets to add depth and let the characters shine.

At the very end, there's a how-to-sketch featuring the main character, which is a nice touch. But then, this is a lovely read, in general, and a solid launch to a new series, which promises tons of friendship, adventure and fun to come.

And here he is...

Ryan Hammond is an author, illustrator, and designer. He likes cute animals, quirky characters, and villainous traits. He currently lives in an unknown location in an extremely haunted house, surrounded by lots and lots of books. He’s the author and illustrator of the Villains Academy middle grade series. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Isaac and the Boulder by Jo-Ann Scranton

I seem to be skim on picture books this month, which has to rank as a first. Usually, I have more than enough of these and even present more each month than MG and YA books combined. So, I'm happy to raise today's book up high and smile...well, the smile is thanks to the cover. I can see those brain-gears turning in that little kid's head and can't help but wonder who's going to win: the kids or the boulder?

Let's take a peek and find out!

by Jo-Ann Scranton
Illustrated by Mai Tran
Tielmour Press
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 4 to 8

One day, Isaac was walking to the beach, but a boulder blocked his way! Well-intentioned, Isaac tries to set things right and help the boulder return home… but how?

A warm-hearted, vibrantly illustrated children’s picture book that highlights the importance of determination and never giving up. ISAAC AND THE BOULDER is more than a story; it’s an invitation to embrace challenges and celebrate the journey, no matter how big or small.



It's boulder against kid, and the result is anything but unexpected.

Isaac is on his way to the beach when there's suddenly a boulder in his path. It wasn't there yesterday, and the thing is huge! After thinking for a moment or two, Isaac decides the boulder went astray and most likely wants to go back into the ocean to join its friends. So, he pushes and shoves and heaves, and the boulder won't move. But Isaac isn't going to give up that easily.

When I picked up this one after reading the blurb, I expected a distinct message about facing problems in life—an analogy. While a reader could weave in this comparison, it's by no means the clear message of this read. Instead, this book is about a boy facing a boulder and deciding to 'help it out' with everything he's got. Just when everything looks hopeless, a surprise pops up. Then, the story takes an even more unexpected turn, which propels it into a quirky and silly direction. It's a treat and very originally done.

The artwork is bright and brings across each scene nicely. Young readers can visit these on their own and go through the entire story, since it is clear what is happening. The text is kept separate from the illustration, making it easy to use as a read-aloud. It is age appropriate, flows well, and balances nicely with the illustrations.

This is a fun read, which should hold even the attention of more reluctant listeners and promises a few smiles along the way.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Mamie Phipps Clark Champion For Children by Lynnette Mawhinney

 I was in the library yesterday and had to smile when a young girl in front of me asked the librarian if she could take her to the 'real things' section. The librarian smiled and offered the term nonfiction, and the girl nodded. 

My siblings and I loved nonfiction when we were kids, and my kids aren't any different. That's why I'm always excited to share any nonfiction books, which happen across my small radar...too bad there aren't more. Maybe, I have to change my radar. So, there's a smile on my face as I pick up today's read. Not only is this one a biography about a woman I hadn't heard about before, but it's even in graphic novel form. I am curious to see how this goes and am looking forward to learning something new.

So, let's open the cover and see what's inside.

by Lynnette Mawhinney
Illustrated by Neil Evans
Magination Press
Middle Grade Biography 
Graphic Novel
144 pages
ages 8 to 12

This inspiring graphic novel tells the story of groundbreaking psychologist and civil rights activist Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD and her research in the racial identity and development of self in Black children, the work that ultimately played a vital role in the landmark  Brown v. Board of Education case.

Part of American Psychological Association's Extraordinary Women in Psychology series.

Mamie was born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas, during a time when United States laws intentionally disadvantaged Black people and permitted racial segregation. This profoundly impacted her life and work and  instilled in her an unstoppable force to champion for Black children. Mamie made a difference with science – she studied math and psychology at Howard University. She was first Black woman to graduate from Columbia University with a doctorate degree in psychology. Mamie expanded her earlier master's research into the famous black-doll/white-doll experiments that exposed the negative effects of racial segregation in children. Along with her research partner and husband, Kenneth Clark, Mamie became expert witnesses in several school desegregation cases, including Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, which effectively ended racial segregation in school. Mamie dedicated her life to advocate for children who deserved more than what society offered them and she built the Northside Center in Harlem, NY to support children with special needs, academic programs, and mental health services. 

Filled with interesting news stories and thought-provoking activities, this book encourages readers to carry on Mamie’s legacy and become champions for themselves and others in their community.  


Biographies for middle graders, especially when it concerns a person who is often overlooked in history recounts due to 'subtle' accomplishments (for example, not the 1st to land on the moon), can be difficult to get right, it seems, but these pages not only bring Mamie Phipps Clark's accomplishments to life, they offer so much more and work with readers in a way to bring thought and fun.

This book is all about Mamie Phipps Clark, a woman who was born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where a lynching hit very close to home. Determined to help in some way, she managed to enter college and worked her way up to become the first Black woman to graduate from Columbia University with a doctorate in psychology. From there, she performed research, which exposed the light in which Black children saw themselves, and later, was able to use this information in the historic case to end school segregation.

The author has slid this biography into a graphic novel and let each scene play out with the flow of life and very few information drops. This makes Mamie easy to relate with and the scenes more 'real' than if the facts were simply dropped. The historic setting also comes across nicely thanks to the lovely illustrations. 

The read is divided into six chapters, each surrounding a step in Mamie's life. While the first covers her childhood and the lynching, the others follow her as she gets older and, obviously, spend most time in her adult years, education, family balancing, struggles, and accomplishments. While nicely done, it still is the more difficult area for readers to connect with, but the author gives extra effort by sliding interesting information, activities, explanations, examples, and more between each chapter...and not just a page or two. These are written with a casual atmosphere and speak to the reader, while offering a connection to the story. For example, a short version of Mamie's research questions is given to readers to try themselves. Or readers are given challenge to do a little history and information digging about a school near them. It broadens the understanding and perspective, while offering a change-up from a simple, dry life story.

This is a well-thought out read surrounding the life of Mamie Phipps Clark and does a wonderful job at incorporating the reader.  It would work especially well for a theme in a group setting but is nice for individual readers as well. 

And here she is...

Lynnette Mawhinney, PhD, is Professor of Urban Education at Rutgers University-Newark and affiliated faculty in Africana Studies. She helps to prepare future urban teachers for the classroom, and her academic research focuses on retention and recruitment of teachers of color and diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in K-12 urban schools. She is an award-winning author and scholar of seven books. Her first children's book, Lulu The One and Only, received a starred review from Kirkus. She lives in New Jersey.