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.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Control Freaks by J.E. Thomas

Today's read centers around a science fair competition and should swing in tons of middle grade drama as well. I'm assuming it will include a group of kids, who normally wouldn't have anything to do with each other, and pit them against tough odds while showing bonds of friendship forming? At least, that's what my crystal ball is telling me (or the blurb).

Let's just dive in and see how this handles all of that, shall we?

by J.E. Thomas
Levine Querido
Middle Grade Contemporary
320 pages
ages 8 to 12

AUGUST 13th!!!

One week. One prize. Seven really weird challenges.

The kids at Benjamin Banneker College Prep are a little… competitive. Okay. They’re a LOT competitive.

The minute Principal Yee announces an epic competition for the golden B-B trophy, seventh-grader Frederick Douglass Zezzmer knows he has to win.
But it won’t be easy. The competition doesn’t just include science, technology, engineering and math. It also has arts and sports. Not Doug’s best subjects.

Even worse, it’s a TEAM competition. Instead of being in a superstar group, Doug gets paired with four middle school misfits no one else wants.

Worst of all, Doug’s dad has a horrible backup plan. If Doug doesn’t win, he has to forget about becoming The World’s Greatest Inventor and spend the summer in sports camp, with his scary stepbrother.

With only a week to go, Doug launches a quest to turn his team of outcasts into winners… and maybe even friends


Competition fever shifts into overdrive with plenty of drama and learning to work together thrown in.

Doug is determined to become the greatest inventor ever, but his biological father sees sports in the future, instead. When the principal announces an intense, science competition with a special prize, Doug knows this is his chance to shoot for his dreams and shove that sport idea to the sidelines. But there's a hitch—isn't there always? It's a team competition, and Doug isn't anything but happy to work with others, especially when he realizes who he'll be working with. It was already going to be tough to prove himself, but now, it might just be impossible.

Science fair competition heads right into drama as these pages take on more than a few more serious issues, while embracing STEAM and the very competitive spirit. By allowing the chapters to switch between various characters' points of view, the reader gets to see the different challenges each person is facing and what is driving them to do what they do. It adds quite a bit of depth and more than a few subplots to weave with wit and heart under the main plot surrounding Doug's own goals and problems. Each of these hits upon themes, which middle graders can identify with (divorce, family health issues, pressures at home, etc), and each one comes across naturally. While all of this simmers along, the science fair madness (because this competition goes way beyond basic science fair) brings in STEAM goodness with technology, math, arts, and more.  So much more.

Despite everything going on, the story runs smoothly and doesn't grow confusing. Each chapter begins with the character's name as well as a small symbol to represent them, so it's clear who is telling the story. Each one has their own voice, and their personalities come across nicely. This also helps get a good handle on that chaos surrounding the competition competitiveness. This is where the action sits...and it's not to be underestimated. It was fun to see the tension build as problems arose (emotional as well as practical), and there's enough snark and humor built in to add spice. The pacing rolls along with only a few slower areas here and there. There are more than a few details surrounding the science, which is wonderful but does go in deeper than some readers might enjoy.  Those, who thrive in this direction, will appreciate this aspect, though.

This is a well-woven read, which incorporates diversity, science, and life issues with natural spark. Fans of science fair tension are especially going to want to take a peek at this one.

And here she is...

J.E. Thomas grew up near Colorado’s Front Range mountains. She spent her early summers stuffing grocery bags with books at the local library, reading feverishly, then repeating the process week after week. J.E. has bachelors’ degrees in Mass Communications and Political Science, as well as a master’s degree in Public Communications. She wrote Control Freaks while working as an administrator at the same independent school she attended as child.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Baby On Board: Airplane by Sebastien Braun

With vacation time upon us, this read seemed like a timely fit. I flew quite often with my children from Europe to the US. My youngest was only 2 weeks old on her first flight. They were always excited and we made a big deal out of it with a countdown calendar, new (homemade) backpack for each with a pouch on the front to carry their favorite friend with them, and a variety of little games and toys to help against those boring is a long flight across the ocean!

So, this book brought happy memories when I saw it. And I have no doubt I would have bought it for my kids, at that time. 

So, let's see if it's as cute and fun as I hope!

by Sebastien Braun
Candlewick Press
Board Book
8 pages
ages 2 to 4

Climb aboard the airplane in this novelty series about things that go! With tabs to slide and wheels to spin, little ones will love making the tractor move on every page.

All aboard the baby plane.
We’re going on our holiday!
All aboard the baby plane.
Watch the airplanes fly away.

The baby airplane is ready for takeoff! Push and pull the tabs to help the airplane take to the skies—there is so much to see in this bright and busy book. Bursting with adorable animal characters on a special trip through the clouds, this novelty offering from Sebastien Braun will provide plenty of entertainment.



It's off to the skies as the excitement of flying on an airplane hits the pages as important aspects of the adventure are explored.

This is a cute board book for the youngest travelers or airplane enthusiasts out there. Starting in the terminal, a bunch of animal friends are waiting to board. Step by step, the general aspects of flying are presented and that in an enjoyable, light way. 

The illustrations are bright, cheerful and hold tons of details for little listeners to explore, either while the story is being read or on their own. The text works well for a quick 'story' and fits the age group. It adds to the details in the illustrations to explain certain aspects of flying. Together, the two help little readers have a slightly better idea about what to expect when flying, but it doesn't go into too many details, either. And airplane fans will find themselves dreaming of flying themselves.

The flaps and such add a little more fun and hold small surprises, which fit each situation and illustration. These are created with smaller hands in mind and do take a bit of abuse.

And here he is...

Sebastien Braun is the author and illustrator of many books, including Raj and the Best Day Ever!, as well as the illustrator of the Can You Say It Too? series. As a child he spent countless hours drawing and filled his homework with doodles and portraits of his teachers. After graduating, he spent a few years teaching art before taking the plunge as a freelance illustrator. Apart from creating pictures, his favorite pastimes are making toys from wood, playing with his children, and riding his vintage road bike through England’s Cotswold Hills.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Interview with author Aimee Lucido and Pasta Pasta Lotsa Pasta!

My internet is back...and so much better than before (thank you, StarLink!). Who knows? I might even be able to get my Youtube channel, The Hungry Bookworm, up and running that a three minute video won't take 6-8 hours to upload. Wouldn't that be something???

Anyway, I'm celebrating big time with a review and interview. Today's read comes from a very lovely author and promises to be tons of fun. But then, the topic is a good one—pasta! There's nothing like a good pasta, and this book promises to introduce many different types. Just one glance at the cover, and I'm already dreaming of Maultaschen ( a German treat). And guess what we're having for dinner? Lasagna with a layer of spinach and Bechamel sauce (I've never been a fan of ricotta). 

by Aimee Lucido
Illustrated by Mavisu Demirag
Beach Lane Books
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 4 to 8


A family dinner gets out of hand as guest after guest arrives with a different pasta request in this rambunctious rhyming picture book. How much pasta is too much pasta?

Ring-a-ding, the doorbell rings, and oh! What did my Nonna bring? 

Nonna Ana from Catania only likes to eat lasagna. But Nonno Titi from Tahiti only eats his spaghettini! Zio Tony wants ravioli, Zia Trini wants rotini, the cugini want tortellini… Family dinners can be tricky when the guests are oh-so-picky! As the kitchen gets more and more chaotic, can family pasta night go off without a hitch?



Like a pasta parade explosion, this celebrates the various forms of the yummy food in a building chaos of delight.

Nonna has arrived, and that means lasagna is on the menu. While the child helps in the kitchen to make the delicious meal, another family member arrives at the door, and they would enjoy spaghettini. Two pasta are better than one, so it's off to prepare more. But then, the next person arrives. As more and more friends and family join the cooking fun, the pasta creation grows and grows. Everything looks delicious, but can so much pasta love really run smoothly?

This book starts out calm. A loved family member arrives, and the child is more than happy (and excited) to help cook. It's a lovely atmosphere from the get-go, and as each new person and pasta join the list, the joy and humor mount, too. Everyone is excited to pitch in. The happiness radiates from the page, although the reader will begin to wonder how all of this can be cooked at the same time. The pots and pans stack up with the growing chaos. Still, the author manages to let details surrounding the creation of each dish (and what the different ingredients are) slide in smoothly along with the fun. While it does get a little challenging to identify each pasta with the names as things grow more and more hectic, the appreciation for the many forms of pasta is clearly brought across.

The illustrations and text work well together and help keep everything balanced. While the text explains who has arrived, what pasta is being cooked, and (very briefly) how it's made, the illustrations let the humor and fun thrive. The illustrative style carries a choppier edge, which gives it a unique feel. It fits well with the growing chaos and brings across the emotions wonderfully. There are quite a few details to pick out, making this a book for listeners to pick up on their own and spend time taking in the scenes.

This makes a fun read-aloud and would also work well in group settings to a theme surrounding pasta. But it makes a great read for small pasta lovers at home, too.


I'm so excited to have you here today and already want to thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for us. It's always fun to learn more about authors and how they got to their books.

I’m just going to start with the most obvious question: are you a pasta lover? Which is your favorite?

YES I am a pasta lover!! Is "lover" a big enough word?? Pasta is my favorite food group, and while it is nearly impossible to pick just one noodle shape as my singular favorite (I mean, can one choose a favorite child?), if I *had* to pick, I would say rotini. The spiral shape holds so much sauce, and it's also pretty!

I remember the first time someone explained to me about the purpose of those spirals (to hold sauce, obviously!). I thought it was so clever.

You’ve already published two middle grade novels, Emmy in the Key of Code and Recipe for Disaster. What inspired you to head toward a picture book next? How was the dive into the picture realm different or was it a very similar experience?

Actually, I wrote PASTA before I wrote either EMMY or RECIPE! Isn't publishing funny? 

I wrote the first draft of PASTA when I was still getting my MFA (back in 2016) and it was actually the first book that I sent to my now-agent, Kathleen Rushall, in my attempt to convince her to represent me. She really liked the book and requested more material from me, but she ended up passing because she felt she had enough clients on her roster at the time, and was closing to new queries. I took her interest as a sign that I was close to finally landing an agent, but put PASTA aside so I could focus on my middle grade projects. 

I wrote EMMY in 2017, and in 2018, that was the book that Kathleen read and loved enough to sign me. PASTA was still in the back of her head, though, and we went out with it later that year. In 2019, Simon & Schuster decided to buy it (yay!) but picture books can take a really long time to produce, so now, in 2024, nearly 8 years after I first drafted it, it's finally entering the world.

As far as the difference between picture books and novels, they really couldn't be more dissimilar for me. Novels tend to be projects that I work on for years and years, drafting slowly, revising as I go. I tend to do a lot of head-writing of a novel before I ever start typing, so the bar for me to sit down and draft a novel is quite high. But because picture books are so short, I often draft very quickly, as soon as I get an idea, and then decide if it has merit after it's been sketched out. This means that I have a whole lot of half-finished, discarded picture book texts in folders on my computer that will never see the light of day, and that's not as true for my novels.

Wow! Eight years is a long time. I had no idea that picture books could take that long to hit the shelves. But writing does include quite a few struggles.
What is your favorite part about writing? And what would you rather eat worms than do?

My favorite part about writing is that my own words can surprise me. A lot of people think of authors as puppet masters who know exactly what is going to happen in their book before they write it, but the best writing moments feel almost like magic. Those are the moments where I expect the story to go in one direction, but suddenly, out of nowhere, I find myself typing something totally different, completely unplanned, and yet strangely perfect. It's times like those that make me feel like my stories come from somewhere outside of me, and I'm just the conduit. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

And I'm not sure about eating worms, but I realllllllly can't stand doing my taxes. Also trimming my daughter's nails. She hates it, and I feel like a monster. The worst!

Maybe another picture book idea? But then, what were your favorite books while growing up?

I absolutely adored middle grade fantasy when I was a kid. Matilda, The Golden Compass, and The Harry Potter series, all were read over and over and over again in my household. I even named my daughter Lyra after the main character in The Golden Compass, but we pronounce it Lee-rah instead of Lie-rah because that's how I pronounced it as a 12-year-old reading the trilogy on repeat. I just loved how these stories made me feel like my world was bigger than the things I encountered everyday. It gave me a sense of wonder over the most mundane objects (a broomstick, a wardrobe, a knife) and made me think that maybe *I* might be special enough to witness the real-life magic that I had only read about in books.

I hope you find that magic someday. I'm still searching for a jar of pixie dust myself. I guess writing is a way to touch that magic. When you aren’t illustrating or writing, what do you like to do? 

These days, my time is split between writing books and making crossword puzzles. I've been making crosswords ever since I was in college and had my first puzzle published in the New York Times, and every year since then I've made more puzzles than the year before. Now, I've published twelve puzzles for the New York Times, I'm on staff for both the New Yorker crossword and AVCX (an indie puzzle publication), and I make one-off commissioned puzzles for everything from alumni newspapers to corporate product launches to marriage proposals. One time I made a crossword puzzle for John Green's book tour for Turtles All the Way Down! 

Another obsession of mine over the past few years has been trivia. I participate in way too many online trivia leagues, I edit a biweekly trivia game for AVCX, and one of my life-long dreams is to be a Jeopardy champion. I love how trivia makes me more aware of the world around me, and it gives me the most amazing feeling when something I learned through trivia comes up in my daily life. I'm full of "did you know" fun facts, and I'm firmly convinced they make me a blast to hang out with at parties. People LOVE to hear about Academy Award Best Picture winners from the 1930's, right??

What was your biggest wish as a child?

I wanted magic powers just like Matilda. Still waiting, but I haven't given up hope!

And what about your favorite snack? (Yes, I might be a tad bit hungry while asking you these questions.)

Oh this is so hard because I love food and will eat almost anything, but I think right now my favorite snack is yogurt with mixed-in chocolate chips. I like the crunch and the sweetness of chocolate chips, and the yogurt is high in both protein and calcium while also being a very filling snack!

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! It was really fun to learn more about you...and now, I'm craving yogurt with crunch, so it's off to the fridge!

And here they are...

Aimee Lucido is the author of several books for kids, including Emmy in the Key of Code, Recipe for Disaster, and Pasta Pasta Lotsa Pasta. She got her MFA in writing for children and young adults at Hamline University and lives with her family in Berkeley, California, where she likes to do trivia, run, and write crossword puzzles.

Mavisu Demirag is an artist living in Izmir, Turkey. She graduated from Dokuz Eylul University with a degree in fashion design, but later turned her sights to her true passion: illustration. She is the illustrator of picture books including Pasta Pasta Lotsa Pasta by Aimee Lucido and many books published in Turkey and internationally.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Welcome to Camp Snoopy adapted by Jason Cooper


Camp Snoopy
Adapted by Jason Cooper
Simon Spotlight
Chapter Book
96 pages
ages 6 to 10

Snoopy and the Peanuts gang have been beloved by generations of fans for more than seventy years. Now everyone can experience the joy and laughter with Peanuts books and The Snoopy Show , Snoopy in Space , and Camp Snoopy on Apple TV+!

Explore Camp Snoopy in this playful guide that ties into the Apple TV+ show!

Snoopy, Woodstock, and Charlie Brown are off to summer camp, and you can join them. The Peanuts gang will take you on a humorous tour of the ins and outs of the great outdoors including the antics they get up to, what it’s like to stay in a bunk, and tips for telling great stories around the campfire! And the World-Famous Beagle Scout Leader, Snoopy, will help his troop earn their merit badges. You can even become an honorary Beagle Scout!



Camp excitement and atmosphere hits every page as the ins and outs surrounding Camp Snoopy are explained.

This is a read for Camp Snoopy fans or those who would enjoy diving into more with the Peanuts gang as they spend time at summer camp. Written as a how-to-book, this is divided into several chapters, which explain everything from preparing for camp, activities, summer friends, and more. This isn’t written in the traditional comic style (which was a little disappointing for more traditional fans like me). Rather, it explains facts and information surrounding the theme of the chapter’s title and gives examples of situations, which the members of the Peanuts gang have faced.

This works well for solid chapter book readers, who are good with their words, and also for the lower end of the middle grade audience. It’s not a long read, each chapter is kept relatively short, and the vocabulary does exercise reading skills without pushing too hard. There is only a paragraph or two on each page, allowing the illustrations time to shine. While this isn’t a comic, per say, single shots of scenes reinforce the described situations. These hold Schultz’s ever-loved style and bring across each character as they are known and loved.

The book speaks to the reader as if conversing with them directly. It stays in a teaching style, explaining each situation as if the reader were preparing to head for camp themselves…and this might be a lovely book for kids who are about to head off to summer camp. It offers insights, support, inspiration, and hint. While these are very tuned toward Camp Snoopy, many can be helpful for normal summer camp situations, too. It’s nothing overly deep, but rather, swings more toward expectations, dealing with emotions, handling situations, and working with others. And of course, there’s the usual, Peanuts humor. 

If you’re looking for the traditional comic feel of the Peanuts, this might not be quite right. But Snoopy and Peanut fans, who would like to join in on Camp Snoopy fun are in for a cute read…whether they are heading to a summer camp themselves or just want to sink into Snoopy Camp for fun.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

The Whisperwicks: The Labyrinth of Lost and Found by Jordan Lees

I'm really excited about today's read. It promises magic, adventure, mystery, a parallel world... in other words, all sorts of goodness!

Note: This one is going onto my possible favorites of the year list!

The Whisperwicks, #1
by Jordan Lees
Illustrated by Vivienne To
Simon & Schuster
Middle Grade Fantasy
384 pages
ages 8 to 12

Doll Bones meets Skandar and the Unicorn Thief in this spooky, illustrated middle grade novel about a boy who doesn’t believe in magic discovering a supernatural world full of danger.

It began with a crack in the wall .

Eleven-year-old Benjamiah Creek believes in science, logic, and the power of reason. He definitely does not believe in magic. But when he receives a mysterious doll in the mail—a doll that can transform into a bird—he is led into an impossible (and most definitely magical) Wreathenwold.

Wreathenwold is dangerous and holds many secrets within its labyrinthine walls—magi prowl, Hanged Men stalk, and at the center of its shifting streets lurks the Minotaur, a beastly creature and object of terror. In no time at all, Benjamiah is swept into a perilous adventure with the fierce and brilliant Elizabella, a girl determined to solve the disappearance of her missing brother, who may be caught up in a decades-old conspiracy that could doom them all.

Will Benjamiah ever find his way home? Or will he be lost forever in the labyrinth?



The other world holds magic, mazes, and dark secrets, promising a fantastical twist of mystery and adventure with the uncertainty of whether everything will turn out okay or not.

Benjamin Creek is a loner and feels alone. His loving parents are on a type of vacation, trying to find a way to work out their relationship or call a divorce. He wishes they’d just fix things and get on with life as it should be. To kill time, he reads books in his Granny’s library. Not fiction but anything that teaches him something. This is also one reason he doesn’t seem to have any friends; no one understands him. When a mysterious package with a doll arrives at the bookstore, he’s convinced its from his parents. But he’s wrong. The doll leads him to a hidden door, and behind it is a world somewhat like his own but dangerously different.

 I’ll admit that it took a me a couple of pages to sink into this one. The first chapter starts out very grabbing as it sets the stage for the adventure to come with magic, danger, and set in a fantastical world. The second chapter shifts gears and lets the reader meet Benjamin as he struggles with his parents’ situation while reading in the bookstore. The worries the possible divorces holds come across clearly, and his loneliness is obvious. This did move a little slower, especially after the opening chapter but when the doll arrives, the pace picks up. After the door appears, it’s hard to put the book down.

 The author has built an intricate world and that without boring descriptions or information dumps. The magic and the maze-like streets carry background and richness…it’s fun and yet a little disturbing to have a city, where people can only wander a few streets before getting lost with little hope of returning home. The reader discovers everything right along with Benjamin, and that while he’s searching for clues, trying not to get lost in the mysterious maze, and faced with one dangerous situation after the next. While there are friendships, there’s also deceit. Trust is only true when given with a coin. But the thing to look out for most, are the hidden intentions behind myth and façade…and this promises more than a few unexpected twists and turns.

There are darker and more dangerous moments as Benjamin helps Elizabella search for her brother, which might be on the heavy side for sensitive readers, but it isn’t gruesome, nor does it tiptoe fully into horror. There is a little humor and spark to keep the characters fun (especially the banter between Benjamin and Elizabella), and the magical red string is cute, but still, the story leans toward the shadows and packs tension with all sorts of villains.

 It’s an engaging read with mystery and fantasy, and is sure to delight adventure fans. It will be fun to see what Benjamin will face next.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

A French Girl in New York by Anna Adams

by Anna Adams
Wattpad Books
YA Romance
312 pages


From debut author Anna Adams, this delightful YA romcom is all about finding yourself, your family, and perfect harmony in the big city.

Maude Laurent is an orphan. Raised in Carvin, a small town in northern France, she’s always wondered about her parents—who they were and what happened to them. Her foster family, the Ruchets, certainly won’t tell her anything. For them, she’s someone to cook meals, clean their house, and look after their twin boys, but Maude dreams of much more—she dreams of becoming an opera star and singing on the great stages of Paris.

Her Cinderella moment arrives when she’s livestreamed playing the piano and singing in a café during a school trip to Paris. Suddenly she’s an internet sensation and music studios are pursuing her with promises of stardom. The only problem? They all want her to sing pop, but that’s not what Maude wants...

When Terence Baldwin and his daughter show up on Maude’s doorstep, they promise to help her find her own unique voice. Maude accepts the challenge: six months in New York to write and record three singles that become hits. If she succeeds, she can stay and record an album. If she doesn’t, she’ll return to Carvin.

Maude knows she has the drive and talent to succeed but she also knows that her father used to live in the city. Perhaps, just perhaps, she can have it all: a successful music career and a chance to learn more about her family. It’s perfect! However, there’s one big problem—her collaborator Matt Durand. He’s annoying and arrogant, a popstar on a break, and he’s determined to force Maude out of her comfort zone.

With rival artists determined to see Maude fail and the clock ticking, Maude and Matt have to put their bickering aside if they’re going to succeed. Then a sudden revelation about Maude’s parents changes her perspective on everything and leaves her wondering if she can ever find the perfect harmony.


When dreams suddenly come true but lead in unexpected directions…and that might be exactly the way it has to be.

Maude has grown up in a little town in France, raised in a small family after her own parents…well, she has no clue what happened, and her adoptive family isn’t giving the slightest hint to anyone. While she’d love to know the truth, her true +She has one dream: to become a professional opera singer. When a class trip to Paris leads her to a small café, where she performs a quick pop-song for a fun, someone posts her performance on the internet. And it goes super viral. Talent scouts and record companies come knocking at her door, and her adoptive parents see dollar signs. But Maude has no intention of becoming a popstar. Her heart is set on opera. When she comes across a mysterious note from her mother, which mentions her father and New York, Maude finally agrees to one of the deals. While the music business has plans and dreams for her career, she intends to only play along until she achieves her true goal, finding out more about her father.

In some respects, this is a Cinderella tale, but it also takes off in an original direction as it swirls through difficulties of the music industry, finding where one belongs, and a little romance, too. The read flows very well, but then, Maude is an enjoyable character to follow. She is timid enough to make it easy to feel for her and is determined but needs to learn to trust her gut and stand up for herself. She’s kind and warm, and carries quite a bit of character arc by the end. Much of the story rotates around her dealing with others as she tries to discover the secret behind her background and find her own spot in life. So, it also leans toward a coming-of-age.

While the tale is easy to read and carries a lighter side, it also holds nuggets of depth to add richness without going overly deep, too. There’s a little historical goodness, which comes to light as Maude learns more about her parents. There’s diversity and the weaving of other cultures and backgrounds. There’s a look at instruments, music, and glimpses at the harder edges of money, power, and greed. And there’s family warmth.

Fans of life drama with a touch of romance and a hint of achieving dreams despite difficult beginnings are going to want to take a peek at this one.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Happy Book Birthday, Ruby's Tools For Making Friends by Apryl Stott!

Yay! It's time to shout-out another book birthday. This one releases tomorrow, and telling by the cover, promises to be a super cute read. As the title suggests, this one should rotate around the struggles of forming new friendships. I have a feeling that especially the illustrations are going to be a treat.

by Apryl Stott
Paula Wiseman Books
Picture Book
40 pages
ages 4 to 8

A little fox uses tools to overcome anxiety and make friends at her new school in this heartfelt picture book from the creator of the New York Times bestseller Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light !

It’s Ruby the fox’s first day at a new school. She’s a little nervous, but luckily, she has her tools to a tape measure to count her breaths if she feels overwhelmed, pliers to remind her to be flexible, and safety goggles to see things in a new way.

When Ruby finds out her class is having an egg drop competition, she wants to share her ideas, but she feels shy surrounded by all her talkative classmates. Can she use her tools to find the confidence to speak up, and maybe even make some new friends?


A cute fox, handy tools, and first-day-of-school nerves come together in an encouraging read packed full of adorable characters.

Ruby is off to her first day at a brand new school, and she’s nervous. Finding friends isn’t easy, especially since she tends to get overly nervous about things. With her tools on her school bag (a tape measurer, pliers, and safety goggles), she walks into the new classroom and immediately feels overwhelmed. So many kids! Even with her tools, she’s not sure she’ll be able to handle things.

I’m going to start with the illustrations because they add a special touch to this read. The characters are well concepted and come across with personality, friendliness, and are inviting. The mix of animals and humans adds an interesting and creative twist and slides in with natural flow. Each scene carries lovely details and will come across familiar to many readers. It’s enjoyable to simply flip through each page and enjoy the story that way.

The text fits well to the middle of the intended age group with more text than some picture books but remaining at the intended level. It works very nicely for a read-aloud or story time and carries a complete tale with a rounded ending. The concept of the egg drop experiment heads more toward the older end of the intended reading group and might need some clarification for younger listeners. It’s an easy-to-follow story with sympathetic characters to enjoy.

The tale is message driven and does steer the plot, making this a book especially useful when exploring themes such as forming new friendships or dealing with anxiety. Each of Ruby’s tools carries an emotional purpose, and this is clearly explained. One of the other characters, also uses an object to help deal with tenser situations. There are a couple other message added as well, but these hit on a smaller scale.

It’s a cute read with lovely illustration, which brings across several messages in an enjoyable and adorable way. 

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Fifteenth Summer by Michelle Dalton

by Michelle Dalton
Simon & Schuster
YA Romance
256 pages

A teen unexpectedly finds love during a summer vacation at a lake town in this tender romance in the spirit of The Summer I Turned Pretty —now with a beautiful new look!

Chelsea isn’t looking forward to her summer at the lake. It’s the first time her family has been there since her grandmother died, and she can’t break out of her funk. But her summer takes a turn for the better when she meets a boy who works in the bookstore. Josh is cute, sweet, funny…and best of all, seems to like her as much as she likes him. As the days pass by in a blur of boat rides, picnics, and stolen kisses, she can’t believe how lucky she is. No one has ever made her feel so special, or so beautiful.

But Chelsea knows her days with Josh are numbered. She’ll be heading home at the end of the summer—and he’ll be staying behind. Will this be Chelsea’s summer of love? Or will it be the summer of her broken heart?



Summer dreams of romance take a super sweet turn along with just enough small-town excitement to make the heart smile.

Summer vacation to Granny’s cabin won’t be the same now that she’s passed away, but Chelsea, like the rest of her family, is determined to pull it through and enjoy. Her older sisters already are focused on their main goal: finding the ideal summer romance. Now fifteen, Chelsea admits that’s not an awful idea but is pretty sure no one will take interest in her anyway, especially since her sisters are so awesome and she’s a walking case of awkward. Her odd red hair doesn’t help matters. At Granny’s everything feels weird—it’s the same as before yet different. Each family member does their best to handle the grief and continue having fun, but it adds some stress. At least, Chelsea’s sisters seem to be getting their wishes and are sinking into romance. Deciding to drift away to her favorite activity, reading, Chelsea discovers a new, super cute bookstore, but when she steps inside, the books aren’t what catches her attention. Suddenly, summer romance might just be a possibility even for her.

Fans of summer romance are going to sink into this one and enjoy. Chelsea is a sweet person, who doesn’t have tons of self-confidence but isn’t ready for a pity-party, either. She surprises, at times, with her sudden bursts of courage, and this also makes her a fun character to follow. The mix with her family adds a nice foundation. It isn’t always perfect, but the concern and care are always present. The relationships gain extra depth as the members each try to deal with the absence of Granny in their own ways. Plus, the oldest sister is about to head to college and leave them for the first time, adding another emotional dimension to bite into.

The romance does carry the main theme and is super sweet with friendship ranking high. While there is a bit of instant attraction, it works very well and stays subtle with natural flair. What works very well in this read, though, is that the romance weaves right along with Chelsea’s other problems, keeping the subplots from being buried. It creates a balanced read with life spice, familiar moments, and tons of heart.

Library Read...Heist Society by Ally Carter

We're sticking to mystery today but adding an exciting dive into high crime, too. I'm really excited about this one, especially since I picked it up at my local library. 

Heist Society, #1
by Ally Carter
Disney Hyperion
YA Crime  /   Mystery
337 pages

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria... to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat's dad needs her help.

For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in history-or at least her family's (very crooked) history.




Reminding a little of Ocean’s Eleven with a teeny-touch of mafia flair, this read grabs from start to finish with thieves to root for the entire way through.

Kat hasn’t only been part of the family business as long as she can remember, but she also has talent. Still, even the best thief risks getting caught at one point or another. Deciding that it’s better to change life before that happens, she scams her way into a prestigious school to get a normal degree and lead a normal life…if her past would let her. But when her father is accused of stealing from a very powerful and evil man, she’s the only one who has a chance of proving his innocence, and this includes performing one of the most risky heists ever.

From the very first page, Kat hits with wit, street-wisdom, and heart. The first chapters are a bit fogged as she immediately finds herself on the verge of being expelled from a school that she worked so hard to get into. It’s not clear if she’s guilty or not…or even what exactly happened…but it sets the stage very well for the rest of the fast-paced read. Because nothing in Kat’s life is simple.

The plot bounces through the underground world of thieves and criminals with Interpol only one step behind. The biggest threat reminds of a dangerously playful alley cat, but other thieves offer risky unknowns. There’s always something happening, and each decision invites more danger. But mixed in is an amazing amount of family and friend support, and fun flirting too, which never goes beyond just that and promises much more to come.