Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: Monkey and Rabbit Together

Monkey and Rabbit Together
As Retold by:  Dr. Mike Lockett
Illustrated by:  Ming-Jen Hsu
Published by:  Heritage Schoolhouse Press in the US                Date:  2010
                        Brilliant International Group in Taiwan
ISBN:   978-986-6483-63-9
Price:   $19.95 (includes audio CD)
Ages:   5-10years
Rating:  4 ½ stars (1-5)
Reviewed by:   Kris Quinn Christopherson

Synopsis: Adapted from a popular African folktale, this book tells the story about Monkey and Rabbit and their bad habits.  Monkey is always scratching.  Rabbit is always sniffing and wiggling.  The two have a contest to see who can sit still the longest as they try to get rid of their bad habits.  An audio CD comes with the book to help younger students and English language learners follow the story on their own. Monkey and Rabbit Together is in a bilingual format with English on one side and Chinese on the other.

Overall thoughts:  A straightforward, wonderfully-paced tale that will make children giggle.  The colorful pictures and descriptive words allow for the reader to be completely engaged in Monkey and Rabbit’s contest.  This book has a really clever concept with the bilingual format.  Although I do not read or understand the Chinese language, I enjoyed seeing the language printed, and it is a fun way to expose children to another culture. 


Book Review: The Goat Lady

The Goat Lady
By: Jane Bregoli
Published by:  Tilbury House Publishers, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-88448-309-0
Price: $7.95
Ages 9-12
Rating:  5 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Have you ever drunk goat’s milk?  Noelie Lemire Houle is an elderly lady who lives on a rundown farm on Lucy Little Rd. in Dartmouth, MA.  In spite of the fact that most of the homes in the neighborhood are new, freshly painted, and with neatly mowed lawns, Noelie’s yard has a big gray goose, several chickens, and a whole herd of goats.  When author Jane Bregoli with her son and daughter move to Dartmouth, the children become friends with Noelie and begin to assist with the goats, learning how to water, feed, and even milk them.  They hear all about Noelie’s history and the benefits of drinking goat’s milk.  She is known as “The Goat Lady.”  However, many of the neighbors don’t like what they consider an eyesore and a nuisance.  Can anything be done to help make peace?

The Goat Lady, which won the ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award for Humane Heroes, is a true story.  Noelie Lemire Houle was born in 1899 on a small farm in Quebec, Canada.  She and her sister moved to the United States in 1919 to work in a Massachusetts corset factory.  After she married Almador Houle, the couple moved to his parents’ farm in Dartmouth.  Following Almador’s death, Noelie remained on the farm with her goats.  For many years she has provided goat’s milk for people who need it and has sent extra goat kids to needy people in poor countries through Heifer International.  The Bregoli children asked their mother, who is also an artist, to paint a portrait of Noelie and her goats.  In fact, Jane did several pictures, and they grace the pages of the book.  It is a genuinely heartwarming account of intergenerational friendship, telling about the life of a lady who exemplified great kindness and courage.

Links: (author), (publisher)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review of Your Mommy Was Just Like You

Reviewed By David Broughton

Your Mommy Was Just Like You

Author:         Kelly Bennett

Illustrator:    David Walker

Publisher:     G.P. Putnam's Sons
                     An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Pub Date:     March 2011

ISBN            978-0-399-24798-9

Retail Price   $16.99 (Hardcover)

Ages:             4-8 and Mommies of all ages.

Pages:            32

When asked to do a review of Your Mommy Was Just Like You, I was excited and could hardly wait for the book to arrive. I have reviewed a number of Kelly Bennett's books. Because they're always fun and interesting I look forward to seeing the next one. When I received the galleys for this book, I wasn't as pleased as I usually am. Don't get me wrong, Your Mommy Was Just Like You is a well written, funny book with a message and great artwork; but it didn't do all that much for me. The wife picked up and read it, then couldn't stop talking about how good it was. I didn't see it, but then I was never a little girl, or a mommy or grandmother. You see, the book tells a story about a grandmother telling her daughter's child all about how her mother was once a young girl just like you. My wife, now a grandmother herself, thought Your Mommy Was Just Like You was right on target, poignant, yet still fun. The ending was something she really liked. As my wife, Linda, carefully read the book to me and explained how she felt about every line and bit of artwork, I came to understand that Your Mommy Was Just Like You was written from the heart, to little girls and mommies everywhere. If you have a little girl, or a mommy, get Your Mommy Was Just Like You. No matter what the age of your mother, I can't think of a more appropriate present for Mother's Day. Oh, don't forget one for granny, if you have one, she'll love it too.  Oh, by the way, I better add thanks to Linda for helping me get the idea of this book: Thanks, Linda!

Book Review: One of Us

One of Us
By: Peggy Moss and Penny Weber
Published by:  Tilbury House Publishers, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-88448-322-9
Price: $16.95
Ages 5-12
Rating:  5 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Do you know what “peer pressure” means?  Roberta James is late for school.  Two weeks late.  Her family had just moved into the community.  On her first day, she had put her hair up.  When she walks into the classroom, Carmen of the straight-up-hair girls says, “You’re one of us,” and invites her to sit with them.  However, when they have recess, Roberta heads to the monkey bars.  Carmen says that her group doesn’t go on the playground.  So Jasmine invites her to join the monkey bar gang.  But at lunch, she has a daisy lunchbox and all of them have monkey lunchboxes, so they point out where the flowered lunch box kids sit.  Yet, none of them eats pitas like the one that Roberta has, so she has to go where the pita-eating kids are.  However, they all wear cowboy boots, and she wears running shoes.

Will Roberta ever find a group of students with whom she can associate?  And will the other children learn that they don’t always have to be alike in every way?  One of the big complaints that I’ve heard of late from parents with children in traditional schools is the development of cliques and the tremendous pressure for kids to conform to some arbitrary standard in order to be accepted.  This simple but meaningful text by author Peggy Moss, whose award-winning children’s books include Say Something and Our Friendship Rules, and the colorful, lively illustrations by Penny Weber, combine to remind youngsters that everyone’s different and that true friends will respect their differences.  It would make a great starting point for an important conversation between children and their parents and/or teachers.  The Tilbury House website contains discussion points, activities, literature links, and further educational resources for using this book.

 Links: (author), (publisher)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review of Lost on Spirit River

By David Broughton

Title:         Lost On Spirit River
                  Spirit River Trilogy: Book 1
Author:     Tommy Batchelor
ISBN:        978-1-936352-99-9
Amazon Rating Four and a half stars.

Publisher:   Mirror Publishing
                 Milwaukee, WI 53214
Illustrations By Kim Reale
Cover Design By Laura Redmond

“Don’t be too long getting the Christmas tree,” Grandpa shouted, “and watch out for the ancient ones.” As he laughed, his laughter followed the children out the doors of the cabin.  They ran along the path leading them to the river’s edge and into the forest.

Shadows moved as smoke through the trees.

My original review of Lost on Spirit River gave away too much of the delicious story, so rather than publish that one, it chose of it's own accord to rocket deep into cyberspace, never to be seen again. Instead, I'll tell you this, while the story of Lost on Spirit River would be of interest to the younger set, starting possibly as young as ten or maybe twelve, grownups will enjoy this book too, probably more than the younger set. More mature readers will appreciate and notice the well-developed characters, and the intriguing twists in the plot that at first seems rather straightforward.

The author, Tommy Batchelor, has done a masterful job of weaving together almost all the elements you could want in Lost on Spirit River, except romance; though the boy's parents do somewhat repair their broken romance at the end, it's not a major part of the story. The story does have danger, action, humor, lessons learned, animals, and as the title suggests, the ancestors' spirits, both good and evil.

I rated this book five stars, simply because that's all there are on Amazon's five star scale; it should probably get six stars, on that same scale. To sum it all up, if you enjoy a good, well-written story with a bit of the unusual, what some might call paranormal, then by all means get Lost on Spirit River in some format or another, whichever you prefer. You won't be sorry, that's for sure. Well, maybe you will be sorry, when you finish the book -- sorry that it's over, yet while you're reading it, you'll find it nearly impossible to put down, and will rush to get back to it. 

As of this writing on New Year's Day, 2011, it happens to be on sale at Amazon, so get a copy now.

Book Review: Somebody Cares!

Somebody Cares!
By:  Renee Heiss
Published by:  WestBow Press   Date:  2010
ISBN:  978-1-4497-0758-3
Price:  $16.95
Ages:  6-12 years
Rating:  5 stars
Reviewed by:  Kris Quinn Christopherson

Synopsis:  When twelve-year-old Lexii plans her birthday party, she wants something unique.  What she finds is a way to enjoy her special day while making many special days for needy children.  What she doesn’t expect is an emotional reaction from one of her friends at the party.  See how she gets her friends and family energized to celebrate her unusual birthday. 

Overall thoughts:  This book does an excellent job of piquing children’s interest in helping others.  After I read this book to my daughters, my oldest wanted to check out the website about care bags right away. Care bags were created by a young lady who wanted to do something different for her birthday, and chose to have her friends bring items to donate to children who are less fortunate instead of bringing presents for her. Included in the book are instructions on how to sew care bags, suggested items to fill the care bags, and ideas on how to host your own care bags party.  This is an engaging book that tells a sweet story while celebrating friendships and helping others. 


Friday, January 28, 2011

MyMaxScore – Adaptive Online SAT/ACT Test Prep

Published by: Sourcebooks, Inc.    Date:   2010
Price: introductory price for SAT prep program, $299; introductory price for ACT prep program, $249
Ages: high school
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Kris Quinn Christopherson

Synopsis:  Sourcebooks, leading publisher of college guides and study aids, has produced an innovative online program that will revolutionize how students prepare for standardized tests.  Based on 30 years of research by Dr. Gary Gruber, the leader in SAT prep, MyMaxScore offers a truly personalized experience.  MyMaxScore adapts to the students’ strengths and weaknesses after every SAT practice question, and continually monitors progress and serves up questions only in areas in which the students need to improve.  The online program(s) last for a period of 4 months starting on the day of the initial enrollment.  The program(s) are for those who are just beginning to study, looking to get a boost on what he/she already knows, or those who have already taken the test and are looking to gain extra 50-100 points. 

Overall thoughts:   It has been many years since I have taken the SAT or the ACT, but I can still recall studying for, and worrying about, the tests. This tool would have been very advantageous if it had been around for me and my classmates to use (way back when!).   I found the website to be user-friendly with an effective format.  Once logged on and your profile is created with personal information, goals, and past testing information, the website is broken into five components:  instructions, practice questions, take the test, reports, and tools.  From my time on the website, I found all of the sections supportive to the student and the studying process.  I spent most of my review time in the practice questions section.  In this section, you are able to choose the number of questions or the amount of time you will work on during your session, ranging from 5 questions to 200 questions, or 5 minutes to 120 minutes.  Reports are generated to inform the tester of progress towards the entered goal and/or based on your performance on the questions.  A lot of thought has gone into this thorough website, and I would imagine that it would provide a positive experience to most any student. 


Book Review: New England’s Stormalong: A Tall Tale

New England’s Stormalong: A Tall Tale
By: Louis Arthur Norton
Published by: Tate Publishing and Enterprises, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1-60696-005-9
Price: $7.99
Ages 8-10
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Who is New England’s answer to Minnesota’s Paul Bunyan and Texas’s Pecos Bill?  Why, it’s Albert “Stormalong” Bulltop, known affectionately as Stormie.  Author Louis Arthur Norton retells the story of this maritime legend who was born one stormy night to fisherman Barney Bulltop and his wife Beatrice of Gloucester, MA.  Stormie grew so big and so fast that his cradle was a fisherman’s dory.  After learning how to build boats, Stormie went to sea and had many adventures, first as a fisherman, then as a whaler, as a navy sailor, and finally as a merchant seaman on the Sea Eagle.  But what did he have to do with the waves at Good Harbor Beach, the spring potholes on New England’s roads, the phrase “loose cannon,” and the Northern Lights?
The United States doesn’t have as long a tradition of myths and folk legends as do European cultures, but in our short history, we’ve come up with some pretty good tall tales.  I had never heard of Stormalong before, but a little research shows that he’s been a popular character in stories along the North Atlantic coast for many years, dating back to nineteenth-century sea chanteys.  Norton even theorizes that he may have shown Paul Bunyan how to cut down trees and Pecos Bill how to paint the desert.  Those who purchase a copy of the book can go to the publisher’s website, click the e/LIVE logo, punch in the coupon code in the back of the book, and hear a recording of the story free of charge.  Children will love reading or hearing Stormalong’s adventures, and anyone interested in studying American folklore will find them fascinating.  In addition, there is a lot of interesting information about ships, the sea, and sailing woven in.  New England’s Stormalong is a fun read!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Review: Chris Mouse and the Promise

Chris Mouse and the Promise
By: Tina J. Lackey Adams and Pamela Hopkins
Published by:   Outskirts Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4327-4959-0
Price: $16.95
Ages: Children of any age
Rating:  5 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Who might be the most important person who could visit your house?  The President of the United States?  The Queen of England?  Christina Mouse tells the story of an important visitor to her house.  Chris and her family live in a stable, and she has just tucked her three little ones into bed one night when she notices a beautiful star in the heavens.  Then a man comes by with a woman who is very pregnant. There was no place for them to stay in the town.  The animals all invite them in and make the stable ready for them, filling the manger with hay for the newborn baby.  When the mother whispers his name, they remember the promise that they had heard about since they were children.  Can you guess who this baby is?

Chris Mouse and the Promise is a very touching story about an important historical event recorded in the Scriptures as seen from the viewpoint of a mouse.  Author Tina J. Adams completed her Bachelors in Social Work from Northern Arizona University and is a member of several honor societies.  A free lance writer and poet who grew up with a passion for reading and telling stories, she has a heart for children and animals and serves families in Northern Arizona through Adoption and Foster Care services.  The soft, colorful drawings by Pamela Hopkins are a perfect complement to this lovely tale.

Book Review: Magic Eyes of Little Crab

Magic Eyes of Little Crab
By: Dr. Mike Lockett; illustrated by Sun Lotto        
Published by: Heritage Schoolhouse Press (USA)     Date: 2010
ISBN: 978-986-6483-62-2
Price: $19.95
Ages: 5-10
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Nancy Messmore

Synopsis: With a magic chant and a “Pop! Pop!” crab can send his eyeballs into the sea to discover beautiful colors and an array of creatures.  Jaguar is jealous of crab’s vision and wants crab to help him see below the sea.  Even after crab advises him of the dangers, Jaguar demands that crab “Pop! Pop!” his eyeballs.  Uh-oh!  Crab’s warning is realized!  How will Jaguar get his eyes back?  And what price will Jaguar and Crab pay for their mistakes?

Overall thoughts: I joyously admit that I read this to myself then listened to the accompanying CD.  Then I listened again and again.  On its own, Dr. Lockett’s retelling of this folk tale is entertaining and makes a good read aloud for parents, teachers or librarians who do justice to stories by using voices and sound effects.  But, in my experience, those with storytelling talents are few and far between.  For me, the brilliance of this book is the inclusion of a recording of Dr. Lockett telling the tale.  His vocal skills paired with perfect music and sound effects elevate this book to the sublime.

However, Dr. Lockett’s storytelling isn’t the only factor that elevates this book.  Sun Lotto’s rich illustrations (mostly computer generated) express emotions.  Watch the eyes of the Jaguar, the Crab and even the sea creatures.  And be sure to linger over the underwater visions; children will want to identify all of the creatures spoken of in the story.  Lotto has added a new dimension to the story.

Another bonus of this book is that it is created in two languages.  Flip the book over and you have a Chinese version.  The CD includes a Chinese storyteller as well an English version.  So I believe that this book will appeal to older children (even teens and adults) who speak English or Chinese and are learning the other language.  I imagine this book in the collections of high schools that offer Chinese language courses.  Of course it belongs in the libraries of ESL teachers as well. 

In the case of Magic Eyes of Little Crab, the components are each well done and could stand on their own.  In this case, story, pictures and audio combine to create a memorable tale that will be cherished.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: Lucy’s Family Tree

Lucy’s Family Tree
By: Karen Halvorsen Schreck and Stephen Gassler III
Published by:  Tilbury House Publishers, 2001
ISBN: 978-0-88448-292-5
Price: $7.95
Ages 4-8
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Have you ever done a family tree?  Lucy comes home from school with the assignment to make a family tree for class.  However, there is a problem because she was an adopted child from Mexico and feels that her family background is too complicated for her to make a family tree because it makes her too “different.”  Her parents challenge her to find three families that are “the same.”  So Lucy investigates her friends and her parents’ friends.  Lucinda Knapp has a stay-at-home father and a bread-winning mother.  Benjamin and Natalie’s family is Jewish, which is not typical in that neighborhood.  The Keaton children have a step-father.  And the Malones are still dealing with the loss of a daughter who was hit by a car.
Can Lucy find a family that is “normal”?  And what sort of family tree will she be able to devise?  There is much to like about this book.  As the parents of two adopted sons, one part Filipino and the other part Japanese, my wife and I have had to deal with some of the same issues raised by this story.  It is true that in today’s society families come in all shapes and sizes.  It is also true that children simply have no control over what their families might look like.  We should certainly strive to be sensitive to their needs.  In the back there are a couple of pages on “Rethinking a Family Tree Project” with suggestions to teachers about different approaches in which no child will feel denigrated, denied, or overlooked in any way, along with some further resources on the subject.

Links: (publisher)

Book Review: Ballad of the Rag Man

Ballad of the Rag Man
By: Cynthia Gustavson; illustrated by Kristina Tosic
Published by: Blooming Twig Books     Date: October 2009
ISBN: 978-1-933918-42-6
Price: $18.95
Ages: 3-10
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Nancy Messmore

Synopsis: In the village wanders a man who collects “yesterday’s treasures” including an eyeless, love-worn teddy bear.  Our eyes through the story are those of the teddy bear’s former owner, a little girl.  She is scared of the silent stranger who picks through the neighborhood trash.  But when she follows him back to his home, she discovers him lovingly repairing her teddy bear, which he returns to her clean and with new eyes.  The teddy bear isn’t the only one with new eyes at the end of the story.  I think all readers will come away with a new vision of their neighbors.

Overall thoughts:  The tale is told in rhyming verse.  It speaks volumes with a few well-chosen words that gently guide readers to the lesson at the end.  Tosic’s illustrations, mixed media including photographs and pen-and-ink drawings, vividly portray the story. They are pieced together much like the Rag Man’s work is a rag-tag collection of unmatched materials.  Together, the words and pictures tell a story of overcoming prejudice.  The dark, scribbly images reflect the words of the child describing the weird man in her village.  But as she learns about him, and accepts him as a neighbor, the words and images are brighter and full of hope.

Gustavson, a former teacher, is a psychotherapist who works with children.  She said, “I wrote this book because I found too many parents were teaching their children to be afraid of those who look different, or live on ‘the wrong side of town.’”  With that in mind, she said that the publisher has created the Rag Man Project, a non-profit endeavor, to promote diversity and publish more books about “compassion and understanding of those who are ‘not like you.’”  The book’s website,, includes parent and teacher resources that correlate with the book.  Along with promoting understanding and diversity, the Rag Man Project encourages “green” activities and volunteer work in local communities.

Reading this book took my breath away.  Not only does it read well, and not only are the illustrations perfectly paired with the verse, but the lessons of the story are timely.  Reading and discussing Ballad of the Rag Man is now on my family’s to-do list.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: Secret Melody

Secret Melody
By: Elizabeth V. Roach         
Published by: CreateSpace     Date: October 1, 2010
ISBN: 9781453770542
Price: $6.50
Ages: 8-12
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Nancy Messmore

Synopsis: High in the Andes Mountains, Alberto and his sister Mariela live with their aunt and uncle.  Mama and Papa moved to America when the Night People, or terrorists, started rounding up the “leaders” in their village.  Finally, after four years, Papa has sent a letter asking that his children join them in New York City.  While their aunt and uncle are leery of sending the children with a stranger, “Mister” is the only way to get the children from Peru to New York.  Alberto’s instincts about the sinister Mister are well-founded.  He keeps his promise to protect Mariela and they escape from Mister.  Unfortunately, that is the beginning of the real, scary adventure as they journey from rural South America to the urban streets of New York City.  Will both children make it home to their parents safely?

Overall thoughts: My heart was in my throat for a good portion of this book!  What an experience for children to have!  Unfortunately, the story of Alberto and Mariela is not purely fiction as we discover on the nightly news.  However, their deep, abiding faith is a lesson for all of us.  And, the happy ending makes this a breath-taking adventure story appropriate to the recommended age group.

Aside from the adrenaline-rush of an adventure, Secret Melody is a multicultural story.  The author has done a wonderful job of incorporating the language, food and culture of the children into the story.  Her descriptions of the Peruvian landscape are so vivid I could picture the mountainside field where the sheep graze.  A glossary of foreign words provides a fantastic learning tool at the end of the book.  Children studying South America in upper elementary or middle school social studies classes would benefit from reading this book. 

My only criticism of the book is based on a pet peeve.  The book was printed with frequent punctuation typographical errors.  While predominantly annoying, they would probably not get noticed by children except where quotation marks are missing at the beginning of dialogue.

The book’s author, Elizabeth Roach, is a member of Maryknoll Sisters, a Roman Catholic Religious Order.  She spent years as an educator in Bolivia and Peru.  Her experiences there have flowed into the descriptions on the pages of this book.  Indeed, her background has shaped the story in its portrayal of faith, social justice and ethnic pride. 

In summary, I could not put down this story.  The adventure kept my adrenaline pumping.  The descriptive passages painted vivid images that I can still call up in my imagination.  And the subtext of faith and hope were uplifting.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Review: Words by the Handful – Four Stories to Help You and Your Baby Communicate

Words by the Handful – Four Stories to Help You and Your Baby Communicate
By: Mimi Brian Vance
Illustrated by: Rosemarie Gillen
Published by: bright sky press   Date:   2010
ISBN:  978-1-933979-73-1
Price:  $9.95 per book, $29.95 boxed set
Ages: 0-3years
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Kris Quinn Christopherson

Synopsis:  Baby Ellis is hungry, but he can’t talk, and neither can his friends BB the Black Bear and Ducky – except, that is, to each other.  What can they do?  They say it with sign language.  Ellis lets his hands do the talking, and soon all their bellies are full.  This series of concept/picture books teaches American Sign Language (ASL) to babies and their families through interactive and entertaining stories.  Each story weaves four to five signs into an engaging children’s tale.  The Words by the Handful stories let parents and children learn sign language together through an activity that is both enjoyable and inherently beneficial: reading together. 

Overall thoughts:  I taught my son the signs for “more”, “thank you” and “please” when he was a toddler, and found it valuable.  I wish these cheerful books had been available then.  The rhyming stories are charming with bright and pleasing illustrations. Each sign taught in the board books are clear, and are performed by a character that the child can easily relate to – BB the Black Bear teaches the sign for bath in three steps.

Out of the four books included in the box set, I feel that Milk and More is the most useful in giving children tools to communicate when they want milk or want more of something.  The other books are quite clever and do give children communication tools, but in my opinion, the sign for bunny or boat are fun but maybe not as functional in daily interactions with parents.  All four books are sturdy for little hands, and are sure to be enjoyed over and over again. 



*Stories for Children Publishing, LLC. (SFC) and its divisions do not receive any compensation for product reviews beyond a sample and/or limited access to a paid website. SFC donates all books sent for review to a charitable organization. SFC may do a contest or giveaway of samples we receive.