Willodeen by Katherine Applegate

5 stars Children’s Fantasy

I enjoyed this fantasy world with Willodeen.  Not under the best of circumstances, I liked how Willodeen discovered a problem and was persistent as she worked to solve it. A strong, determined character, she was compassionate to others and I felt that although she alone, she knew she wasn’t lonely. 

After a fire claimed the lives of her parents and a sibling, Willodeen lives with 2 older women who were healers. Willodeen is a quiet girl who prefers to spend her time in the great outdoors; observing nature and taking notes.  Willodeen likes to search for Screechers.  Although, they’re not the adorable hummingbears (small bear with wings) that the villagers all loved, to Willodeen, they were her favorite. Her father had taught her to love all things including unlovable things which to some individuals included the Screechers.  Yes, these Screechers produced a loud screech but they also were grumpy, smelly creatures that were definitely unwelcomed by the villagers. 

The villagers are aware of Willodeen’s passion for the Screechers and I couldn’t believe how cruel and immature some of them were towards her.  She was an 11-year-old girl for cripes sake!  I was glad when Connor was introduced to Willodeen. Connor and Willodeen are both reserved and smart individuals and they both also needed a friend.  I enjoyed reading how their friendship evolved. 

As the Autumn Faire date approaches, the village starts to plan the annual celebration.  This year though, it isn’t looking good financially for the town.  As the village’s huge moneymaker, the hummingbears haven’t made their annual return yet.  They know, if they don’t return, neither will the tourists.  The villagers need this revenue to survive.  What can they do to get them back?  Why have they suddenly stopped coming?  Where are they?  Lots of questions are hanging in the air and there seems to be only one person who has all the answers.  One person with a notebook full of notes.  Another great read by Katherine Applegate.  5 stars

Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome

4 stars Middle School

He’s a person, can’t anyone see this!  This book states that it takes places in the 1940’s but the story is all too familiar.  Living with his grandparents, Lymon has the stability, connections and the ability to express himself but that quickly vanishes.  When they’re no longer able to care for him, other family members step in and accept Lymon into their home but not everyone in the household is thrilled about having him there.

The only person who Lymon was wanting and needing was, the one individual who would just pop into his life, whenever they felt the need to.  You can feel the desperation in his voice and in his actions as they made their appearance and when they walked out, Lymon was again looking, looking for them everywhere.  Lymon has lots of questions but no one was honest with him. They liked to dance around the questions that he asked of them.   

When Lymon lived with his grandparents, his grandfather taught him how to play the guitar and this love united them.  This was a connection that he also had with his father, for his father did gigs and he always had another show.  I enjoyed this music connection and how the author used this throughout the story. 

This was a fantastic story and it was an emotional one for me.  Lymon needed some stability and he needed someone to be there for him but would he ever find it and who would that person be?  I think the ending was too perfect for me considering how the story was progressing and the characters. 4 stars   This is a sequel to Finding Langston.

“Daddy, when am I gonna see you again? Feel like I have been asking this question my whole life and never getting the answer I want. But I keep asking hoping for the answer I want to hear.”

Kate the Chemist: Dragons vs. Unicorns by Dr. Kate Biberdorf

4 stars Middle School

I was impressed how this middle school fiction story mixed in as much science as it did, without the story sounding ridiculous or too nerdy.  You mix in too much information and you lose too many readers, you provide minor information and you lose readers, you do this and you lose readers, I feel that there’s this fine line of what information you can include in these types of books to be successful.  I’ve read a couple of the author’s science experiment books so I thought it was only fitting that I try one of her fiction stories.  My advice: if you’re thinking about this book, do it!  Dr. Biberdorf mixes in science terminology, knowledge, and excitement into a fictional story of a small group of fifth grade friends who find that their fall break camp has more drama than they signed up for.

I liked Kate’s excitement about science.  Her willingness to try and her great attitude even if things get out of control, she’s giving it everything that she has.  She really wants others to love science and experience it like she does. I loved how the author mixed in the science terminology within the story.  I found this book to be a fast read, containing short chapters with just a handful of important characters.  I hope that the author includes more male characters in this series as I feel both boys and girls would enjoy reading them.  This looks to be a great start to a fun, educational series!    

Kate the Chemist: The Awesome Book of Edible Experiments for Kids by Kate Biberdorf,

4.5 stars nonfiction children’s

I was all excited about another Kate, the Chemist book but I felt confused as I looked inside to see what types of experiments, she was featuring this time.  I hoped it wasn’t filled with slime recipes but I wasn’t expecting tomato sauce, chocolate chip cookies, defrosting berries, and creating pretzels bites.  Perhaps the title of the book threw me off and reading her last book which had another edible experiment.  To me, these weren’t experiments, they were recipes that turned into experiments based on how you went about preparing them. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a horrible book, it’s just that I was expecting something totally different.  This book focuses on why something works in a recipe.  While doing this, it also provides alternative methods (more experiments) to achieve this result.  Take for example the Banana Bread Experiment.  To make great banana bread, you usually need overripen, sweet bananas, but what if you only have yellow bananas?  Kate has an experiment for this recipe that has the reader doing 3 different methods for ripening your yellow bananas, so you can make the bread.  You’re recording your results as you perform the 3 different experiments. Once you get your results, you can continue on with the rest of the Banana Bread Experiment.

For each of the chapters, Kate provides a brief note about the project, a messiness level (most were 2 out of 3), a list of materials needed, whether you need: oven mitts, latex gloves, an adult, wonderful step-by-step instructions with fantastic illustrations, a What Do You Think? Section, and a How It Works: section. 

Each chapter is its own experiment (recipe).  I can’t say enough about how organized and detailed each chapter is.  That is what I love about Kate’s books, she is very detailed-oriented.  The illustrations are in color and the directions are detailed, with easy-to-understand language.   The What Do You Think? section asks the reader a handful of thought-provoking questions about what they have done and has them think about what might happen had they done something else.  I really enjoyed the How It Works section as it goes into detail about why this experiment does its job.  This section is quite lengthy which is why I like it also.  This section is not a bunch of scientific words but it explains the science behind why the reaction occurred which might be overwhelming to some young readers.  You could have an older individual read this section and explain it to a younger child so they could understand it.    

I liked reading why these experiments worked as I found it interesting and cooking can be fun, if you make it fun.  I feel that some children will be like me and be shocked when they open the book and see what each chapter is about.  I’m afraid they will see the book as a cookbook and they’ll want to pass on it while others will love it.  If you haven’t seen Kate before, I suggest you check her out.  She’s on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and online.  This is a great book; I just wished the title was something else.  4.5 stars

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen

4.5 stars Middle School

This book had a lot of themes going through it but it worked. Miriam, an 11-year-old girl is the protagonist in the story as her family moves into a rundown motel, in the hopes of creating a new future for themselves and the business. They had only planned this to be a short-term plan, hoping to save some money and then move on. Moving into a small community was different than New York City and the longer I read, the more I realized what this family was hiding internally.

As the family moves into The Jewel Motor Inn, the two children live in one of the rooms and the parents’ take-up residence in an adjoining room. As an 11-year-old, I thought that would be fun but I could understand the novelty wearing off. Maria, continues to work at the Inn, taking care of the housekeeping issues and helping the family become familiar with the motel. I loved how she helped Miriam learn Spanish and I felt that Maria was a very kind and tolerant individual. As her parents start the clean-up process, Miriam pitches in. On an errand to the diner next door, she meets Kate. Kate’s grandmother owns the diner and eventually, Miriam ends up helping out at the diner making pies.

Now that Miriam has met a friend, the two girls start hanging out together. While talking about their small town, they come up with a plan that they think will benefit everyone in it. Now, if only they don’t get caught creating their plan! An innocent plan which when you think about it, was harmless. I thought the girls were rather clever. As guests arrived to the hotel, Miriam meets Anton. This child was a gem! Anton arrived with his mother and his wheelchair. Miriam saw the wheelchair. I really think she saw the wheelchair before she saw Anton until Anton met her in the swimming pool. After that, Miriam changed how she looked at him. Anton was not the only person who tried to help Miriam with her fear of water, Uncle Mordy tried his hand at that, too. Uncle Mordy arrived to help out the family so he decided to help Miriam. Slowly, he introduced her the water, letting the water touch her upper thighs, it was a start.

The girls felt guilty for what they did for the town but they didn’t want to admit to anyone what they did. Just as the family is enjoying their new home, they discover something painful and disturbing at the motel. This event has a snowball effect on the community which all began because of emotions and the lack of accountability. I cringed to see this happened to them and I had to hope that somehow, they found find strength to fight it.

And what do you see? Just one of many that are out there.

A middle school read that packs religion, faith, friendship, disabilities, and family all in one book. I found it to be a fast read and I really enjoyed it. 4.5 stars

” They stand with their arms around each other. The man points and traces somthing in the air. The woman nods and smiles and I see tears rolls down her cheeks. “
“Is what we did good or bad? Yes, we fooled people, but if it makes them happy and gives them hope and saves the motel and the diner, is that so bad?”

All He Knew by Helen Frost

4.5 stars Historical Fiction

I started to get all frustrated and concerned as I began reading this book.  I felt so helpless as I read about Henry.  He had begun his life alone and misunderstood.  The label they slapped on him, became a wall.  I felt some relief that Molly had never forgotten her brother, although he wasn’t living with her.  She loved him whether he was physically present or not.  The author’s creative way of expressing this factual event makes this a very powerful story. 

Henry was four when he becomes deaf after falling ill. They had hoped that Henry could get his education at the State School for the Deaf.  Needing to pass a test, Henry arrives for the test but he is unable to understand the tests’ directions.  Failing the test, he can’t attend the state school and they label Henry, “unteachable.”  With WWII on the horizon, they soon decide to place him in Riverview, a school for mentally disabled individuals.  Talk about sad! Little time and effort are spent on the patients and Henry sinks further down.  If I could just reach into this book and grab him out, I and I think plenty other readers would have.

As I read Henry’s thoughts, his hopes and his sadness, it’s beyond sad.  I’m wondering how the other patients feel about life in Riverview.  Molly is the only bright spot until I hear Victor’s footsteps mark the halls of Riverview.  Is Victor a real person or is he an angel? Where did he come from?  It’s sad to think that, finally one professional, seems to care.   

With short chapters, this true event story is a story that will definitely make your think.  Told through verse, it’s a fast read about this time period in history.  

Choose Your Own Adventure Spies: Harry Houdini by Katherine Factor

4.5 stars Choose Your Own Adventure Series

This book took me back to when my children were little.  I used to love reading these books when my children would check them out from the library and this one, was no exception.  I choose my first path through the book, based on what I’d want to do and then, I went back and reread the book a few times, choosing paths that were totally different.  I was Harry Houdini, a magician with big dreams!

All paths in the book begin in America, in the year 1899.  Working as a traveling sideshow, you like to call yourself the “The King of the Cuffs,” as you’re able to outwit any handcuff that anyone tries to attach to you.  This of course, angers the police but you’re starting to make a name for yourself, as people are beginning to notice you. Now in Chicago, as a crowd gathers around, you’re getting the attention that you don’t want.  The police have arrested you, placed you in chains, and put you in a cell.  Can their charges be legitimate?  You’ve never attempted a cell break before, yet it could be possible.  You receive a sign just before the lieutenant rushes into your cell to offer you a deal. 

It’s time now for the first decision in this book: does Harry take the deal that was offered to him or does Harry decide to use the omen that he received and not take the lieutenant’s deal?  What the reader chooses will direct their path to the next section to read and set their course for this book.

This book is based on a true story and there’s an article about Harry at the back of the book.  I enjoyed my adventures as I traveled through the book; some were short-lived and I did have one very long journey.  I did learn a few things about this man as I read and having the opportunity to choose the storyline is a very fun way to read a story. 

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el

5 stars Chilren’s Fiction

I was thrilled to see this sequel because after I had read the first book in this series, I needed more of Duane and his friends.  I love the way that the author narrates the books and I really enjoy the characters.  It’s how the characters relate to one another, how they view themselves in their world and their own unique personalities that make these characters stand out.  You don’t need to have previously read the first book to enjoy this book in the series but I highly recommend that you read it because you’ll love it.

His winter slumber is over, as Duane walks out to find his friends and they bring him up-to-date on what he has missed.  Starving, the friends head down to the beach for a picnic.  They were a great, cheerful group of friends but now, a new face has arrived and he’s causing waves among the small group.   It seems that this weasel has a comment about everything and everyone.  They’re such a tight group of friends that, when one of them is affected by the weasel, the whole group is impacted.  That darn weasel!

There were some great moments in the book, moments that made me smile and laugh.  I loved how Duane removed the snow without using a shovel.  If only that would work in real life, I would love to be able to do that.  As I sit here now, in Iowa with over 14 inches of snow on the ground, I’m thinking I could roll myself a nice-sized fort.   The concern and the effort that the characters put forth for Duane and Boo was so sweet.   That’s what friends do for each other and they each did what they wanted and what they were capable of doing also.   I can’t wait to see how much Musk Ox changed, if any, when he returns back to the Very, Very Far North.   I was afraid that he was going to be gone for a while but I’m glad to see that he’s coming back shortly.  I enjoyed the letter he wrote.

This was a great sequel and I can’t wait to share it with my grandchildren when they get older.  It’d make a great read aloud or it’s a great chapter book. 

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn

5 stars Middle School/ YA

She just wasn’t ready so, when the Land of Dreams appeared, Andrea was more than ready to pay the price of admission.  Her price was: one of her dreams or a memory but what awaited her was, the opportunity to forget her troubles.  This was definitely a good deal, Andrea thought.  As the carnival specular surrounded her, Andrea tried to put the past 3 years behind her.

It had been 3 years since Andrea’s brother disappeared. Her parents have been moving forward and have decided to finally get rid of the rest of Francis’ possessions that have been boxed up and stacked in the garage.  Andrea just couldn’t deal with moving on without Francis.  When she came across Reverie, I think she was hoping that this might be the escape that she was looking for.

I was mesmerized by this novel.  I loved how Andrea fell for Reverie and it’s magic.  She befriended Penny, who shows Andrea how the Land of Dreams works. Penny has been at Reverie for a while so she knows everything about it.  It’s a magical journey as Andrea travels to Reverie searching for answers. I enjoyed the little twists in the story and the adventure that it took me on.  I enjoyed the character of Andrea as she had a huge heart and she was much stronger than she thought she was.  I really loved the love and the bonds that I felt in this book.  A fantastic book that I really enjoyed. 

“I ask the Sandman”

“To a land of dreams, in which I can play”

Escape This Book! Titanic by Bill Doyle

4.5 stars Middle School

I had to laugh when I opened up this book, as whoever had read this book from the library before me, had literally started to do the activities inside the book even though, it was a library book.  Inside the front cover, they had written “Please araus earese me.” As I started to read, I noticed this individual had did many of the activities on the pages of the book; they had drawn, folded, and even ripped inside the book, according to the directions. I understand their actions as this book is very interactive and as I read the text, I got very involved in the story. 

On page one of this book, you’re told to draw a face directly on the space provided, following the directions they provide.  Now, the story unfolds.  You have just drawn yourself trapped in this book (which is the Titanic) and soon, the Titanic will hit an iceberg and well, the boat floods with water and it’s not good.  The narrator in the book is looking for an assistant for a special mission but you have to escape out of this book first. He’s sent his pet gopher to see how you do since he can’t be there himself.  So, grab a pen/pencil and doodle, get destructive, and navigate your way out of this book to survive. 

I thought this book was really cute.  I liked how the author engages the reader inside the pages. Once you get onboard and accomplish a few challenges, you’ll get to decide what type of traveler you’ll want to be for the voyage: first, second, or third-class, crew member, or a stowaway. Each of these classes has a % of survival rate attached to it which will also affect the challenges you will have to do inside the book.  After you choose your path, you’ll learn what it was like being a traveler for that type of passenger on the Titanic. It’s great educational information, presented in a fun, entertaining manner.  I enjoyed the illustrations and the facts that are a part of this journey. During this journey, you’ll have to do a variety of tasks to survive and when things don’t work out, you’ll find yourself in the water.  Perhaps you’ll “sink below the surface, you wonder what would have happened if you had decided to …….”  “Return to page xxx to pick a different path!” OR if you’ll lucky, you just might be one who survives. 

I thought it was a fun adventure and there are plenty of opportunities to divert your path.  The black-n-white illustrations were fun and entertaining and the information was engaging.  If you do end up not surviving, the author gives you the option of going back “to page xx” and starting over, where you can choose a different path.  For the child who is a hands-on learner, this would be a great book for them to learn about this event in history or a great tool for any child, as it’s like a game. 

I do have to wonder, after you have made it through the book one time (through all the different scenarios), and you have completed all the activities, then what?  Is it still fun for them? I’m glad to see that a paperback is coming out soon, it would be fun to have your child perhaps do it again at a later date and see how their answers change.  I also think, perhaps kids could share their books/answers if one of their friends have the same book. I think if you borrow this book, make sure your little ones don’t mark it up. If they like it, buy them a copy, use the borrowed copy as a preview copy. I love the idea of the book, it’s just not one you should “use” unless you own it. 4.5 stars