The Big Book of Experiments by Dr. Kate Biberdorf

4.5 stars Science

This book is a gem!  Packed with 25 different experiments, I was excited to thumb my way through this beauty.  I have to warn you up front, that I am not into science.  I hated science as a child, as I didn’t understand any of it but now as an adult, I love experimenting and learning from it.  This book fits right in with my needs.

If only as I child, I could have experimented with fun and interesting items instead of the beakers, test tubes and chemicals that we had to use, I think that I would have learned more and enjoyed science.  In The Big Book of Experiments, the variety of experiments is great. Some of the experiments can be completed rather quickly and some can take some time while there are some which small children can complete with little assistance while others, you’ll need an adult or mature person watching over the whole experiment. 

I liked that some of these ideas were ones that I had already completed and some were new to me.  There was Dancing Raisins, Elephant’s Toothpaste, Moon Rocks, Unicorn Glue, Lava Lamp, Neon Brains, and Fake Tattoos, just to mention a few.  I do like redoing experiments

Kate provides visual safety cues to each experiment.  Whether that is a sink, goggles, gloves, a garbage can or adults, as these safety cues remind the reader to be safe when conducting the experiments. Along with the cues, each experiment has a small note about the experiment, a list of supplies, a messiness level, step-by-step directions with colorful illustrations, questions to ask yourself after you’re finished (science questions about what happened and what if questions) and then, the author explains to you the WHY, as to why the experiment worked.  Now, that is some important stuff!  This is the educational element of the book and important for you to read, you do want to become smarter, don’t you?

I liked that most of the supplies for these experiments were normal items that aren’t hard to find. Items like rubber bands, knife, dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, shaving cream, balloons, fishing line, etc. There are some that called for some more difficult items, like sodium alginate, calcium chloride, iron oxide powder, dry ice, and copper wire, for which you will have to do some planning to get these before having some fun. I I would have liked an idea where someone could locate some of these items, that would have been a big help.   Some type of indexing at the back would have been great too.  There is a Table of Content but I like indexes in books like these.

It’s a great colorful, fun book and I highly recommend it.  If you’re homeschooling or trying to keep your child engaged, this is a great book to check out.   

MonsterStreet: Camp of No Return by J.H. Reynolds

5 stars Middle School

Every time I read one of these MonsterStreet books, I swear it’s the best one that I have read. So, I will say it again, these books just keep getting better and better! I’m hooked on this series! Every time that I hear that a new one is coming out, I’m all over it, just waiting for release day and I’m over 50 years old. This book had it all. It had the creep factor, the suspense, the cliff hangers at the ends of some of the chapters and fantastic characters. Do you need to start at the beginning of this series to enjoy this? No, but I guarantee that you’ll be inhaling them, once you start reading them.

As you read books in this series, you’ll come across aspects in the mystery that you know or you feel that you know, are not as scary as they come across. What I like about this series is that the author, dismisses many of these aspects immediately, instead of letting them add up, and then dismissing them later in the book. An example: if a character in the book finds a cloth with red liquid on it. Instead of having the reader believe that this cloth is a bloody towel throughout the book, the author lets the characters uncover what the cloth might be immediately and dismisses it as a napkin with ketchup on it. I feel that helps put the important pieces of the mystery together in the book.

Riding to summer camp on the bus, a few of the kids, made friends. They each felt special, as they were amongst a selected group to be invited to Camp Moon Lake. It was said to be magical yet they have promised, like all previous campers before them, not to disclose what occurs while at camp.

When Brodie tells Harper and Darla the rumor that he heard about the camp, this summer camp just took on a chill. As a fog smothers the camp and a scream welcomes the campers, this week at camp will be one that everyone will remember.

I enjoyed the horror aspects of this for young readers. No blood or gore but I would know your audience before letting young elementary children read this. Some children might not be able to handle it, and I’d hate to hear about someone having a nightmare. If a child is able to distinguish reality from everything else, they should be okay reading this. I’m not going to go into what this book was about as I don’t want to spoil it. I really loved the book and the ending was amazing! I can’t wait for the next one!

Issues: bullying, friendship, family,

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

4.5 stars Graphic Novel

She could have eaten Good Dog but Snap was hoping that they’re wrong. The kids called her a witch but that didn’t scare Snap.  Snap threw open the door where she discovered her dog, lying down on the floor. It must have been that dark image that came in behind her that made her twitch. Or was it that question, which was thrown at her, for which Snap knew there was no good answer.  It was a reflex that had her, grabbing Good Dog and running like lightning off the porch and into the freedom of light.   

I found Snapdragon to be a spunky girl.  She did her own thing within limits. It was sad that she didn’t have any friends but I liked that she was okay with it.  She didn’t dwell on the fact that she’s not popular and she’s doesn’t worry about what others think. I hated it when she was bullied, besides all the obvious reasons, she had no one to talk to about it.  

Later, Snap ends up going back to the woman’s house as she needs her and they strike up a deal.  Snap and Jacks are now going to be helping each other.  Snap finally has a friend and she begins to learn more about the person that her peers think is a witch.  I liked how Jacks sparked issues and subjects inside of Snap.  Snap’s enthusiasm and energy soared when she was learning.

Snap has a close encounter with Louis and I enjoyed Louis’ innocence. He was the perfect friend for Snap.  I think they both benefited from their relationship. The scenes where they were watching the horror movie together were comical.

There were many relationships in this book, having great moments and moments that all true connections with another person have.  I enjoyed these relationships and I look forward to seeing where some of these will go in future books.  The only issue I had with this graphic novel was, I thought some of the transitions between the story lines were rough.  I had a hard time knowing where one story stopped and another one began.  I look forward to the next book in this series. 4.5 stars

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor

5 stars Middle School

Covers can be deceiving and this one truly was.  I thought the cover of this book looked dull yet the inside of the book was just the opposite.  Written in letter correspondence, I found myself on an incredible journey with Reen, as she tries to save her family.  What started out as a business correspondence between Reen and Mr. Marsworth turned into something more impressive than they both expected. 

Reen and her older two brothers have been living with their grandma, since their mother’s death. Since Reen has no other friends, she hangs out with her youngest brother Dare.

Mr. Marsworth was a customer on Reen’s paper route and she needed important information to do her job.  Known as a loner/recluse, Reen (11), takes to paper and pencil to get the answers she needs.  In his responsive letter, he’s right to the point but that’s not the end of this. Reen keeps the letters flying a few times back and forth. Reen is a talker but in this case, a writer, and so she does, to Mr. Marsworth.  Soon, it’s just Reen writing and waiting, waiting for a reply from her new friend.  I really got impatient and angry too, why wasn’t he responding to her and when she pleaded to him to respond, what was he doing?

Reen begins to pour out her heart to Mr. Marsworth in her letters. It’s not just the newspaper information she needs now but she needs a friend, someone she can talk to. I could feel the love, the anxiety and the desperation in her words as she wrote.  She wrote him about her day, her issues and she’d ask him some questions.  She found that there are some questions that Mr. Marsworth just couldn’t answer.  Those questions were too difficult and/or he just wasn’t ready to answer them for her.   How Reen handled this really said a lot about Reen, I thought.  What she had with Mr. Marsworth meant more to her than the answers.  Now, that is good stuff!

The story occurs in 1968 when the Vietnam War was on everyone’s mind including Reen’s. Her old brother, Billy’s future is on the line: college, sign up for the military, or be drafted?  For Reen, there is only one answer and she’s determined to make that happen.

Reen also has been corresponding with a soldier in the war.  She received his name from her teacher as part of a project. Reen now knows first-hand what war is all about.  I loved how she takes this project seriously and how much time she devotes to it.  

That ending was fabulous!  I had suspected something an ending like that but nothing as involved as that.  I had to get out the tissues as the tears were flowing and I couldn’t stop them.  What an awesome book!!  Good heavens!! Can someone erase my brain so I can read it over again??  I loved it!

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf

5 stars Middle School

Loved, loved, loved this book!  Why?  It’s about three boys who have “adopted” a new student in their classroom.  I loved how they just took him under their wings and how they all matured and grew throughout the book.  The book addresses bullying, friendship, family issues, and cultural differences.

I’ve been singing high praises for his book since I finished it. I didn’t think I would love this book so much but after every page, I loved London so much!

London has three best friends.  When the school year starts, there is one empty chair in the classroom.  That chair is right next to Clarissa, the girl who hates boys, for boys are stupid and smelly. They’ve been in a school almost a month, when Ahmet joins their classroom.  Looking sad and scared, Ahmet sits in that empty chair while London watches.  Later, London talks to his friends and he asks them to take on the promise that he has made: to be Ahmet friend.

I found myself smiling and enjoying this read as the boys get to know one another.  It’s a difficult task with a language barrier (Ahmet speaks Kurdish)and with time constraints at school but they try different tactics including fuzzy-coated lemon drops, fruit, and listening to other people’s conversations.  

I especially loved chapter five.  The emotions just poured out of this chapter. London talks about his mother and his love and respect for her.  He speaks about his father and his feeling about him.  London discusses his admiration for his Uncle Lenny. London has a heart-to-heart conversation with his mother, he then asks, “What is a refugee kid?” and she explains this to him.  London makes a list of questions that he wants to ask Ahmet, this list is so cute. 

“I always sit in the chair next to the fridge because I like being able to open the fridge door without getting up.  It’s like looking into an extra room in the house – but one that’s filled with food.”

I enjoyed listening to Ahmet tell his own story to the class, about his life in Syria and his journey. The book included a variety of reactions that show the positive and the negative views that individuals (children and adults) have about refugees in our society today.  I think it’s good that children see this difference in opinion, so they can understand and learn how to handle the diverse opinions.   

I had many goosebump moments, many yes! moments and I did shed some tears while reading this book.  I can’t believe that this is the author’s debut novel.  I’ve got you on my radar now, Orjali Rauf.  You are a rock star!  I absolutely adored this book from start to finish. This book was an absolute joy to read.

“Sometimes words hung around longer than people, even when you don’t want them to.”

“words can hurt more than punches, because when you get a bruise or a bump after being punched, it disappears after a while and you can forget all about it. But words can stick around for a long time, and the meanest words stick around the longest. “

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson

5 stars Graphic Novel

I loved this graphic novel.  I could feel the dedication and love throughout this book.  I still get teary-eyed thinking about this graphic novel and the situations that these young boys went through.  It is such a fantastic book; I cannot say enough about it but I highly recommend that you read it.  Read it yourself, read it to your children, buy a copy for your classroom and even buy a copy and donate it to someone as this story needs to be told.

They used to live in Somalia.  Now, they live in Kenya, in a refugee camp called Dadaab.  Individuals who want to live come here from Sudan, Ethiopia, and other African area, this is home.  Dadaab is a huge camp, so large that they divided it into 3 separate camps.  Omar came here with his little brother, Hassan.  They’ve been there for seven years.  Yes, I said seven years!

Where’s their parents? Good question and one the boys want to know.  Who is taking care of them? Omar is taking care of Hassan as best as he can for a young brother.  He’s been missing out on school to take care of his brother. They’ve also been assigned a woman (like a foster mother) Fatuma, to help them. This woman was amazing too, she truly cared for these boys like they were her own.  Inside the camp, the boys have their own tent across the way from Fatuma.  Many days, the boys were hungry.  Hassan only says one word yet the brothers communicate. 

When Omar finally gets the chance to go to school, he is torn.  Leaving his brother behind, Omar worries for his brother yet he knows this opportunity for him will open doors for their future.  The boys still question their parent’s whereabouts and their village.  They wonder about returning home yet Omar knows the danger that lies outside the camp.

With bright, colorful illustrations and easy-to-read font, I was emerged into the brother’s story.  It was captivating, interesting, and powerful.  Omar fought for a better life, there were wonderful successes and moments of frustration and struggles yet he continued on. 

Fantastic graphic novel.  Definitely read the afterword that is located at the back of the book. I went through many emotions reading this book and I highly recommend it.    

We Dream of Space by Erin Kelly

5 stars Middle School

They lived under the same roof but they’re all living separate lives. Three siblings and their parents, coexisting at the same address.  Cash walked with a dark cloud over his head, as he was failing 7th grade for the second time.  He also worrying about his bench seat on the basketball team.  His brother, Fitch is an arcade wizard, who begins to get a temper when he’s harassed by his peers. Oh, why did you have to get involved with the girls, Fitch?

Then, there is Bird.  She writes instructional manuals, a job that she takes very seriously.  She’s a wonderful student, has great self-esteem: Bird’s life is good. One visit to a friend’s house changes all of this for Bird. 

The parents should be the connecting element with these siblings but they don’t connect.  The parents sit in their own corners; one reading and one watching the television.  We’re told there is a lot of verbal fighting between the two of them, with some of it escalating to items being thrown.  It’s sad that their children don’t get much support from them but I had to smile while reading, as the sibling created ways to work around this.

What I enjoyed about this book was the moments that were eye-opening experiences or experiences that made the siblings grow.  At the beginning of the book, the siblings were acting alone, they were their own island. As the book progressed, they began to see each other.  There were actual other individuals in their own home.  Worthy individuals!   

Linking the dramatics in the family and the excitement of the Challenger launch that occurred on January 28, 1986, you’ve got an excellent book.  Hopes, dreams, struggles, successes, and trying to find your way, it’s all inside here.  

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

4.5 stars Middle School

What a great book about what is not “normal” can be perfectly normal, if you allow it to be.  Armed with the notebook that her parents gave her, Bea finds that since her parents have divorced, life has become complicated.  Why can’t things be simple like they used to be, why must everything be so confusing now? Bea’s finding out that adjusting to change is hard.  Bea needs to discover, how to accept the changes in her life.    

When Bea’s parents announced that they were divorcing, they handed her a notebook.  Inside that notebook, contained a written, short list of items which they wrote to Bea, of Things That Will Not Change in her life, once they split up. Since then, Bea has added many things to that list.  It was nice to see the character of Bea reflect upon this list and to add her ideas to it.

Seeing a counselor, Bea also talks about her feelings and gets help managing her anxiety. Life is not the same since her parent’s divorce nor will it be the same ever again.  This will take some time to get used to for everyone involved.  What she has now, is a new family and that’s what she needs to understand.  I enjoyed the character of Bea as she was an honest, sincere, ten-year old girl just trying to adjust to the changes in her life.  4.5 stars

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

5 stars Middle School

 I inhaled this book today.  For five years, Coyote and Rodeo had been putting the miles on Yager, traveling wherever their hearts led them. Every day was an adventure with very few rules for the two of them.  I loved how the author revealed the character’s story to the reader slowly throughout the book.  The past and present are important to this story and the author combines the two of them to present a sweet, emotional story about family, friendship and love.

I really enjoyed Coyote’s mannerism and attitude in this story.  In her early teens, she’s still a child but trying to act older.  She wants to please her father but she also has her own needs and she’s trying to find a balance.   I had quite a few “ahh” moments while reading this book, as they struck a sweet spot inside me. 

This journey was remarkable.  The individuals that they met were fantastic as each of them played an important part in their trip.   When Coyote showed Salvador her favorite place, oh my gosh!  What a scene!!  Then, there was the violin scene!  The campsite scene! Come on……..I loved every one of them.  Be ready when you read this book for all the great scenes, they’re to be savored.  The last 20+ pages in the book, the words were all flowing together as the tears were falling down my face. 

Coyote and Rodeo have different ways of looking at the past and the future.  Living in the present is a good concept but the present is also made up of your past, if you allow it.   I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. 

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus

5 stars Middle School

This sequel was just as enjoyable as the first book in this series and I enjoyed hanging out with Aven as she began her first year in high school.  If you haven’t read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can still read this sequel, but I highly recommend that you read the first book, as you’ll enjoy this story more.

I liked how the author kept the characters real.  Their voices rang true to their feelings and they never sounded flat.  Each character felt important and their stories were important to each other.   They each struggled yet they didn’t lose all hope.

I remember seeing a girl in my high school who also, had no arms.  She was a few grades ahead of me and she amazed me.  I remember trying to watch her from a distance (I didn’t want to stare at her), as I just couldn’t believe that she was actually going to “my school!” This was in the early 1980’s and I don’t ever remember hearing a negative comment about her in fact, this girl was quite popular. She was also a great swimmer on the school’s swim team.  I think it’s interesting that after all these years of being out of school, I can remember this girl’s name yet, other individuals I saw everyday or hung out with, I can’t.  This unique individual, left an impression with me which at the time, I didn’t realize.    

This is a great book that I highly recommend.  If you haven’t read the first book in the series, I recommend you read that first, if you can.