Showing posts with label Children's Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Children's Books. Show all posts

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

Hilary Westfield dreams of being a pirate. But there are a few minor problems standing in her way, such as The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates' refusal to allow girls to join their piratical ranks. Instead of heading out to sea, Hilary, along with her dearest friend, the gargoyle, finds herself being shipped off to Miss Pimm's Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. In an effort to escape a life of waltzing and crochet hooks, Hilary answers an ad for a pirate crew and is soon swept up in a seafaring adventure involving a rather secretive map, a magical treasure that may or may not exist, a rogue governess, and the most treacherous--and unexpected--villain on the High Seas.

Pirates, magic, a talking gargoyle...what's not to love? If you're looking for a story that is everything a children's book should be (fun story, fast pace, perfect voice, vibrant characters, AND it's hilarious!), The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is very definitely it. It's the type of book that insists you read a snippet out loud every five minutes to whoever happens to be in the room--the brilliance MUST BE SHARED. Best of all, in a book that could have been filled with cliches, I found a refreshing array of unexpected characters and plot turns. The perfect end to my 2014 list of books read, this one shoots right to the top of my favorites for the year. And if the grin on the face of my nine year old is any indication, she's enjoying it just as much as I did.

Verdict: If you're looking for a great start to your 2015 literary treasure hunt (for you or your kiddos), consider this the X that marks the spot.


Friday, August 29, 2014

10 Books That Have Influenced Me

My friend Jennifer challenged me on Facebook to list the ten books that have impacted me the most. While I typically avoid Facebook challenges, being the bookworm that I am, I rather liked this idea. Instead of posting an excruciatingly long status, I thought I'd take the opportunity for a blog post. So, here are some of the books that have shaped me--as a reader, a writer, and a person.*

*Disclaimer: This will in no way be an all inclusive list.

1. The Bible. Think me cheesy for including it if you will, but I wouldn't be the person I am today if not for this one. Favorite book of the Bible: John (because of all the gospel authors, John was truly a writer at heart).

2. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. An honest conversation about Christianity--that is totally not boring. This book (and the movie) had a huge impact on my life and really cemented my desire to interact with people--and life--in a different way. There were many moments while reading this book that I wanted to shout its pages from the rooftops. Or at least tweet as many <140 character lines as possible.

3. Love Does by Bob Goff. I wrote an in-depth review of why this book is so amazing (you can click on the title right ^ there to read it). In short: Say yes to life and love people. Seriously, JUST LOVE PEOPLE. No strings attached. The stories of how Bob has lived out this ideal are crazy awesome. It will change your world.

4. The Mandie Books by Lois Gladys Leoppard. My first book love. I bought many a book in this series with my hard-earned allowance money. Mandy, her friends Joe and Celia, and Snowball the cat get into all sorts of trouble and solve mysteries. With a little bit of history thrown in. Seven-year-old me was in heaven, and knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: A writer.

5. The Wind in the Willows. I can still vividly remember the moment I pulled this one off the library shelf. I was immediately charmed and quickly fell in love with Mole, Otter, Toad and Badger. Years later, it would be the inspiration behind the styling and adventure-filled pages of my first children's novel, The Fantastical Adventures of Pinkletin Frog.

6. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I've talked before about my inability to make it through certain classic novels, but classic children's literature makes me swoon. And Alice is most certainly my favorite in that category. So much so, that my current work-in-progress has an awful lot to do with that magical world down the rabbit hole. Obviously classics are my muse.

7. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. When I was a preteen/teen, Young Adult fiction wasn't even close to the caliber it is today. Thank goodness for Anne. She saved me from the stacks of angsty, gag-me-with-a-spoon teen fiction and introduced me to the beautiful world of literature. Anne and Gilbert will always be my favorite literary couple.

8. The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins. I've never cried so much while reading a book series. I was completely unprepared for just how much I would love these novels. Suzanne Collins has some mad, mad writing skills, y'all. Everything about these books, from the use of first person, present tense to the balance of victory vs. tragedy, is storytelling done right. And I'll have you know I was team Peeta all the way.

9. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. My very first foray into the world of epic high fantasy, I didn't read these (or The Hobbit) until I was 25. I'm so glad I did. And even more glad I read them before seeing the movies. I think the fact that I can't get through the wordiness of a Jane Austen novel, but I devoured these books is pretty telling about my personality...

10. The Circle Books by Ted Dekker. I can't describe how mind-blowing these books are. Part contemporary thriller, part epic fantasy...you just have to experience it for yourself. Plus, Ted will always be my hero for pushing the boundaries of faith-based fiction and refusing to allow people to tell him what he is and isn't allowed to write.

Runners-Up. You didn't seriously expect me to stop there, did you? I have to give a quick shout out to Jane Eyre, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Flavia de Luce novels, and Watership Down. Also, my current obsessions: The Meaning of Maggie, and The Beekeeper's Apprentice. (If you need something to hold you over until Sherlock returns, I highly recommend that last one.)

Your turn! What is one book (or two or three or five) that has influenced you or your life's journey? Have you read and loved--or hated--any of the books on my list? Share in the comments!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

From the inside flap (because I can't write a more perfect blurb, and because this description--and that cover--is part of what made me fall in love at first sight):

Eleven years old.
The beginning of everything!
For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she's one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo.* It's time for her to pull up her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing's impossible when you're future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola. Right?

*Not that she wants to get a tattoo. They're terrifying. But it's nice to know she's closer to getting one anyway.

I'm going to say it now (if you haven't figured it out already): The Meaning of Maggie is pure brilliance. So good, in fact, that I finished it, in its entirety, IN ONE DAY. It would have been in one afternoon, but as I approached the end, I knew there was a 110% chance that I was going to ugly cry, so I had to wait to finish it until after the kids were in bed.

The book opens with Maggie listening to the incessant beeping of a heart monitor from the atrociously uncomfortable confines of a hospital room chair. Why am I giving away the opener? Because this is what made me love this book so, SO much. I could immediately relate, having spent the majority of my eighth year in and out of hospital rooms while both my grandparents--my much beloved, one and only set of grandparents--battled cancer. As the story progressed, the connection only increased. Maggie's struggles were my own: trying to deal with normal life--and even have fun--in the midst of something BIG, the emotional ups and downs of being a kid surrounded by such grown-up happenings, the desire to know exactly what was going on, and the sick, sinking-stomach feeling that knowledge brought. In Maggie's mother I saw my own mom, working past the edge of exhaustion to take care of her parents while trying to shield me from all the stuff I saw anyway (because, like Maggie, I had a knack for observing and understanding things I wasn't supposed to). It felt like Maggie and I were soul sisters, despite the age difference. Though, technically speaking, she'd be my older soul sister, since I was only three in 1988.

Now lest you think it all sounds just a bit too melancholy, let me assure you, Megan Jean Sovern has created the perfect literary storm. While Maggie's story is full of emotional punch, her spunky personality and razor sharp wit bring constant humor to every page (I'm always a little jealous when eleven-year-olds are funnier than I am). Every character is fantastic, but Maggie quickly became one of my most favorite MCs ever. She navigates the waters of the unknown, annoying older sisters, and young love with the poise and optimism befitting a future president, with the perfect dash of endearing, giggle-inducing exuberance. The story is told in first person (my favorite!) so you get the full impact of Maggie's genius. And the usage of footnotes and emphatic ALL CAPS moments are the cherry on top of the proverbial word sundae (a passion for sweets is another trait Maggie and I share).

In conclusion, this debut novel has it all and delivers it in a most unputdownable fashion. Intelligent, charming, and poignant, it's the perfect summer read that will both tickle your funny bone and tug at your heartstrings.

PS: A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to the National MS Society. It's a win-win.

PPS: This book also has one of the best book trailers ever.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, Nebraska, where nothing exciting ever happens. Until the day the Green Wind shows up at her window with his flying Leopard and whisks her away to Fairyland. There she encounters all manner of things she could never have imagined, both marvelous and dangerous. When she takes on the task of retrieving a witch's stolen wooden spoon, it falls to September, a book-loving dragon, and an almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish a tyrannical Marquess and restore order to Fairyland. But this adventure won't just threaten September's life. She might just lose her heart as well.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is quite possibly the most fun I've ever had telling people what book I'm reading. How so many words manage to roll off the tongue so beautifully, I'll never understand. How can I properly convey how wonderful this book is? There's so much to love! Just reading the cast of characters on the opening page is enough to tell you the story is going to be magical. (Witches, Wyverns, Spriggans, Numerous Velocipes...Do tell!) Reading this book is like being transported to a modern version of Alice's Wonderland. I found myself constantly amazed by the imagination of the author and the vast and varied cast she created inside the enchanting world of Fairyland. The narrator is perfection, stepping in at just the right moments with all the wit and poetic speech that is to be expected from the teller of such a tale. The writing is fantastic, the kind of stuff you'll find yourself constantly wishing you could fit into a tweet, in order to share the brilliance with the rest of the world.

"Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble."


"It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor."

See what I mean? 

Most of all, I love that the author isn't afraid to mix humor with seriousness, the light hearted with a darker edge. I love the way that September, dear, brave girl, grows throughout the story. I came to many passages that, as I was reading them, seemed as if they were trying to teach me a very important lesson in some wonderful, mysterious way. The whole book is like that, wonderful and mysterious and enchanting. Including the ending of the second to last chapter that, just when I thought I had it all figured out, snuck up behind me and surprised me one last time before it disappeared and left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

If you're at all interested in traveling to a fantastic world filled with fairies, lovable dragons, terrible Marquesses with very fine hats, and a bathhouse where you can wash your courage clean, I don't think you'll find a better book for the job.

Then again, I am a novelist and not to be trusted. Perhaps you'll just have to make your own judgements.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman + The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Today's book reviews come as a two-for-one post! I read Fortunately, The Milk earlier this week, and then my son reminded me of the awesomeness of The Dark by picking it for bedtime last night and I had to share. Both of these would make great gifts for the kids on your Christmas list!

When Mom is away and Dad is put in charge, the inevitable happens: He forgets to buy the ever important milk. Off he goes to save breakfast--but this will be no ordinary trip to the corner store. Hilarity ensues as Dad returns to explain just why fetching the milk took "ages and ages".

Neil Gaiman's latest children's book, Fortunately, The Milk, is an absolutely brilliant work of utter nonsense. I loved everything about it. It's a very quick read--it took me about an hour (and that includes the inevitable interruptions that happen when you're trying to read with children about). I'm not going to tell you anything more because I don't want to spoil the fantastic surprise of reading it and finding something marvelous around every page. Just go out, get it for your kids for Christmas, read, and then wrap.


Laslzo is afraid of the dark and all the places it lives in his house. But when his trusty nightlight suddenly goes out, he discovers that the dark might be friendlier than he thought.

Lemony Snicket's foray into the picture book world comes with wonderful results. The Dark is a charming story with equally charming illustrations and an encouraging message for little ones who aren't too fond of nighttime. While the dark is mysterious, I love that it's never portrayed as overly frightening, and by the end it feels like you could even be friends with the dark (or at least mutually respecting acquaintances). Overall there's something very calming about the book and its simple but beautiful text, which makes it a perfect bedtime story. From a mom who has read A LOT of picture books--this one is a keeper.

What books are you planning on buying for your kids this Christmas? I bought my daughter (who is very into fashion design) Different Like Coco, a picture book biography of Coco Chanel. And for my son, something that combines his two great loves: Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary. Share your holiday purchases in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's On My Bookshelf

Today's post is part of a link-up happening over at Anne Bogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. I love Anne's blog. She's one of those bloggers who has the ability to make it seem like you're just having a chat over coffee. Her blog has such a great variety of posts on books, beauty and fashion, and just...LIFE.

This week Anne asked her readers to share their bookshelves. If you know me (or if you've ever taken a gander at my "No Place Like Home" Pinterest board), you know what a perfect prompt for a blog post this is for me. I believe a home without books is no home at all, and someday I pledge to have at least one wall of floor to ceiling shelves. So, without further adieu, a peek into my living room...



These guys get the highest shelf, partly to be out of reach of small, dirty fingers, but mostly because it's my favorite shelf. This one holds all my vintage books, including some of my favorite classics. (Alice in Wonderland has a bookmark in it because it's inspiration for the NaNoWriMo novel I'm working on this month.) The best ones have inscriptions on the first page. You can read the most darling inscription in this Instagram photo.


What it looks like when you have more books than shelves. Confession: There's a book on this shelf that I bought this summer and still haven't read. But this shelf also holds the series I've read and re-read the most times: The O'Malley Chronicles by Dee Henderson. I met my husband, who was a firefighter at the time, right after reading The Protector. Needless to say, it's my favorite of the series.


This shelf holds some of my favorite, most magical children's/YA books, plus (randomly, I know--I'm surprised the cross in genres doesn't drive me crazy...) Blue Like Jazz and Start--two of the books I most often, and most highly, recommend. My Flavia deLuce novels get special attention with their poison bottle companion. And the thing that really makes this shelf awesome? The manilla folder you can just make out in the shadows to the right. That's my children's book manuscript, in all its printed glory.


And lastly, the overflow stacks. My bookshelves have pretty much reached their max capacity, so several books have wandered to the half wall between the living room and kitchen. As you can see, they don't always stay between the bookends. This is where the currently-being-read books (and a few favorites) live along with the novels visiting from the library and the pile of Relevant magazines.


Okay, one more (then I promise I'm done). My kids have their own shelves in their room, filled to overflowing. (Plus there's a basket tucked in next to the bookshelves in the living room that holds another pile of picture books, chapter books, and easy readers borrowed from the library.) One of the biggest goals I have as a mom is to pass on my love of reading. Yesterday my daughter finished one book she'd already started and then went on to read an entire Ivy+Bean novel. Mission accomplished.

Thanks for checking out this little peek into my world! Want to see what other bookworms are reading? Visit the link up post at Modern Mrs. Darcy and browse their shelves!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book + Dice = Learning Fun!

Let's be honest. Our kids don't always think "fun" and "school" can coexist. As a homeschool mom, my kids are quick to let me know when they're not having fun. While they may not be brave enough to complain to a teacher outside of our house ("Would you talk that way to your ballet teacher, young lady?") they certainly have no qualms about whining to Mom when they're less than excited about the day's assignments.

So today I thought I'd share a project we're currently doing as part of 3rd grade History/Geography that has actually earned my almost-eight-year-old's approval. I figure any teachers out there--home or public school--can always use some new ideas! All it takes is one of Sleeping Bear Press's State Alphabet Books and an alphabet die. (By the way, I love these books! They're such a great resource for learning about the 50 states. Each one contains fun facts, from A-Z, about the individual state. And it's not just a sentence or two. Every letter has a short rhyme accompanied by a solid paragraph or two detailing the letter's subject.)

Note: We're using the die from our travel sized Apples to Apples game, but you could use one from another game like Scattergories, purchase one like this one from Amazon, or even use an iPhone app. Another free option would be to draw letters from a bag, or deck of flashcards.

B is for Big Sky Country: A Montana Alphabet

My daughter's assignment is to compile a folder filled with reports, pictures, maps, etc. on our home state. I couldn't wait to show her my own Pennsylvania folder (thank you Mom, for saving it all these years) that I put together in the fourth grade, and which would eventually become the inspiration for my first ever publication. I want my daughter to have as much fun as I did with this assignment, so I decided to make it even more interesting by turning it into a game.

Each week, she gets to roll the die. Whatever letter it lands on, she looks in the book and finds out what that letter stands for. Then it's her job to find out more information about that particular subject and write a report. For example, this week she rolled "N". N stands for Native Peoples. To help her narrow down the subject for her report, I asked her what she would like to know more about regarding Native American culture. She decided she wanted to learn how Native Americans used to hunt buffalo. It's been so awesome to see how proud she is of all the notes she's collected so far! It's also been a great lesson on researching and learning more computer skills. And as an added bonus, we'll be making buffalo burgers for dinner next week. Home Ec, anyone?

Check out the list of books (there's one for each state + Washington D.C.) and the accompanying FREE teacher's guides on the Sleeping Bear Press website. I'll definitely be picking up more from the library as we move on to study individual regions and states throughout the school year.

What about you? Any fun tips, tricks, or projects that have been successful in your classroom? I'm always looking for more new ideas, so I'd love to hear from you!


Friday, July 5, 2013

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Typically I write my own little synopsis for my book reviews, but this time, the back-of-the-book blurb is just too good not to share:

Mo's summer is looking good.
But that's before the murder, 
the kidnapping, the car crash, 
and the hurricane.
Now she and her best friend 
are setting out to solve 
the mystery of their lives.

Good thing Mo's always been lucky.

Moses LoBeau is a rising sixth grader with a very interesting past and an even more interesting present. As a baby, she washed ashore in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, during a hurricane. Now she spends her time working at the cafe owned by her self-appointed adoptive parents, hanging out with her best friend Dave, and plotting against her sworn enemy, Anna Celeste--all while continuing her message-in-a-bottle search for her Upstream Mother. When the cafe's crankiest customer turns up dead and a city detective rolls into town, Mo's summer takes a turn for the exciting. Soon she and Dave are out to solve a mystery of epic proportions as the case suddenly puts everyone they love in danger.

A short and sweet summary of this book: Utterly delightful. I loved all of it...the colorful setting, the humorous dialogue, the intriguing murder-mystery...everything about it was just SO good. I positively gushed over it at my last writers group meeting--and I was only a few pages in. Eclectic and charming, devious and dastardly, the characters in this book are a cast like no other. This type of writing is exactly what I aspire to as an author. I giggled my way through the first chapter and continued to laugh out loud until the very last, heartwarming page. Cover to cover, Three Times Lucky is an incredibly fun read which has landed high on my list of favorite middle-grade novels.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Small Things - May Edition

Encouraging Words

I've started getting feedback from my beta readers and I gotta say, they've put a gigantic smile on my face. From my mother-in-law's (slightly biased) praise, to a mom who was inspired to read it aloud to her kids, they've been both helpful and super encouraging. But the highlight was this week at writers group when my friend brought me a message from her two boys: They like my book so much they've already planned the movie trailer. *Cuteness overload* Combine that with their love of the characters and the fact they beg for more at the end of each chapter, and my day was made. Heck, my year was made. I'm more excited than ever to take the next step toward publication. A huge shout out and thank you to all my beta-readers!


An Old Favorite

I've been revisiting one of my favorite children's books, The Wind in the Willows. My own book's style and characters were hugely inspired by this story, so it has an extra special place in my heart. What makes it even better is the fact that this particular copy is part of my collection of vintage and antique books. I love the delightful simplicity of the cover of this 1933 edition, but the best part is the inscription inside, from a mother to her son on Christmas. I love imagining that little boy curled up on a snowy winter day, absorbed in the very same book I now hold. You can see a photo of the inscription here, in my Instagram feed.



A Beautiful Mess App

Now that I've finally joined the current century and upgraded to an iPhone, I'm even more in love with taking and sharing photos. As a lover of doodles, type, and creative flair, A Beautiful Mess is everything I could dream of in a photo editing app. With beautiful hand-drawn borders, great fonts for custom type, and fun doodles and phrases, it's the perfect way to add your own funky style to your pictures. You can also create custom backgrounds using a variety of included images/patterns (like the vintage library card in the Beta-Reader thumbnail above). Just to show you how awesome this app is, I used it to create all the images in this post. It's well worth the $0.99 to download. You can also visit Elsie and Emma's lovely lifestyle blog here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Nicholas Benedict is back (though far younger than when I last saw him) in The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict--the prequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society books.

Nicholas is being taken to a new orphanage...again. And right from the start, things take a dramatic turn--despite his best efforts to avoid attracting attention. But when you're the new kid who also happens to be an extremely observant genius with a photographic memory, you're bound to have trouble fitting in. All Nicholas wants is to spend his free time in the library and avoid a painful run-in with the Spiders. But when he discovers the journal the director possesses may hold the key to a long lost treasure, Nicholas begins a covert search for something he hopes will change his life, and the lives of his two unexpected (and only) friends. That is, if he can stay awake.

Nicholas Benedict is what most would call an odd child, and some (smarter) folks would call gifted. He has a photographic memory, can read an entire encyclopedia in mere minutes, and with his wits and quick thinking, can solve almost any problem and avoid almost any disaster. His new home at Rothchild's End is brimming with mystery and tales of a hidden treasure. Add to that a rather cold and desperate headmaster, a cast of strange staff, and a group of bullies known ominously as the Spiders, and you have a recipe for one exciting tale. Especially when Nicholas's narcolepsy tends to send him off to sleep at the most inopportune moments.

One of my favorite things about Stewart's books is his ability to create such unique and interesting characters. This cast includes a handyman whose specialty is silently fretting over the children, a nurse who doles out questionable remedies, a young girl with a kind but heavy heart, and a bad tempered mule named Rabbit. And who wouldn't love Nicholas? As a mother, my heart went out to him, and as a once shy and socially awkward kid, I could identify with him, too. The mystery is fun (though not as difficult to piece together as those in the rest of the series, it did have its own clever twists), and Nicholas's determination to solve it places him in one perilous situation after another. Throughout it all, there are plenty of great lessons on conflict, trust, friendship and sacrifice, which kids will find inspiring and parents will appreciate. All in all, fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society will enjoy this glimpse into the past of the society's eccentric and loveable founder.