Monday, November 13, 2023

The Story Orchestra: The Planets

Science and the arts are perfectly combined in The Story Orchestra:The Planets by Jessica Courtney Tickle. Siblings Tim and Helen have a fresh new space-themed bedroom which magically launches them on a space adventure through the universe!  Readers will learn about the solar system while also hearing musical samples from the movements of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" orchestral suite. 

I loved the bright and eye-catching illustrations. Children will love poring over the details of each page and the various planetary stops. The addition of music offers a multi-sensory experience--what a great way to foster interest in music and astronomy at the same time. Background on Gustav Holst is included at the end of the book and offers a great learning extension of the book. What a fun and engaging book to add to your library! 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital edition of The Story Orchestra: The Planets through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

The Tale of the Animals' Christmas in Crouch End by Lance Lee

Destined to be a Christmas classic, The Tale of the Animals' Christmas in Crouch End will charm the socks off readers young and old--preferably enjoyed jointly as a holiday read-aloud. This book combined so many of my favorite things: talking animals (reminiscent of Wind in the Willows), a British setting, a home project, and a bit of magic sprinkled throughout.

An unusually wet season has forced Marvin's mole family to reroute their front door. Imagine the mole's surprise when the new door is adjacent to the den of Rufus, the resident fox of the neighborhood and known hunter of small animals. Marvin is wielding tools (handy defense should the fox become unfriendly), and explains that he does home repairs. Very serendipitous because Rufus' home has been utterly ruined with standing water everywhere. 

Rufus hires Marvin to do repairs and so begins the start of a tentative truce among the animals. Rufus' nephew, Rupert, will be visiting over Christmas and Rufus wants to make the best impression possible.

As the home repairs continue, Rufus finds that his hunting has been curtailed which gives him more time to explore the curious traditions that humans follow at this time of year. Lights and decorated trees appear and a festive spirit permeates the neighborhood that seems to cast a spell over even the animals. A feast is proposed and the animals agree to a period of harmony to share the holiday. When problems arise, Rufus calls upon his gift of second sight and seeks the help of Tinya the fairy. 

So many fun details and heartwarming aspects of this story. It will make a wonderful book to read as a family year after year. With 9 chapters, it makes the perfect run-up to the holiday--creating anticipation to know what will happen next while slowly ushering in the most magical time of year. 

I appreciated that while Santa was an obvious part of the story, the Christ child was also mentioned. And while the story is not particularly religious, it does offer a touching lesson on what makes Christmas special that anyone can appreciate. Pick up your copy today and be enchanted not only by the story but also the delightful illustrations drawn by the talented Meilo So. This review and others can be found at Reedsy Discovery

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Tale of the Animals' Chrismas in Crouch End from Reedsy Discovery for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own.


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

World War II: Fight on the Home Front (History Comics)

I was unfamiliar with the History Comics series but I was blown away by the content of World War II: Fight on the Home Front. I have not previously read such a wonderfully thorough explanation of all that Americans did to help fight the war at home. So many everyday heroes were highlighted: women who filled jobs that servicemen had vacated, retired men who helped patrol streets, and even children who salvaged whatever metal scraps they could find. 

It was awe-inspiring to read about the sacrifices and deprivations that were willingly adhered to in order to provide needed materials for the war. One cannot read this book without being amazed by the ingenuity, creativity, and determination of citizens who formed countless support organizations, turned factories into munition suppliers, and organized book drives to ensure soldiers had things to read. I loved the excerpts from real letters (albeit, some very bittersweet as they were the last words a soldier sent). The unprecedented unity and collaboration of citizens to fight a common enemy was unbelievable but so important for children to know about.

And yet there were still areas where the war revealed long-held prejudices against women, African American soldiers, and Native Americans. The war created a forum where some of these barriers were broken but not all. And it's important for children to know about those areas where history failed some groups of people. 

The authors have created a panoramic view of the war from start to finish without glossing over the less-than-stellar parts of our history. So much careful research was put into this book and presented in a way that children can understand. And even though we are at peace at the moment, hopefully, this book will inspire children to find ways to contribute to their community at any age. I highly recommend this book for ages 8 and up. It would make a valuable addition to any school classroom or home library. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of World War II: Fight on the Home Front from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received. 


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity by Elizabeth C. Bunce

It was very satisfying to review the 5th Myrtle Hardcastle book as I had the privilege of reviewing the first two books of the series as well. From the first chapter of book 1, I knew Myrtle was destined for literary greatness. And book 5 did not disappoint!

Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity finds our young heroine packing for an excursion. Her governess, Miss Judson, had just been informed that she was heiress to an estate in Scotland and Myrtle will be accompanying her. From the moment they arrive, it becomes clear that someone does not want Miss Judson to inherit.

Miss Judson's uncle had died unexpectedly and Myrtle (of course) suspected foul play. The plot thickens as the body count increases and within the labyrinthine halls of the estate, Myrtle makes some surprising discoveries. As she and Miss Judson get closer to the truth, sinister forces continue working against them. But Miss Judson and Myrtle are not ones to back down from mystery or manipulation and they continue trying to discover the truth behind the mysterious happenings on the estate. 

The book offers stunning descriptions of Scotland's natural beauty and readers will pick up a nice assortment of Scottish vernacular (the author very helpfully provided a glossary at the back for translation). As Myrtle and Miss Judson peel back the layers of intrigue, readers will be taken on a wild ride through (possibly) haunted halls to solve clues for the ultimate treasure hunt: finding a part of the clan's ancestral history.

As the familial ties are revealed, Myrtle appreciates even more how much Miss Judson means to her and she hopes that she will not lose her governess to the charms of Scotland. I highly recommend this vocabulary-building, puzzle-solving mystery. While some characters do get killed, descriptions are not gory or overly detailed. Myrtle Hardcastle is a young sleuth worth meeting and I hope her adventures continue for many more books!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received and the opinions expressed are mine alone.


Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Sir Cumference and the 100 Percent Goose Chase

I was first introduced to Sir Cumference while attending a homeschool conference sometime in the 2000's. The title caught my eye as math had not been a favorite subject of our oldest. It soon became an almost annual tradition to buy another Sir Cumference book at the homeschool conference. All six of our children were delighted by the clever play on words that helped explain math terms in such a memorable and fun way! 

Sir Cumference and the 100 Percent Goose Chase is the 11th book in the series. I was excited to review and revisit a series that had been so well-loved in our homeschool. The focus of this book (as the title suggests) is on percentages. In this tale, Percilla has a gaggle of geese to deliver to various customers. As misfortune strikes along the way, Percilla must determine how to distribute the remaining geese in a fair manner.  Fans of Sir Circumerence will be familiar with Percilla's traveling companion, Lady Di. Thankfully, all comes right (mathematically) in the end!

I am always astounded by how cleverly the author explains challenging math concepts in ways children (and adults!) can understand. The stories are so fun that children won't even realize they are learning math! And even though my youngest is 16, I'll be adding a physical copy of this book to our home library. I consider Sir Cumference a staple for any school or home library. The series should also have a special place in every elementary or middle school math classroom--each book is like a cinematic story problem. The illustrator's renderings of the time period and the math concepts are absolutely perfect and so wonderfully complement the story.

It was fascinating to read how the author became inspired to begin the series. I am so thrilled that she brought such a clever, whimsical, helpful series into the math world!  Looking forward to future books in the series!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Sir Cumference and the 100 Percent Goose Chase from NetGalley for the purpose of review. 


Anne Dares by Kallie George


I am of the opinion that no childhood is complete without an acquaintance with Anne Shirley and I am so glad that author Kallie George has made this spunky heroine accessible to younger readers through this 5th chapter book in a series inspired by L.M. Montgomery's original Anne of Green Gables. In reading about the illustrator, Abigail Halpin, I was pleased to find out that she has been inspired by Tasha Tudor--ah, a kindred spirit (Tudor is a favorite illustrator of mine).

The author takes a few stories from Montgomery's pages, elaborates on them, and brings them to life for younger audiences. Halpin's illustrations are a wonderful complement to the story helping children envision the action and each character. I especially liked that both Marilla and Matthew had moments to shine in this chapter book. This would be a wonderful book to help entertain younger family members while the original series is read aloud. The bright and lively illustrations will help bring Anne's adventures to life for any age. Don't miss this delightful introduction to one of literature's most beloved characters! 

Learn more about the author and sign up for her newsletter at her website. You can purchase your copy at Amazon (affiliate link). Happy Reading!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Anne Dares through NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received and the opinions expressed are my own. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature through Peace and War at West Point


What I thought would be a book full of book recommendations and anecdotal stories about how literature had impacted soldiers in peace and war, was instead a collection of very dense essays primarily on military philosophy, military procedural commentary, and military politics. I slogged through many chapters hoping for a few golden nuggets--either of books I might want to read (or revisit) or stories of the transformational power of literature. Unfortunately, the book fell short on both accounts. 

While there were a few interesting stories, the death knell for me was when the author dressed down a Christian military organization (by name, which I found in very poor taste). It became a springboard for the author to unload what seemed like an exceeding amount of bitter feelings toward Christian military personnel. At that point, I decided to cut my losses and abandon the book. It will be purged not only from my TBR pile but also from my personal library--guilt-free.

The Story Orchestra: The Planets

Science and the arts are perfectly combined in The Story Orchestra:The Planets by Jessica Courtney Tickle. Siblings Tim and Helen have a fr...