PicCollage: Bowling’s ‘Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus’ (Sterling Kids, 2017)

This is a picture collage (#PicCollage) of things I thought were important in Dusti Bowling’s debut middle grade fiction, ‘Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus’ (Sterling Kids, September 2017). I hope to teach students how to create picture collages as a form of notetaking in the Fall. 

I received this book as part of my #bookexcursion group so Aven will continue on the journey to the next educational leader in the group. BookExcursion is a group of 9 educational leaders who read PB through YA titles and share on social media. Authors receive publicity and book buzz while we become better equipped to provide reader’s advisory services to the students and families we serve.  We think it’s a win-win proposition. 

Also, this is the first book completed as part of my #24in48 readathon challenge, July 22-23, 2017.


Book Review: 3/5 Stars, ‘Letters to Leo’, Amy Hest

Letters to LeoLetters to Leo by Amy Hest

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3/5 stars. Letters to Leo chronicles the life and times of a fourth-grade girl through letters she writes to her dog, Leo. I’m not head-over-heels in love with it, but it would appeal to some readers. The target audience seems to be middle to upper-middle class city girls who are cared for by au pairs and have the means to take their dogs to the groomers. Or, with those who dream of that sort of lifestyle. As expected with this writing format, the artwork is filled with hearts, flowers and pictures of Leo. The chapters were short and written in diary format. It would make a good addition to larger public or school libraries, but if budget is tight I’d hold off and select another title with potential for a wider reach.

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‘Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown’ by Eric Blehm (REVIEW)

Fearless by Eric Blehm

by Eric Blehm

“Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown” by Eric Blehm chronicles the life of Operator Adam Brown from his childhood in Arkansas to his final mission in Afghanistan. His early life and noble character are shaped in our minds through stories of his home life, friendships during his school years, and then choices that nearly destroyed him and landed him in jail. His acceptance of Christ began his turnaround. Much attention is given to the grueling training at each level of service, missions, setbacks and his courageous actions in service to his country.

Blehm also devotes a fair amount of attention and gives respect to Brown’s wife, Kelley. As a military wife and mother, she played an important role in his life. She provided a tranquil home environment where he could rest and regain his strength. She supported him through prayer and action in the battle against his inner demons. She also managed the household and attended to the children whenever duty called him away.

In official paperwork detailing his last requests, Adam wrote that he wanted his family and those who knew him to share the whole truth about his spiritual journey. It was important to him that the dark days were shared alongside the good times. He wanted to give honor and glory to God for the turnaround in his life. His hope was that by revealing his personal demons others would take heart, accept Jesus, and renew the fight to overcome their own inner demons.

I would recommend Fearless to those with an interest in the war against terrorism in the Middle East, the attacks of 9/11, contemporary covert military operations, individuals with an interest in joining any branch of our Armed Forces, and those with a heart to pray for our servicemen and servicewomen. This title would also make a fine addition to any Christian or military biography collection.

Amazon | Goodreads | Website | Discussion Guide

Product Details:

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; First Edition edition (May 22, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-0307730695

NOTE: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

‘Journey’ by Aaron Becker (REVIEW)

Journey by Aaron Becker

A magic door drawn by a lonely girl leads to a fantastic adventure in JOURNEY by author-illustrator Aaron Becker. Reminiscent of “Harold and the Purple Crayon”, a girl uses a red marker to carry her along on an adventure where she draws whatever mode of transportation she needs to continue her journey.

I hesitate to call JOURNEY a picture book. Or else, it is a true picture book and all others need to be reclassified. As I opened to the first page, I was mesmerized. I became lost in the intricate details. I found cross-sections of streets, houses and flying ships, and one magnificent castle drawn from different perspectives. I saw bricks laid upon bricks, underground sewer systems, tree bark in a forest of trees, a family at work and play inside their home, and a girl outside with her red scooter. Color is important in JOURNEY. As the story goes, the girl retreats to her bedroom because she can’t find anyone to play with her. When the girl’s cat awakens and walks out of the room, she discovers a red marker on the ground where the cat had slept. Perhaps on a whim, she draws a red door. Now her magical adventure begins.

I took JOURNEY to a colleague to share my discovery. He too became lost in the artwork and how it told the little girl’s story. It wasn’t until that moment, in sharing JOURNEY with him, that I realized that JOURNEY is a wordless book. My realization stunned me. I had fallen into this book three days earlier captured by the sounds of the city streets, the rushing water at the castle, the wind from the turbines on the flying machines and the voices of the ruler’s men in pursuit of both the bird and the girl. I was swept along with her as she traversed a forest of twinkling lights, floated in a red boat down the river, through a lock system at the castle, and over the edge of the accidental waterfall. JOURNEY was a multidirectional read for me. Something on one page triggered a memory of something on an earlier page so back and forth I went. It was wonderful! Make note of the use of color. During the girl’s adventure she finds something of color that another person had lost. This literally opens a new door of opportunity for her. Oh. By the way, I saw a boy with a purple marker. Maybe it was Harold.

Goodreads | Amazon | Author website

A 2014 Caldecott Honor Book 

From the Publisher:

Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.

Praise for JOURNEY:

A masterwork.
—The New York Times

Star for Review An imaginative adventure story whose elaborate illustrations inspire wonder, careful examination and multiple reads. —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Star for ReviewWonder mixes with longing as the myriad possibilities offered by Becker’s stunning settings dwarf what actually happens in the story. Readers will be both dazzled and spurred on imagined travels of their own. —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Star for Review [An] auspicious debut… [a] captivating wordless story… The strong visual narrative makes this an appealing choice for a wide range of ages. By the turn of the last page, children will immediately begin imagining the next adventure. —School Library Journal (starred review)

Star for ReviewReverberate(s) with the power of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are —Booklist (starred review)

Product details:

  • Age Range: 4 – 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool – 3
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; First Edition edition (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763660536

Remember Sweet Honesty? You’ll love ‘Sparrow Road’ by Sheila O’Connor (REVIEW)

Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor

Sparrow Road
by Sheila O’Connor

The first day of summer holds such promise. For 12-year-old Raine O’Rourke that includes stacking shelves at Grandpa Mac’s store, playing chess with Grandpa’s best friend and eating all the popsicles and candy she wants. That’s how Raine expects to spend this summer too. Instead, she finds herself far from Milwaukee. All of a sudden, her mom decides to take a summer job as a cook at an old mansion in the country. There goes Raine’s hope for a fun summer.

Sparrow Road seems to be a summer camp, of sorts, for adults who want to get away from their regular jobs to concentrate on creative projects. Lillian writes poetry. Josie makes assorted things out of fabric scraps. Diego likes to use odds and ends in his artwork and Eleanor is a writer. As soon as they arrive at Sparrow Road, the owner sternly warns Raine not to disturb anyone. Viktor definitely did not make her feel welcome.

Raine knows her mom’s hiding something. Why are they really at Sparrow Road? Raine is determined to find the truth. As the days pass, she finds more questions than answers. There are so many mysteries at Sparrow Road. When the biggest secret comes out it will change Raine’s life forever.

O’Connor’s use of descriptive language brings Raine’s world alive. The reader can smell the fish in the lake, the rotten apples in the breeze and the musty blankets in the attic. There is adventure in the air. Her characters are authentic. Each one brings an essential ingredient to aid Raine on her journey. Her story reminds me of a fragrance – Sweet Honesty. It was my favorite at Raine’s age. Sparrow Road is sweet, honest and full of hope. It’s a perfect read for the first day of summer.

Goodreads | Amazon | Author website | Book Discussion Guide

International Reading Assoc Award

Winner of the 2012 International Reading Association Award for Intermediate Fiction

Sparrow Road News 2012 Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards Finalist!

2011 Voya Best Book
2011 Booklist Best Book
2011 Chicago Public Library Best of the Best
2012 Bank Street Best Books

2011 Pennsylvania School Librarians Assoc. Best

From the publisher:

It’s the summer before seventh grade, and twelve-year- old Raine O’Rourke’s mother suddenly takes a job hours from home at mysterious Sparrow Road- a creepy, dilapidated mansion that houses an eccentric group of artists. As Raine tries to make sense of her new surroundings, she forges friendships with a cast of quirky characters including the outrageous and funky Josie.

Together, Raine and Josie decide to solve the mysteries of Sparrow Road-from its haunting history as an orphanage to the secrets of its silent, brooding owner, Viktor. But it’s an unexpected secret from Raine’s own life that changes her forever.

An affecting and beautifully written story of family and forgiveness, Sparrow Road is an incredible gift.

Praise for Sparrow Road:

Kirkus Starred Review: “Sparrow Road…the crumbling country estate, a former orphanage, is a place readers will want to explore.  It is suffused with a sense of longing, the same wistful atmosphere surrounding the characters in this beautifully written novel, with its leisurely revelation of secrets and sad events of the past…. Readers finding themselves in this quiet world will find plenty of space to imagine and dream for themselves.” — Kirkus Reviews

Booklist Starred Review: “That O’Connor can write a book with essentially only one young character and have the result be a timeless piece of middle-grade fiction is a tribute to her understanding that emotions are universal, no matter how old we are, and that art is a balm that has the ability to soothe all wounds. A special book”. — Ilene Cooper

Product details:

Age Range: 10 and up
Grade Level: 5 and up
Lexile Measure: 530L (What’s this?)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (May 12, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0399254587
ISBN-13: 978-0399254581

This review was originally published on my old blog and on Amazon on June 7, 2011.

’50 Below Zero’ board book by Robert Munsch (REVIEW)


FIFTY BELOW ZERO by Robert Munsch was originally published in 1992. This board book is an adaptation of the original. While the intended audience for the original story is 4-7 years, the intended audience for the board book has dropped to 2-5 years.

Basically, when looking solely at the text and pictures of this adaptation, I don’t get the point. It does bring questions to mind. For example, why does it matter that the boy’s dad kept waking him up with his sleep-walking, and why did it no longer wake the boy up once it woke his mom up? Why didn’t it wake her up earlier? Also, the young main character seems too small to be able to drag his dad inside and put him in the bath, etc. To me, these aren’t “suspend disbelief” questions to be answered with a child young enough to relate to the book’s picture book format.

Goodreads | Amazon | Author website

From the publisher:

Another bestselling Munsch classic now available as a board book.

Jason’s dad falls asleep everywhere… except in his own bed. All night long, Jason gets woken up by strange noises that lead him to find his dad in the most unexpected places — from on top of the refrigerator to the freezing cold woods outside his house. In order to finally get a good night’s sleep, Jason musters up all of his resources and comes up with a most unexpected solution — tying his dad’s toe to the bathroom doorknob to keep him in place.

Now available as a simplified, toddler-friendly board book with revised art by Michael Martchenko, this story will delight young children discovering it for the first time.

Product details:

Age Range: 2 – 5 years
Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten
Board book: 22 pages
Publisher: Annick Press; Brdbk edition (June 13, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1554515327
ISBN-13: 978-1554515325

‘Prince of Shadows: A novel of Romeo and Juliet’ by Rachel Caine (REVIEW)

Prince of Shadows  by Rachel Caine

Prince of Shadows
by Rachel Caine

In PRINCE OF SHADOWS, Rachel Caine draws the reader into the Shakespearean world of Romeo and Juliet. Their relationship, however, exists only in the reader’s peripheral vision except for a couple of key interactions midway and then, of course, their final act of passion at the end of the tale. Benvolio Montague, Romeo’s cousin, takes center stage and we see events through his perspective. To all eyes, he is the quiet, solid, responsible one in the Montague household. In secret, however, he takes to shaming the Capulets in his own way. He pays attention to offending Capulet actions during the day and then sneaks into the offenders’ homes at night to steal the things they hold most precious. For these escapades, he earns the name Prince of Shadows.

In the first half of the story, Caine lays the groundwork and solidifies the personalities and interrelationships of the characters. Some, like Mercutio and La Signora di Farro, are well-rounded while others, like Veronica and Juliet, are flat. We witness the typical carousing and day-to-day feuding between the Montagues and Capulets with eruptions of violence from time to time. The pace is slow and plods along until the mid-point where Mercutio’s father learns of his kindhearted son’s intimate relationship with Tomasso, a young male scholar. The dramatic, heart-wrenching scene of Tomasso’s murder begins the tortuous disfiguration of Mercutio’s character into something monstrous.

If the novel ended midway I would have only been willing to give it 2.5 stars, but Tomasso’s murder became the catalyst for a rapid acceleration of the plot. Mercutio’s resolute focus and passionate response released intense non-stop action on multiple fronts. I loved this dynamic, hopeless and desperate character! Once Claire got the ball rolling it was hard to put the book down until the last page was turned. 3.5 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Penguin’s First to Read program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Stars given by reviewers for “Prince of Shadows” range between 2-5 on Goodreads. Check out other reviewers have to say and then add it to your own reading list.

From the Publisher:

A thrilling retelling of the star-crossed tale of Romeo and Juliet, from the New York Times bestselling author of the Morganville Vampires series.

In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and—if they survive—marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.

Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona—and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona…

…And will rewrite all their fates, forever.

Product Details

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: NAL Hardcover (February 4, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0451414411
ISBN-13: 978-0451414410

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