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Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey Book Review

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey
Publisher: Tundra Books
Release Date: September 8, 2015

Lewis Dearborn is a lonely, anxious, and incredibly shy boy whose parents worry over him all the time. Barely able to even speak in school, Lewis is not your adventuring type of boy. That is until his family moves into his great-grandfather's decaying seaside mansion. When Lewis claims the topmost tower bedroom, nicknamed Libertalia after the legendary pirate utopia, Lewis gets more than he bargained for though. The room is already occupied by seven dead pirates whose tragic fate has left them stranded in the house for almost two centuries. However, the time is right for them to be reunited with their ship, all they need is Lewis' help. All they need to do is get to the museum on the other side of town where their ship is waiting for them. The problem is, these ghosts aren't so invisible and Lewis is still painfully shy.

Funny story. Years ago I worked as an intern at Candlewick Press. During my time there I read a lot of books. A few stuck out. Sadly, as much as I loved some of them, Candlewick for whatever reasons ended up passing on them. Yet I kept my eyes out for them, hoping that the authors would not give up on them and that eventually someone else would publish them and then everyone could experience the awesomeness that are these books. So when I was perusing NetGalley in search of a new read, my heart leapt when I stumbled across this book. "Please be the book I think you are," I said to myself as I clicked on the book. And there it was, one of the books that I read years ago, loved, and hoped so see again one day.

This book has stuck with me for many reasons. The first being the seven dead pirates, whose attic antics where goofy and yet such a great sense of pathos. Bailey does not gloss over how these pirates died. Their story is tragic. I also love the idea that these ghosts have a hard time remaining invisible when they are scared and in our modern world there is a lot to be frightened of, particularly cars. One of the scenes from the book that always stuck with me is when Lewis buys the pirates "tourist" clothes. As the pirates begin putting on their new outfits, it occurs to Lewis that this idea was not so great because these dead guys look even more ridiculous in their new get ups.

Lewis is a great character as well as his story arc, from over-protected shy boy to pirate wrangler is strong. He is so resistant to helping the pirates at first that it was almost frustrating. Just take them where they want to go, I wanted to tell Lewis, but for Lewis it was more than just walking the pirates across town. It was about overcoming his own shyness and inability to act. And although Lewis makes a friend along the way, in the end, he needs to do it himself.

I read this book seven years ago and I haven't forgotten about it. You won't either.

(Additional Note: This book features a redheaded MALE protagonist, which besides Ron Weasley is a rarity.)

Cakes in Space by Phillip Reeve Book Review

Cakes in Space by Phillip Reeve
Illustrations by Sarah McIntyre
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Release Date: September 4, 2014

Astra's family are on their way to their new home on Nova Mundi. The only problem is, it will take 199 years to get there. Not to worry, everyone will be held in suspended animation, sleeping away two centuries in sleeping pods. The only problem is that before Astra falls asleep she instructs the food machine in the canteen to make her the most wonderful brilliant cake ever. And so for a century, while everyone slept, the machine kept churning out cakes one after another. When Astra wakes, only halfway to their final destination the ship is in deep trouble. They have been knocked off course, there are killer cakes on the loose, and a gang of alien Poglites are planning on stripping the ship bare. And we won't even mention the Nameless Horror that is stalking her.

Now, isn't it interesting that in the same week I happen to review and read two books featuring Sarah McIntyre as an illustrator? It wasn't on purpose and I didn't even notice until I began writing the review. Perhaps it is my general love of science fiction or that fact that there are so few hard sci-fi's for this age group, but I completely loved this odd little book. The tone had a vague Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy mixed with some Space Rocks!, in a way that made the story fun and entirely awesome. Don't get me wrong, I know killer cakes is a weird concept, but it works in the context of the story. Astra is an adorable character, aptly named, and rather heroic despite the many terrible things that are happening to her. I don't know if this is a planned series, but I am quite interested in knowing what happens next. Do the grownups believe her when they wake up? What about the Nameless Horror? I want more information about it, by the way. Is Nova Mundi the paradise they are hoping for or are there aliens there too?

A great bridger books for kids moving out of chapter books, but aren't quite ready for Harry Potter, this one is sure to be a quick read that will make you smile.



Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins Book Review

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: June 2, 2015

Who knew that cakes could be so rude? In this strangely entertaining book, there is a not-so-sweet cake who never says please and thank you, never listens to its parents, and is just downright rude. Don't worry though, this rude cake gets its just desserts when it is snatched from its bedroom and forced to become a hat for a one-eyed monster. Fortunately for the cake, these Cyclops are not rude.

When I first read this book, I thought it was rather strange and a bit heavy-handed with the whole politeness message. That was until my nephew came over and made me read it to him again and again and again. I am always fascinated by the things that entertain children and so I finally asked him why he liked this book so much. "Because Aunt Venus," he said, leaning in and whispering conspiratorially. "The cake is just so rude." That's it folks. It wasn't the pencil and ink drawings, even though they were quite cute. It wasn't the message. It wasn't even the fact that there where monsters or that he liked cake. The simple fact is that who would ever expect a cake to be rude? And isn't it funny that one is?

I may not have originally paid this book any mind when I first read it, but once again it was another lesson in seeing these books from the perspective of the children they are written for.



Harry Potter's Homemade Butterbeer Recipe

Homemade Butterbeer 
Makes 6 servings
Ingredients
FOR THE BUTTERBEER
6 12-ounce bottles chilled cream soda, or 1/2 recipe Homemade Cream Soda, substitute diet cream soda for a still yummy sugar-free version
3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) imitation butter flavor, or 2 tablespoons clarified butter (instructions linked above **clarified butter does not always blend well with the cold beverage, see info above**)
OPTIONAL – 1 ounce light rum, per serving, for adults only
FOR THE FOAM (Vegan/Dairy-free recipe linked here)
2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons sugar, or splenda for sugar free version
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons imitation butter (if using clarified butter, double the amount to 3 teaspoons, or 1 tablespoon)
To make the butterbeer: Set out 6 16-ounce glasses. Place 1/2 teaspoon of imitation butter (or 1 teaspoon clarified butter) in each glass. Pour 12 ounces of cream soda into each glass, over the butter. Lightly stir, if necessary.
To make the foam: In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, whip the heavy cream on medium high speed for 3-4 minutes until it starts to thicken. Add the sugar and continue whipping until very soft peaks begin to form, another 3-4 minutes (if you need to whip more or less, then be sure to do so, the times can vary quite a bit based on environment). Stir in the vanilla and imitation butter (or clarified butter), then whip for another 30 seconds or so, until soft peaks form.
Spoon a generous portion of foam on top of each glass of butterbeer, mixing gently, if desired (or spoon the foam into the bottom of the glass and pour the butterbeer over the top). Serve immediately.
Recipe by Darla

Jampires by Sarah McIntyre and David O'Connell Book Review

Jampires by Sarah McIntyre and David O'Connell
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Release Date: June 30, 2015

What is worse than chomping down on a jelly donut only to find there is no jam inside? Such is one terrible day for Sam who sets out to find the jam thieves. With the lure of a ketchup filled donut, what Sam finds are Jampires, friendly creatures whose obsession with jam and other sweet things gets them into a ton of trouble. Determined to help the Jampires and save the jam in his donuts, Sam decides to help his new friends.

I absolutely love the concept of a Jampire. This is a "monster" book, but in true picture book fashion, they are the kind of monsters you wouldn't mind having around. And like all good monster stories there is a magical land where these creatures live. The illustrations are bright and lively, with so many wonderful little details like the expression on the cat's face throughout.

You should also check out the Jampires website where you can find details about the authors, the story, and most important of all...activities.


In keeping with our food and recipe week and as if this book wouldn't make you hungry enough, watch the video below to find out how you can make your own jelly-filled donuts.

Old Black Witch Blueberry Pancake Recipe





Old Black Witch was one of my favorite picture books as a kid. She was cranky and a bit scary, but beneath the cobwebs was a heart of gold. Her pancake recipe was also a regular feature in my home. And yes, we always said the magic words to make them extra special.

Kid 'View - A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

I really liked the book A Handful of Stars because it was an interesting story about a blind dog and I love animals. I thought it was a little sad, but I wanted to keep reading to see what would happen. I really loved all the interesting things I learned about blueberries. I would suggest this book to my friends. I think they would like it too. - Molly

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord Book Review

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: May 26, 2015

Lily lives in Maine, in blueberry country, with her grandparents where she is working hard selling her handpainted bee houses to save enough money to restore her dog, Lucky's, sight. An unlikely friendship begins when Lucky eats one of the migrant blueberry picker's sandwich. Salma isn't like Lily. Her family moves around a lot, they live in a tiny cabin with no oven, and she doesn't really have anyplace that she calls home. And when Salma helps paint bee houses she paints the bees pink instead of yellow. Salma wants to be in the beauty pageant too, even though no one from outside of their town has entered, at least not since Lily's mother did many years before. And when the two girls devise a way to raise money at the Blueberry Festival, it is Salma who suggests making blueberry enchiladas. While Lily struggles with what it means to be a family with friendships that grow apart, and mother's lost, Salma is just searching for a place to belong.

This was a very sweet book, melancholy in a way that was reminiscent of Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie. What I love about Cynthia Lord and all of her books is the careful pathos she creates for all her characters, including the furry ones. There is such careful attention paid to every detail of her characters, which makes them uniquely interesting while also perfectly relateable. This is a book about friendship, but more than that it is about dedication, the loss of a mother, prejudices, imagination, daring to think differently, challenging norms, and friends who grow apart.

Some of these themes are rather popular in children's books, like changing friendships, which is understandably what many children experience. Perhaps it is such a universal part of growing up that is necessary in this type of a story. Although Lily was our main protagonist, I was much more interested in Salma. Salma's perspective was so wholly unique that I wish there was an entire story about just her. Although prejudice was dealt with on some level, an age appropriate level I might add, the issue of racism felt rather glossed over as most of the children and adults in this story were extremely accepting of the migrant families. Having recently witnessed some extreme racism in reference to migrant workers, I know reality is not as nice as the people in Lily's town seem to be. Is that a reality necessary for middle grade readers? I think the pendulum could swing either way.

On a lighter note, I absolutely loved all the different facts about blueberries. I truly had no idea what a rich history they have in Maine, although I do have personal experience picking them. (note: it takes forever to pick blueberries without a rake) I learned all kinds of interesting facts and actually had never heard of a bee house for bees that live on the ground. Fascinating and terrifying.

Things don't necessarily have a fairy tale ending for our characters, but one gets the impression that they both learned a lot more about themselves and friendship than if everything had gone perfectly, and that is what makes the book feel authentic.




Blueberry Enchiladas
  • 40 minutes to make
  • Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 21 ounce can blueberry pie filling
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water


How to make it

  • Spoon fruit filling evenly down center of each tortilla then sprinkle with cinnamon.
  • Roll up and place seam side down in a lightly greased baking dish.
  • Bring butter and next three ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  • Reduce heat and simmer stirring constantly for 3 minutes.
  • Pour over enchiladas then allow to stand 30 minutes.
  • Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
  • Serve warm with whipped cream and fresh blueberries over top.

Food Week @ Children's Atheneum

This week, by sheer happenstance, I happen to have read a lot of books featuring food. As is fitting, I decided to officially declare this food week and will feature reviews as well as recipes and links to even more books featuring food.

To start us off I am featuring one of my favorite new dessert recipes found within the pages of A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins. I have made this several times now using both blackberries and raspberries and it is simply divine. It is especially good over top of angel food cake and also works as a flavored whip cream for other desserts as well. To keep it longer, I have been freezing mine, which will extend its life weeks instead of days.


Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay Book Review

Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Release Date: May 5, 2015

When a little girl moves to a new town, she finds a place called Butterfly Park, except there are no butterflies in it. Determined to lure the butterflies, she enlists the help of the entire town to help her in her cause.

This is a stunningly brilliant picture book. Each scene is lovingly crafted using paper cut-outs that are simply lovely. Each cut-out is laid upon painted backdrops that are too beautiful to describe. So I have linked below a video of one of her other books so that you can see the process for yourself and then go buy this book as your own.





Audrey's Tree House by Jenny Hughes Book Review

Audrey's Tree House by Jenny Hughes
Illustrations by Jonathan Bentley
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: April 28, 2015

Audrey is bigger than she was yesterday and now it should be obvious that she needs a bigger house. A tree house that is. So she tells her dad to build her one at the top of a big tree. It has a bathtub for snorkeling and a place to sip her tea. It is also rather high up and far away from everything.

I think every young child walks a fine line between wanting independence and wanting to be close to those they love. The father of this story is careful to give Audrey the space she desires, but knows that she still needs him and waits patiently for her to realize that. And who wouldn't want Audrey's Tree House. It is amazing. This story hits all the sweet spots and all the fun ones as well.

Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida Book Review

Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida
Publisher: Little Bigfoot
Release Date: May 5, 2015

Little Kunoichi is a young ninja in training. However, with the help of a friend, she learns the power of perseverance, hard work, and cooperation when they wow the crowd at the Island Festival.

Despite a rather strong premise, I'm afraid this story was a bit ho hum for me. The watercolor illustrations are great at capturing that ninja-like quality necessary for such a tale. Sadly, the text itself did not stand up under scrutiny, meandering to an ending that felt rather abrupt. In a world full of ninja picture books, this one just didn't stand ou for me.

Kid 'View - Moone Boy by Chris O'Dowd and Nick V. Murphy

This week is the beginning of a new review series by my two guest bloggers Molly and Allison, which will be called Kid 'Views. You can read more about them in the 'About' section of this blog. I think it is imperative that we (meaning me) as adult readers remember that books written for kids are FOR kids and it is their opinions, in the end, that really matter. So without further ado, I present to our first Kid 'View by Allison. 



My favorite part of the book is when the Imaginary Inspector became a licensed Imaginary friend for Martin.  I liked the characters, they were very funny. The story described everyone weirdly but Martin. He seemed to be  the only normal person. I was never bored While reading  this story, it made me laugh a lot. I would not change a single thing about the story. This was the best story I ever read.  - Allison

Moone Boy by Chris O'Dowd and Nick V. Murphy Book Review

Moone Boy: The Blunder Years by Chris O'Dowd and Nick V. Murphy
Publisher: Fiewel & Friends
Release Date: May 5, 2015

Martin Moone needs a decent wingman. Surrounded by crazy sisters and even crazier parents, it is Martin's best mate Padraic who suggests Martin get himself an imaginary friend--or 'IF' for short. So Martin takes the imaginary catalog for IFs, circles his choice, buries it in the backyard, and awaits his new friend. His first attempt is a Loopy Lou, a hyperactive goofy baffoon who writes terrible rap songs and annoys Martin to no end. So Martin decides to trade in Loopy Lou for a better model. Skipping normal procedure, Martin decides to make the imaginary office clerk who shows up to survey him, his new IF. Nevermind that the clerk doesn't have an actual license to operate as an IF. Things get a bit dodgy with the clerk though, because he may be an okay wingman but he isn't so great at protecting Martin from bullies. Worse yet, Loopy Lou is still hanging around Martin's imagination and he has plans to have the clerk, newly renamed Sean "Caution" Murphy, evicted.

A stunningly witty story, I was entirely entranced by this Irish tale of one boy and his imaginary friends. Chris O'Dowd who I was already familiar with from The IT Crowd, has written a laugh-out-loud funny story that puts a new spin on what imagination is about. What I wasn't aware of is that there are three seasons of a show (on Hulu+) by the same title that feels much like an Irish version of Malcolm in the Middle. This book takes a different path though, using some of the same stories from the show, but expanding on the who, what, where and whys to having an IF.

And I absolutely love the whats and the whys. I loved the imaginary catalog, especially when Martin digs up half the yard looking for it again and then runs into the house screaming about how he found it. His parents are understandably disturbed, but chalk the whole thing up to kids going stir crazy during summer vacation. Included in the book are helpful footnotes for terms that are usually, although not always, Irish. I have seen some people complain about this as it brings them out of the story, but it worked very well in the audio book.

I think there are two yellow flags for the more sensitive readers. The first was when Martin offered a squeeze of his sister's boobs in exchange for bully protection. Although this is entirely disrespectful, what it really was meant to do was point out how little Martin truly understands about girls. Don't worry, Martin's sisters stand their own in the exchange. There was also a bit of language in the book, which was surprising as the age range seemed like upper elementary school if that didn't exist. However, after speaking to a friend or two about this, it seems that a word like 'arse' isn't really much of a curse word in Ireland, not like we think of the word 'ass'.

Slightly irreverent, goofy, a bit clueless, and a lot imaginative, this one is for those who love books with idiot kids and their equally stupid imaginary friends.


Ellie by Mike Wu Book Review

Ellie by Mike Wu
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: May 12, 2015

The zoo is shutting down! But what can one baby elephant do to save her home? While the other animals get busy, working and cleaning and fixing, Ellie discovers some a brush and some paints. Soon the zoo is looking good as new and colorful, but will it be enough the keep the gates open for good?

Ellie is a cute elephant with the kind of talent that only an anthropomorphized elephant can have. Seeing the state of the zoo, it isn't any great surprise that it is being closed down, but this is story not just of creativity but of teamwork too. The true gem of this story is the illustrations though. Reminiscent of The Curious Garden, in the beginning the book starts off drab and dull with adorable animals being the splash of color. As the story progresses though, the vibrant colors begin to take up more and more of the page until it is nothing but color. Ellie is adorable in that Dumbo sort of way, as are most of the animals. Perfect for animal lovers, elephant enthusiasts, and illustration aficionados, this book is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

The Fly by Petr Horáček Book Review

The Fly by Petr Horáček
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: May 12, 2015

No one wants to share Fly's food with him. Or play with him. And why do they keep trying to swat him away? He's not doing anything but being a fly.

A clever little book concerning the life of an innocent fly, kids might think twice about pulling out the fly swatter. Then again, maybe not.

The most intriguing part of this book is in its construction, with cutout pages in the shapes of fly swatters. Perhaps it is because I am in book production....never mind, it is definitely because I am in book production, but I find the construction of books to sometimes be more interesting than the book itself. Not often mind you, but books that use special papers, or have interesting covers, or use page effects to be very interesting. There are some great mixed media illustrations, with one page being from the fly's perspective as he is perched on the ceiling.



Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff Book Review

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff
Illustrations by Iacopo Bruno
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: March 10, 2015

The day Benjamin Franklin arrives in Paris, he finds the city all abuzz. Everyone is talking about Dr. Mesmer, a man who claims to be able to control a magic force that can cure illnesses and control thoughts. The King is not thoroughly convinced though and hires Ben Franklin to ascertain the truth. Is Dr. Mesmer real or is he just a trickster?

An incredible historical biography that carefully lays out the scientific method of testing, this book read like a mystery and looked like a classically illustrated tome. There is so much going on in this book and yet it melds together so perfectly. We are introduced to a "character" that most children of the target age range will be familiar with: Ben Franklin. Although we are all familiar with the term mesmerized, a show of hands of those who knew where the name came from. I certainly did not, which always make this sort of book more exciting as I am always excited to learn something new. (and add to my stack of useless facts) Dr. Mesmer had quite a racket going on, but it was up to Franklin to figure out if people were really being healed magically or if there was something else going on. Franklin uses The Scientific Method: Hypothesis, Testing, Observation, and Conclusion, to determine the truth and concludes that what Dr. Mesmer discovered was the placebo effect. People got better because they were convinced they were better. A fascinating read with never a dull moment, this book was perfect in almost every way.




The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry Book Review

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: May 5, 2015

Wyatt Palmer is on a class trip to Washington, D.C., where things begin to go wrong almost immediately when he and his best friend Matt suspect two of their fellow air travelers are carrying a bomb. After Matt managed to swipe something that looks like a detonator, the kids become more and more convinced that the two guys from the plane are terrorists intent on blowing up the White House. As the kids get deeper and deeper into the mess, they slowly drag more and more people into the plot, one that promises at the very least, to be exciting.

I love Dave Barry. And I hated this book. Writing wise, it isn't bad and the characters were interesting and as annoying as Barry probably wanted them. The problem lies in the plot itself. In this post-9/11 era, the grown-ups in this story treat possible terrorist threats far too flippantly, as do the kids. This story falls into the rather typical children's book trope where the kids don't or won't talk to the grown ups in charge simply because "they will never believe us". Now, I know there are some adults who may ignore kids and their flights of fancy, but most wouldn't ignore two eleven-year olds, and definitely not after one is kidnapped. Seriously, one of the children is kidnapped and they don't tell the adults because the kidnappers told them not to. Because of this, I simply couldn't get into the story.

There was the additional juvenile fart jokes, which are popular with the target audience, but made the characters seem more like third graders rather than middle-schoolers. To be sure, there was plenty of improbable action, but nothing worse than a Fast and Furious movie so I believe there is an audience that will love this book, and that audience is definitely not me.

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton Book Review and Giveaway

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: June 30, 2015

Rafflecopter Giveaway for the #PonyTime Prize Pack is at the bottom of this post.

Princess Pinecone wants to be a warrior princess and she knows that won't happen if she keeps getting sweaters for her birthday. This year she wants something awesome. Something awesome like a big strong horse. That's why she is so disappointed when the horse of her dreams is actually a cross-eyed rolly polly pony who farts a lot. How can she ever be a warrior princess with such a terrible present.

I love this book. More importantly, I love this pony. Although there are some that may take issue with this little farting pinto, I found this quality endearing not to mention it is sure to be a hit with youngsters. Seriously, never underestimate a good fart joke. Adorable as a very round pony, there isn't anything I would change about this one, which makes me even more excited that I get to give away a copy. I also would really like a stuffed animal of Princess Pinecone and the pony, preferably with farting noises.

ARC provided by Scholastic Books in exchange for an honest book review and book giveaway.




About the Author
Kate Beaton is the author of Hark! A Vagrant, her #1 New York Times bestselling collection of comics which began as a webcomic in 2007. The Princess and the Pony is her first picture book. She is the recipient of multiple Harvey awards, and her work has been featured in the New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Best American Comics Anthology. Kate lives in Toronto, and you can find her online at www.beatontown.com and on Twitter as @beatonna.

One Family by George Shannon Book Review


One Family by George Shannon
Illustrations by Blanca Gomez
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Release Date: May 26, 2015

How many is one? One box of crayons. One batch of cookies. One world. One family.

In this phenomenal picture book, George Shannon and Blanca Gomez treat their readers to a beautiful medley of one, with examples of all kinds of families. There is a ton of diversity throughout, along with depictions of things like single-parent and multi-generational homes. There is also some ambiguity with some of the families that could or could not be same-sex, but this only means that a teacher could read this book to their classroom without fear of being fired. (Personal opinion: People should never be fired or forced to resign over the reading of a children's book to children. Ever.) I also love the simple concept of the number one and how it has many different meanings, which is far more complex than it seems to a four-year-old.

1