Monday, May 20, 2019

Review: The Lost Book of Adventure by the Unknown Adventurer

The Lost Book of Adventure: from the notebooks of the Unknown Adventurer
by the Unknown Adventurer; edited by Teddy Keen

Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition
Pages: 192
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Suggested tags: middle grade, nonfiction, nature, adventure

From Goodreads:
"A facsimile edition of the tattered notebooks of the Unknown Adventurer, this love letter to the wild details everything you need to know about how to live and thrive in nature, from the principles of treehouse building to wilderness first aid.

If you are reading this, it means my notebooks have been found. I am leaving them here at camp for safekeeping along with a few other belongings that I won’t be taking with me. The notebooks are a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, which I’m passing on the you.

So reads an excerpt from the weatherworn letter discovered by nature enthusiast Teddy Keen on a recent trip to the Amazon, along with sketchbooks filled with details of extraordinary adventures and escapades, expedition advice, and survival methods, annotated with captivating colored-pencil drawings. It is thought that the sketchbooks were created for two young relatives of the author. Drawing on Teddy’s knowledge of the outdoors, the pages of the sketchbooks have been carefully transcribed for young readers, as they were originally intended.

You’ll be transported by riveting adventure tales from around the globe, like being dragged off by a hyena in Botswana, surviving a Saharan dust storm, being woken by an intrepid emperor penguin in Antarctica, and coming face-to-face with a venomous bushmaster (one of the most dangerous snakes on the planet)—all told in lyrical prose and illustrations that wonder at the mysterious beauty of the wild.

Having inspired the adventurous spirit in you, the Unknown Adventurer encourages you to set out on your own adventure with information on wild camping, rafting, exploration, and shelters and dens, plus tips on first aid and tying knots. Expert instructions on wilderness basics, like building a fire, what to do if you get lost, and how to build various types of shelters are accompanied by more specific skills culled from many years of experience, like baking campfire bread, creating a toothbrush from a twig, making a suture from soldier ants, and even how to pan for gold.

Find your way back to your primal self with the immersive text and glorious color artwork of this one-of-a-kind adventure book.

REMEMBER: be good, be adventurous…and look after your parents."

Where... where do I begin with this... I am speechless. I closed the book and felt like I was still lost inside it. And that is an instant *favorite* for me.

If I had been given this book when I was younger, this would have been one of my most treasured books. I would have read it over and over and over. I would have studied the skills it teaches, practiced them with whatever I could find in my backyard, and imagined myself going on adventures all over the world.

This is such an amazing, gorgeous book. It's exactly like opening up an adventurer's notebook: seeing all their beautiful watercolor sketches and handwritten details of their adventures, with little notes and reminders written just for you. It's filled with facts about nature and wildlife, about camping in all kinds of environments, about necessary skills and safety when out on an adventure. It's filled with illustrations to study, words to devour, information to absorb. It's absolutely incredible.

It looks like the age range for this book is middle grade through young adult; I think middle grade readers would probably enjoy this the most, and I think this book would appeal to so many different interests and purposes. Art lovers have a watercolor masterpiece to enjoy on every page. Fans of adventure stories have a journal full of snippets of adventures from all over the world. If you're looking for a book to spark imagination, to use as a story starter or a writing prompt (for any age writer, adults included), this one provides so many opportunities to take the information and images on the page and envision what happened in each location, to tell your own story about the Unknown Adventurer or use the settings and situations for your own characters' adventures.

I don't have the words to heap enough praise on this beautiful, wonderful, amazing book. I'll be buying myself a copy so I - and one day, my toddler, when he's old enough to not rip the pages out of this treasure - can devour every word over and over again, and then imagine new adventures of our own.

Final verdict: I'm obsessed with it! I thought this book was amazing! It's now officially one of my favorite books! I shall be shouting about it from the rooftops for days and I am currently recommending it to everyone I come in contact with!

{ Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy.
My reviews are honest and my opinions are my own; 
your reading experience may vary, so give it a read and see what you think. :) }

Monday, April 8, 2019

Let's Read About Nature: A Year of Nature Poems review

Each week on my blog, I post about a different theme: picture book biographies, nature, cultures around the world, and strong girls. This week, let's read about... nature!

A Year of Nature Poems
by Joseph Coelho; illustrated by Kelly Louise Judd

Available as: hardcover
Pages: 32
Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions
Publication date: January 8, 2019
Suggested tags: picture book, middle grade, poetry, nature

From Goodreads:
"See how animals behave through the seasons, and the cycle of trees and plants, from the first blossoms of spring through to the stark winter wonderland in December. 12 inspiring poems from Joseph Coelho, paired with folk art from Kelly Louise Judd give this book year-round appeal."

This is a gorgeously illustrated collection of twelve nature poems, one for each month of the year. A short introduction to each poem gives some brief background information on the subject of the poems. The poems are a mix of themes: some are odes to seasons, plants, or animals, while some are more personal poems about experiences from the author's childhood, such as digging a pond and picking fruit. I thought the strongest aspect of this collection was the illustrations, actually - they're like a peek into an artist's nature journal, and they frame the poems beautifully.

While this was a nice collection of various nature poems, a few things kept me from really loving this...
#1: Poetry is a really subjective thing, I have found, and what some people love, others do not. I'll admit I didn't love the poetry, but I'm quickly adding that that is my own personal opinion and I'm sure that will not be the case for many other readers! 

#2: I'm a little confused on the intended audience. It was listed under "children's nonfiction" on NetGalley, and it technically is a picture book, but Barnes & Noble has it listed for middle grade readers ages 8-12, which I think is more accurate. I found the poems too complicated and wordy to be intended as a read-aloud picture book to younger readers; I think they'd enjoy looking at the pictures, but the poems would probably go right over most of their heads. However, for middle grade readers who have probably started reading and evaluating poetry in school, I think the poems would be just right, especially for those who are particularly interested in poetry or nature - perhaps even better if read with a parent or other caring adult who could help them with certain words or concepts they might not be familiar with.

#3: I wish the words about how nature has been negatively affected by humans had been accompanied by some words about how we can help. There are a few poems that mention issues such as habitat destruction, climate change, and humans' effect on population numbers. For example, the introduction to one poem states, "The number of amphibians are in decline, they have suffered from an increase in disease and a lack of habitat as we build and bulldoze." The poem talks about how the author used to collect tadpoles and watch them grown, but now it's "too dangerous" to do that because there aren't many frogs left and their habitats are disappearing. ... Ok, and?? Here's a perfect chance to introduce young readers to conservation, and the idea that they can make a difference! What about asking their parents/caregivers to help them add a frog-friendly space to their yard? It could be as complex as building a pond to as easy as making hiding places like a small garden or a toad abode. What about helping to conserve water where frogs and other animals make their homes by turning off the faucet in between brushing your teeth or washing the dishes, or collecting rainwater to use for watering your plants instead of using the hose? What about checking out books from the library to learn more about how to help protect frogs and their habitats, or finding websites like this one from the National Wildlife Federation blog? There are so many ideas! It would have been so easy to add a few lines or bullet points with brief ideas for actions at the end of a poem, or add some back matter with more resources.

Those 3 things being said, I still did like it, I just didn't love it like I expected to love a collection of nature poems with that gorgeous cover to go with it. For the right audience (in my opinion, a reader in the "middle grade" range rather than younger picture book readers, who is interested in poetry and the environment), I think this would be a hit.  

Final verdict: I liked it! I thought this book was good! I enjoyed reading it and I would probably recommend it to others.

{ Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher* for providing me with a review copy.
My reviews are honest and my opinions are my own; 
your reading experience may vary, so give it a read and see what you think. :) }

* p.s. Have you heard of Wide-Eyed Editions from Quarto Publishing Group? They publish nonfiction for young readers with the most GORGEOUS covers. This was my first book of theirs that I've had the pleasure to read, but it will not be my last! Here is a list of their books and those covers make me want to read them ALLLL!!!!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Pea-Sized Reviews: Enchantee -&- The Wren Hunt

by Gita Trelease

Available as: hardcover, paperback, Kindle edition, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 459
Publisher: Flatiron/Macmillan
Publication date: February 5, 2019
Suggested tags: young adult, historical fantasy, 18th century, France

First in the Enchantée series. From Goodreads:
"Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians...

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she's playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…

YA historical fantasy? About Revolutionary France? With magic? OH YES. Dang, I loved this. It hit all the right notes for me - *just* enough drama, *just* enough magic, *just* enough romance. Reading about Camille living her double life, swinging between poor peasant girl and magical card-playing baroness, while also flirting with her hot-air-balooning beau, was amazing. I never learned French in school unfortunately (quel dommage!), but I've picked up just enough along the way that all the simple French phrases that were thrown in to Enchantée kind of added to the immersive feeling for me - and this book did a pretty fantastic job of drawing me in and making me feel like I was really there in this magical version of Revolutionary France. The only drawback I found was that I could kind of see how it was going to end up as the final chapters were playing out, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it and being a bit stressed out frankly over the high stakes of it all... Ah, it was so good. They're saying this is a series which, *shrug* I don't know, I felt like the first one wrapped it up pretty well? But if there's another, I will certainement be reading it!

Final verdict: I loved it! I thought this book was great! I might buy it for myself and I would definitely recommend it to others.

The Wren Hunt
by Mary Watson

Available as: hardcover, paperback, Kindle edition, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 432
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication date: November 6, 2018
Suggested tags: young adult, fantasy, romance

From Goodreads:
"Every Christmas, Wren is chased through the woods near her isolated village by her family's enemies—the Judges—and there’s nothing that she can do to stop it. Once her people, the Augurs, controlled a powerful magic. But now that power lies with the Judges, who are set on destroying her kind for good.

In a desperate bid to save her family, Wren takes a dangerous undercover assignment—as an intern to an influential Judge named Cassa Harkness. Cassa has spent her life researching a transformative spell, which could bring the war between the factions to its absolute end. Caught in a web of deceit, Wren must decide whether or not to gamble on the spell and seal the Augurs’ fate.

I feel like this synopsis doesn't really explain all that the book is about... but then I feel like *I* can't really explain it either. It's really unusual, but in a really good way. The magic is so interesting - it feels natural, and ancient, and logical, and... I don't know, but I loved it. Definitely my favorite aspect of the book. I also liked Wren's "dangerous undercover assignment" plotline - I felt like that was exciting and nerve-wracking and pretty well done. I gotta be honest though, I didn't really understand the meaning or purpose of Wren being chased through the town on Christmas? I missed something there. Probably something deep and symbolic that went over my head. The romance was *ok* for me, but I didn't really come for the romance, since it's not really mentioned in the synopsis at all. Overall, I thought the set-up for the story was great - a really creative and unique magic system, and a tense infiltration into the Judges' lair - but for me, it felt like it fell just a little short of what I had expected.

Final verdict: I liked it! I thought this book was good! I enjoyed reading it and I would probably recommend it to others.

{ Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with review copies.
My reviews are honest and my opinions are my own; 
your reading experience may vary, so give it a read and see what you think. :) }

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Pea-Sized Reviews: Spencer and Vincent, the Jellyfish Brothers -&- How Do I Love Thee?

Long time no see, fellow readers! I've had some exciting things going on and have unfortunately let my blog gather some dust... but I'm dedicating myself to posting regularly again! Starting with some new picture books I had the joy of reading recently...

Spencer and Vincent, the Jellyfish Brothers
by Tony Johnston; illustrated by Emily Dove

Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 40
Publisher: Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Publication date: February 5, 2019
Suggested tags: picture book, sea creatures, siblings

From Goodreads:
"When two jellyfish brothers are separated at sea it takes all of the ocean’s creatures to help them reunite in this heartwarming tale of brotherly love.

Spencer and Vincent are jellyfish brothers who live together in the sea, their wet and shining home. They invented a little song which went like this:

My brother, my brother,
he’s sweet, not smelly.
I love him from down in my jelly belly.

One day a wave of superior magnitude separates them! The brothers know they have to do whatever it takes to find each other again. And they’ll need some help along the way…

Sometimes friends can really make a the difference.
Spencer and Vincent is a story of adventures and the bond of family."

Really adorable tale of two jellyfish brothers who feel their love for each other down in their little jelly bellies and use the strength of their sibling connection (and the help of some ocean friends) to reunite after they are separated by "a wave of superior magnitude." Lots of great vocab in here that is repeated, and the illustrations are just too cute. I want to go swimming with these little floating blobs of love. And I can't say that any other book has ever made me want to go swimming with a jellyfish...

Final verdict: I loved it! I thought this book was great! I might buy it for myself and I would definitely recommend it to others.

How Do I Love Thee?
by Jennifer Adams; illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

Available as: hardcover
Pages: 32
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication date: December 18, 2018
Suggested tags: picture book, poetry, retellings, love

From Goodreads:
"A gorgeous reinvention of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous "Sonnet 43" from the bestselling author of the BabyLit board books and the acclaimed illustrator of Over and Under the Snow.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Whether in soft sunlight or rain-drizzled night or winter's frost-etched breath, three children share the love and joy of friendship while exploring the wonders of nature.

Bestselling author Jennifer Adams has reimagined Elizabeth Barrett Browning's beloved "Sonnet 43," best known by its opening lines, creating a lyrical, evocative ode to the love of family and friends. Christopher Silas Neal brings the poetry to life with his beautiful, imaginative, and whimsical illustrations.

A sweet and beautifully illustrated modern retelling of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's classic poem. The simple, lyrical words show the beauty in everyday moments, and the whimsical illustrations depict kids playing in nature through the seasons and finally being welcomed home lovingly by their parents. The original poem is included at the back of the book too, to introduce to young readers who are ready for their next literary adventure. I think this is a lovely way to share a classic work of poetry with young readers, making it understandable and relatable for even the youngest listeners through the beauty of both the words and pictures.

Final verdict: I loved it! I thought this book was great! I might buy it for myself and I would definitely recommend it to others.

{ My reviews are honest and my opinions are my own; 
your reading experience may vary, so give it a read and see what you think. :) }

Friday, January 25, 2019

MCBD 2019 Book Reviews: Albie Newton, How to Code a Sandcastle, & Ahni and Her Dancing Secret

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 (1/25/19) is in its 6th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Their mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents, and educators. You can visit the MCBD website or see my blog post for more information about the event as well as a list of sponsors and co-hosts.
I am so excited and honored to be participating in MCBD 2019 as a reviewer for the first time! I'm looking forward to spending today celebrating diversity and helping to raise young readers' awareness of and appreciation for cultures that are different from their own by reviewing some great picture books!

{ The authors very kindly provided copies of their books for me to review for MCBD 2019, which is very much appreciated but did not influence the following honest reviews. }
Albie Newton
by Josh Funk; illustrated by Ester Garay

Available as: hardcover
Pages: 32
Publisher: Sterling
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Suggested tags: picture book, school, makers

From Goodreads:
"Meet Albie Newton: child genius. He’s a whiz at inventing things. But is he inventive enough to figure out how to make friends?

When precocious inventor Albie Newton enters a new preschool, he concocts the perfect plan for making friends. Unfortunately, it involves stealing the hamster’s wheel, snatching the wings off of Dave’s toy airplane, and generally making a giant mess. Now everyone’s angry at Albie! Will his new invention delight the other kids enough to make everything right—and finally win their friendship? "

I don't think there has ever been a sweeter and more adorable little genius! I loved Albie! As a baby, he took his stroller apart and rebuilt it. As a toddler, he cried because he couldn't get to infinity when he was counting. Now, he learns a new language almost every week and is starting at a new school.

How should he make friends?... By making something, of course! Too bad all his hard work interferes with everyone else's activities ... even Hamilton the hamster's! Just when all the other kids are getting ready to confront him about his actions, they realize that maybe Albie had good intentions all along...

I loved this book all the way through, but the surprise ending brought a big smile to my face - it's too perfect! The rhyming story just begs to be read aloud - the rhymes are clever and roll right off your tongue in a perfect rhythm. The illustrations are bright and cheerful, and the kids are all so stinking adorable. Their classroom is a happy and diverse one, and I liked that they were able to resolve their frustrations with Albie by themselves, without a teacher having to interfere. I can see this one being a hit at storytime, bedtime, or anytime!

Final verdict: I loved it! I thought this book was great! I might buy it for myself and I would definitely recommend it to others.
How to Code a Sandcastle
by Josh Funk; illustrated by Sara Palacios

Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition
Pages: 44
Publisher: Viking / Penguin
Publication date: May 15, 2018
Suggested tags: picture book, beach, coding

From Goodreads:
"From the computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code comes this lively and funny story introducing kids to computer coding concepts.

Pearl and her trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal, need to build a sandcastle before summer vacation is over, and they’re going to do it using code. Pearl breaks the big we-need-a-sandcastle problem into smaller steps, then uses conditionals, loops, and other basic coding concepts to tell Pascal exactly what to do. But building a sandcastle isn’t as easy as it sounds when surfboards, mischievous dogs, and coding mishaps get in the way! Just when it looks like the sandcastle might never work, Pearl uses her coding skills to save the day and create something even better: a gorgeous sandcastle kingdom!

Pearl wants to build a sandcastle, but things keep interfering. So she decides to use her robot, Pascal, to help her find a way around her problems using code to tell Pascal what to do. She teaches us some basic coding skills, and as she learns what works and what doesn't, we as readers do too. The story is educational, but it never gets boring or feels like a lecture - the way the coding is woven into the story is logical and entertaining. Pearl and Pascal's Guide to Coding at the back of the book helps to further explain the coding elements in the story in a way that is simple and easy to understand, even for those with limited coding experience (like me!).

I thought Pearl's attitude about the whole sandcastle situation was relatable yet inspiring: sometimes she starts to get upset when things aren't going right, but she quickly cheers up and faces the problems head-on to come up with a solution. The beach itself is a fun and diverse setting, showing lots of different kinds of people and families and their activities. And there are so many funny moments - such as when Pascal's coding doesn't work out quite right and he brings back strange items to decorate the sandcastle, or when Ada Puglace the pug comes along and - oh no - pees on the sandcastle!

Final verdict: I loved it! I thought this book was great! I might buy it for myself and I would definitely recommend it to others. and Her Dancing Secret
by Shereen Rahming; illustrated by Jeff Vernon

Available as: paperback
Pages: 32
Publisher: Read & Glow Books
Publication date: 2016
Suggested tags: picture book, dance, self-confidence

From Goodreads:
"Ahni dreams of being a prima ballerina so she joins Madam Sabina's dance school. But her spirit is soon broken when she discovers that the other students are far more advanced than she is and not as friendly as she expected. This charming story depicts the journey of little Ahni from an unsure hopeful to a confident dancer, by discovering the secret to success with the help of wise Madam Sabina."

Ahni has a passion for dance, but she doesn't quite have the talent yet. Her fellow dancers, a diverse group of students, make fun of her dance moves at first. She runs away crying, but she finds Madam Sabina, who teaches her that with hard work and determination, she'll soon be the dancer she wants to be.

The illustrations here are very bright and colorful, matching Ahni's spirit and enthusiasm. The illustrator's style seems to be larger heads that aren't quite proportionate with the characters' bodies, which distracted me a bit, but the movements of the dancers are captured nicely. This is a rhyming story, but the lines sometimes seemed to change rhythm a bit, so at some points it didn't flow as easily for me when I read it out loud. Ultimately, my favorite thing about this book was the message. Ahni discovers that the secret to success, her "dancing secret," lies within herself. Madam Sabina teaches her how to envision her goal, believe in herself, and work hard to achieve her dreams. There is a spread where Ahni envisions herself as a soccer player, a teacher, and even the president! I can see those pages sticking in the minds of young girls, helping them to believe in their own goals.

Final verdict: I liked it! I thought this book was good! I enjoyed reading it and I would probably recommend it to others.

So that's my celebration of MCBD 2019! You can join in with the hashtag #ReadYourWorld! And there's a Twitter Party at 9pm TONIGHT!! Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Multicultural Children's Book Day is almost here!

MCBD 2019 is TOMORROW and I'm so excited!! :D  For some background information about it, you can go to their website here or see my blog post here.

I'll be posting my reviews tomorrow for the books I received for MBCD (yay!!), but here are some other exciting things going on:

  • The ebook Read Your World: A Guide to Multicultural Children's Books for Parents and Educators is FREE this week on Amazon for Kindle! It's a "best of" list highlighting diverse book lists for children, contributed by 20 bloggers and 2 authors. You can find more info here. And you can find more lists of diverse books and resources for teachers and parents on the MCBD website: Diversity Book Lists & Activities for Teachers and Parents
  • Lots of rafflecopter giveaways for diverse books are open on the MCBD blog! Like, A LOT. Go check them out!
  • Speaking of giveaways, don't forget about the MCBD Twitter party tomorrow night! See you there! #ReadYourWorld

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2019

I'm so excited to be joining the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2019, hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy! It's a great way to celebrate nonfiction in picture books and check out what others are reading and reviewing. You can find more info about it and the linkup to join in here!

My goal for this year is to read 12 nonfiction picture books! I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to start highlighting some new topics and genres on my blog that I'm really into, and that includes picture book biographies and nonfiction picture books in general. I'd like to feature a different topic each week, which means each topic gets read once a month since I have 4 topics (picture book bios, nature, cultures, and strong girls). I'll probably end up reading more than 12, since some of my nature and culture books will probably be nonfiction picture books also. But 12 is the official goal!

I can't wait to get started! Look for my first nonfiction picture book review coming the first week of February! #nfpb2019