June 5 – Middle Grade Monday

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Review by Jakki Licare

400 Minutes of Danger

By Jack Heath

 

The second book in this thrilling series takes readers around the world and to the edge of their seat with ten life-or-death situations, ten brave kids, and ten linked stories that prove anyone can be a hero even if they only have 40 minutes to escape!

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Glacier

Nika is climbing a wall of ice in Northern Pakistan when she notices her shoes and gloves are wet. As she examines closer, she realizes the glacier has thawed on the inside and the water is trickling out. She’s climbing an ice shell which at any moment will crack! Not only is her life in danger, but the entire village where she has been staying will be swept away too. When the only car in town drives by, Nika quickly devises a plan. But at what cost?

Terminal Velocity

On a field trip to a national park, Charith notices a camouflaged gunman sneaking around. After alerting his class, they rush onto the bus, but as they exit the park a bomb is detonated in front of them. The bus driver is blinded and Charith takes over driving the treacherous winding roads with no brakes. As if that isn’t bad enough the camouflaged gunman chases them down the mountain and starts shooting at them. Charith uses the emergency flare gun to shoot the gunman who loses control and careens off the mountain.

Mosquito

When Sally enrolled in a science program for extra credit, she had no idea she’d be helping Dr. Volchek  capture the Vampirius Colossi, a.k.a. giant mosquito. After hiking through a jungle and dodging driver ants, they’ve just found some larvae when a “baby” Vampirius Colossi attacks  Dr.Volchek. Swinging a broken branch at it, Sally discovers that the pollen on the branch repels the mosquito. Sally is dragging Dr. Volchek to safety when a mosquito the size of a car chases her. Sally makes a daring escape and with the help from a surprising source, she and Dr. Volchek make their way out of the jungle.

Enclosure

As Brad and his best friend creep through the zoo on a mission to prank a volunteer with water balloons, they notice that a thief has broken into an enclosure. But before they can decide what to do, Brad is spotted by a guard and races off. To hide from the guard he dangles from a viewing platform, but accidentally slips into a lion’s enclosure. The lion pounces at him, but his teeth sink into a surprise instead and he backs off. Brad uses the diversion to climb the fence, but a lioness is closing in when a surprising person comes to his aid.

Iron-Willed

In this story set in the future, Iresha is tasked with diving for iron samples from shipwrecks, but when she reaches the seabed, she discovers that the shipwreck isn’t where it should be. With a limited air supply and a strange hum all around, Iresha finds the wreck and collects her samples. While crossing a deep ravine an earthquake hits, the ship snaps in half, and Iresha must escape. Suddenly the chasm erupts in lava. Iresha swims upward with lava close behind and rocks pummel her from all sides. At last, she breaches the surface onto a newly made island of basalt, an iron rich rock.

The Island

List oversees a secret organization and Kelsey accepts a mission to spy on him. Pretending to be the daughter of one of List’s employees, she convinces List to take her into his secret dome. infiltrates his secret dome. The dome turns out to be an enclosed habitat with two of every animal. List even has a dinosaur, which Kelsey knows he stole from a cruise ship which was transporting genetically modified embryos. Kelsey steals List’s phone and realizes that he’s started a countdown to explode an underwater volcano that will destroy earth’s atmosphere. With List on her heels, Kelsey races into the dinosaur’s enclosure to hide and calls SPII headquarters to warn them. The dinosaur attacks her, but Kelsey knocks it out using karate. SPII is powerless to help, leaving it up to Kelsey to find List’s radio detonator. Through clever negotiations with List, Kelsey discovers where the detonator is and aborts the explosive.

Kids are also pitted against a sinking ship, a compactor, a robot, and a snake in more heart-racing stories.

Review

These fast-paced short stories are the perfect read for reluctant readers. The high stakes and life-and-death situations make this book an easy page turner. These short stories are not overwhelming and will leave the reader satisfied.

Each story takes place within a forty-minute time frame and running along the margins of each story is a timer, marking how much time is left. The countdown really amps up the stakes and makes you want to read on as the protagonists must fight for their lives while the time dwindles. In “Sinking,” Nancy has just located her trapped dog in her cabin when the ship rolls to its side, flooding her escape; only fifteen minutes and fifteen seconds left. Nancy squeezes her dog through the opening of her porthole; ten minutes left. Another bomb explodes on the ship and Nancy’s room begins to flood faster; nine minutes and five seconds left. Her porthole is jammed shut from the last explosion, preventing her escape; seven minutes and forty seconds left. She takes one final gasp of air and holds her breath; six minutes and fifty seconds left. Intense, right? The “margin timer” adds an extra layer of tension, pulling us in and making us cheer on the heroes/heroines as their time ticks down. 

My favorite part of 400 Minutes of Danger is that each hero/heroine is an everyday teen. These heroes and heroines must rely on their quick thinking, luck, and ingenuity to get out of extremely dangerous situations. I like how Jack Heath does not have protagonists rely on cool technology to get them out of trouble, just their wits. In “Nightmare,” Harry uses his knowledge that snakes become lethargic in colder temperatures. So when a deadly snake starts advancing on him and his parents, he switches the air conditioner on with his remote, and the snake becomes distracted and eventually goes to sleep. I also like how there are an equal number of male and female protagonists throughout the book. 

While each story can be read on its own and feel satisfyingly complete, Heath takes 400 Minutes of Danger a step further and connects all of these isolated stories in the final short story. As the reader goes along through the book, they can start to pick out clues and pieces of information that link the stories together. In “The Island,” Heath then weaves all the stories together so that each of Heath’s dropped clues come together like a beautiful puzzle, taking his ending to a whole new level.

Parental Considerations: Some of the stories contain violence and have a villain with murderous intentions.

400 Minutes of Danger is a fast-paced, suspenseful book that’s perfect for adrenaline lovers. If your kids enjoy the I Survived Series then 400 Minutes of Danger will make a great addition to your shelf. For more thrills and chills, check out the first book in the series, 300 Minutes of Danger.

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of 400 Minutes of Danger for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Ages 10 and up

Sterling Children’s Books 2016 | ISBN 978-1454938392

You can learn more about Jack Heath and his other books for children and adults on his website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-400-minutes-of-danger-cover

You can find 400 Minutes of Danger at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 7 – Celebrating Our First Middle Grade Monday

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About the Holiday

I’m thrilled to welcome back Jakki Licare, who took time away from the blog to help her boys with virtual schooling. Jakki and I are also excited to tell you that on the first Monday of every month, Celebrate Picture Books will become Celebrate Middle Grade Books, with Jakki’s reviews of fantastic books for older kids. What does she have up first? A book that has it all – dragons, suspense, magic, and a new team of smart, brave, kind, and funny friends for readers to take adventures with. 

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Dragon Mountain for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Review by Jakki Licare

Dragon Mountain 

By Katie and Kevin Tsang 

 

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Billy Chang is dreading summer because his parents have shipped him off from his home in San Francisco to attend a summer camp in China so he can brush up on his Mandarin and “‘learn more about his Chinese heritage.'” But when he is paired with Dylan O’Donnell, Charlotte Bell, and Liu Ling-Fei for a scavenger hunt things start to look up. Determined to win, the kids take a shortcut – which they instantly regret when a tiger chases them. Unable to get away, the kids link hands and face off against the tiger together in front of a mountain. Incredibly, the tiger backs away and vanishes into thin air.

When they return back to camp, Ling-Fei realizes that she’s lost the necklace her grandmother gave her. The next morning the kids go back to search for Ling-Fei’s missing necklace. As they search the area, Billy realizes that they’ve lost something else – Ling-Fei! One by one the kids go missing, until Billy is all alone. Billy is convinced that something is pulling them into the mountain and he marches in to find his friends.

Deep within the mountain, he finds his friends trapped by a group of dragons. The dragons are glad that the children came because they’ve been waiting for the prophesized four to open it. The dragons explain that the mountain contains a special portal that connects the human and dragon realms together. These dragons are the portal guardians. An evil dragon, known as the Dragon of Death, tried to come through the portal thousands of years ago to maximize its powers by bonding with a human. The guardians fought to keep the Dragon of Death out, but they were unable to defeat the Dragon of Death so they sent her through a time portal. As they sent her back, she cast a spell that sealed the guardians in the mountain until they met their human matches. 

One of the dragons has the ability to see into the future, and she has seen the Dragon of Death coming back and enslaving the human realm. The kids want to protect their world and agree to bond with the dragons. The kids bond with their dragons by naming them. Once they’re bonded, the dragons are stronger in ability as well as size. Three of the dragons have magical pearls that will give the kids super powers: Charlotte receives super strength, Ling-Fei can sense nature, and Dylan has the power of persuasion. Billy’s dragon doesn’t have a pearl, but they know the fourth pearl is close. Billy realizes he has seen it at the summer camp. 

The kids head back to camp and break into the owner’s office that night. Billy finds the pearl on top of a bookshelf. When he grabs it, he loses his balance and does a perfect backwards flip. Billy now has agility superpowers. Now that they have the pearls and are bonded, the children are ready for the dragon realm. But the dragons find the entrance is still barred to them by the curse. The kids have to go through on their own to open the entrance for the dragons. The tiger that chased them earlier is waiting for them and is the keeper of the curse. The tiger attacks them with electric bolts and Billy distracts it. Using her powers, Ling-Fei learns that they must destroy the tiger’s heart. Charlotte uses her super strength and rips the tiger’s heart out.  

Now they can enter the Dragon Realm with their dragons, but they find that the entire dragon Realm is poisoned. The dragons then have to fight off the the Dragon of Death’s helpers, Noxwings, and soon the dragons are captured. With the help of Billy’s dragon, though, the kids are able to get away. The kids travel through the dragon realm on their own and have many adventures in which they must use their powers and wit to help them survive this dangerous land.

They finally reach the Nowxing’s camp and find hundreds of cages filled with captured dragons. The Noxwings are opening a portal to bring back the Dragon of Death by draining the dragons of their energy. The kids learn that if they destroy the floating flames that surround the portal, the cages will open and the portal will close. The kids work together and destroy the flames, but Billy is attacked. He’s about to be killed when his dragon swoops in and saves him.

They’re winning the battle and the portal is almost closed when the summer camp’s owner appears out of the forest. He grabs Dylan and heads toward the portal. He created the whole summer camp just to find the children he needed to open the dragon realm. The owner is determined to bring back the Dragon of Death. He jumps through, pulling Dylan with him. The kids are determined to get their friend back and all the freed dragons swear to help them. The kids and their dragons will travel through time to save Dylan and defeat the Dragon of Death.

Review

 

This fast-paced book will be sure to keep your middle grader’s attention. The writing is very immersive and you’re soon off on one adventure after another. Perfect for 8-12 year olds who love dragons and are looking for fun characters that you can’t help rooting for. Katie and Kevin Tsang’s dragons were inspired by both Chinese and European folklore and they even blended two of the dragons to create hybrids of both cultures. They also drew inspiration from the Chinese symbols of the Eight Great Treasures to create the eight pearls in Dragon Mountain which give the kids their superpowers. 

My favorite part of this book was how the characters work through their problems together. All of the characters are incredibly different and often their personalities clash, but they’re able to talk through their troubles together. After the children are separated from their dragons in the Dragon Realm, Charlotte is angry with Billy for running away. The group falls apart as they can’t agree on what to do. But after talking it through they’re able to come up with the beginnings of a plan that they can all agree with. This is one example of how the Tsangs do an amazing job of focusing on the intricacies of team work and thread it through the plot of the story. 

Billy Chang, the main character, is a surfing champ who is also good at keeping his head in stressful situations. Dylan O’Donnell is friendly, funny, and very cautious. Charlotte Bell is competitive, motivated, and smart. And Liu Ling-Fei is sweet, quiet, and generous. When the dragons are introduced, we learn that each child is destined to bond with a dragon. My kids and I loved guessing who was going to be matched with who. Some of the bonds were surprising.

My seven year old especially loved the dragons in this book. They start off as menacing and scary but, just like Billy and his friends, we soon learn to trust them. Each dragon’s personality is as unique as those of the kids, and they each carry their own powers that we learn about along the way.  I’m looking forward to the second book so we can spend more time with the dragons!

There are two distinct story worlds. The first part of the story takes place in a Chinese mountain. We get a very brief introduction to the summer camp before we are swept into the mountain. The other half of the book is spent in the dragon realm which is full of floating islands and has three moons and a mysterious red dome. The dragon realm’s barren world accurately reflects the danger the kids are in and increases the reader’s anxiety. As the kids try to maneuver through this foreign terrain, they come across many new and unexpected dangers. My son’s favorite part is when the kids have to bargain with a rock troll.

Dragon Mountain is a fast-paced, immersive adventure book that’s perfect for dragon lovers of all ages especially fans of How to Train Your Dragon and will make a great addition to class libraries as well personal libraries.

Parental Considerations: This book does contain fantasy fighting.

Ages 8 – 12

Grade Level 3 – 7 | AR Level: 4.8

Sterling Children’s Books 2020 | ISBN 978-1454935964

You can learn more about Katie & Kevin Tsang, their Dragon Realm series, and their Sam Wu Is Not Afraid series on their website.

Adventure into the Dragon Realm with this book trailer!

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You can find Dragon Mountain at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 30 – Arbor Day

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About the Holiday

Today is Arbor Day, a national celebration of trees that began as a campaign by J. Morton Sterling and his wife after they moved from Michigan to Nebraska in 1854. Morton advocated for the planting of trees not only for their beauty but as windbreaks for crops on the state’s flat farmland, to keep soil from washing away, as building materials, and for shade. In 1872, Morton proposed a tree-planting day to take place on April 10. On that day nearly one million trees were planted in Nebraska. The idea was made official in 1874, and soon, other states joined in. In 1882 schools began taking part. Today, most states celebrate Arbor Day either today or on a day more suited for their growing season. To learn about events in your area, find activities to download, and more, visit the Arbor Day Foundation website.

Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses

Written by Shira Boss | Illustrated by Jamey Christoph

 

Bob lived in New York, a city crowded with buildings, people, and vehicles. Walking along on the sidewalk, “Bob didn’t like all that rushing around, the eyes of so many people, all those feet on the ground.” He climbed whatever he could find—onto lampposts, up to his apartment building’s roof, even the wall of the castle in Central Park. At school, Bob felt hemmed in by the desks, small classrooms, and packed hallways.

Every day as soon as school let out, Bob ran to Central Park, where it was cool, calm, and uncrowded. People moved slowly there or relaxed on the green grass. The “trees waved their branches in the air, inviting him to come up.” And so he did. Bob scampered up the path made by the bark and climbed higher and higher using the ladder the trees’ limbs provided. He explored cherry trees, pine trees, beech trees, and oak trees. “Each tree was its own world, every limb an adventure.”

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Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2018, text copyright Shira Boss, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Through the leaves that hid him, Bob could look out over the city. It was quieter and everything looked so small. Bob decided to build himself a treehouse. With scavenged wood and rope, he built a small platform and after school he climbed up to where he could read, think, and listen to the sounds of nature. He even brought peanuts for the squirrels. But one day when he came to the park, his treehouse was gone.

So Bob built another one. This one was bigger, better hidden in the leaves, and had shelter. When rain and wind came, “Bob’s treehouse rocked and swayed—he was a sailor on a ship at sea.” But when the leaves fell in the fall, Bob’s treehouse was discovered and taken down again. In the spring, Bob constructed another treehouse. This one had a long platform and a sturdy house with walls and a roof. Bob devised a rope-and-pulley “elevator” to bring up supplies like “milk crates for tables and chairs” books, snacks, and even his friends.

When the sun went down, Bob stayed and looked at the stars and planets with a telescope he’d set up on the platform. “He became an astronaut, navigating the cosmos.” Seasons came and went and Bob grew older. Each time a treehouse was taken down, he built a bigger and better one.

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Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2018, text copyright Shira Boss, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Bob’s mom worried that he was spending too much time up in the trees. She wanted him to get a job like everyone else. But he didn’t want to spend his time commuting on a crowded train and moving along crowded sidewalks to work in a crowded office. He didn’t want to deal with the noise and smog-filled air. “Instead, he built the biggest treehouse of all. Five levels and a bridge! Bob was very proud.” He even slept there.

One morning he awoke to voices calling up to him. The park rangers were ordering him to come down. Sadly, he descended. But the man in charge wasn’t angry. He offered Bob a job taking care of the trees. Bob enthusiastically said, “‘I would love to work here!’” Even though he couldn’t build any more treehouses, he still spent his days in the canopy of the trees, climbing up, up, up with special ropes and saddle to trim branches and make sure the trees were healthy. Sometimes at night, though, Bob still found his way to a high, leafy perch to gaze at the stars.

An Epilogue, including a picture of Bob Redman sitting on a branch of one of his beloved trees, tells more about Bob Redman, his treehouses, and what he’s doing now.

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Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2018, text copyright Shira Boss, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Shira Boss’s captivating true story of a boy who felt more at home in nature than in the city and grew up to care for the trees he loves is a unique story for all kids who love the adventure of their own treehouse or fort and spending time outdoors. With short staccato sentences Boss recreates the cramped in feeling Bob Redman experienced indoors and while moving through the crowded New York streets. As Bob climbs the trees, Boss’s longer, lyrical sentences echo the freedom of the peace, quiet, and slower pace of life Bob craved. His perseverance in building and rebuilding his treehouses, finally to be recognized for his special gifts will encourage kids who also forge their own path.

Jamey Christoph’s charming soft-hued illustrations take kids quickly from the tall skyscrapers and crowded sidewalks of New York City to the lovely green expanse of Central Park to watch Bob swing from the branches as he climbs higher and higher into the parks varied trees. Readers will envy his agility and view of the city. Readers can almost feel the cooler air and the warm sunshine filtered through the leaves as they turn from page to page. Christoph’s recreations of Bob’s platforms and increasingly complex treehouses will impress kids and adults alike. The final images of Bob working a job he was born to do while still enjoying the trees and the city in his own way will inspire children to stay true to what they love.

A lovely and inspiring book with a unique story that will appeal to all readers and especially those who prefer a life of quiet, thoughtful observation and creativity, Up in the Leaves is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454920717

Discover more about Shira Boss and her book, plus a discussion guide with activities on her website

To learn more about Jamey Christoph, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Arbor Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Climb-a-Tree-Word-Search-Puzzle II

Climb a Tree! Word Search

 

There are so many kinds of trees that make our world beautiful. Can you find the names of twenty threes in this printable puzzle?

Climb a Tree! Word Search Puzzle | Climb a Tree! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-up-in-the-leaves-cover

You can find Up In the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

April 21 – It’s Global Astronomy Month

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About the Holiday

Instituted by Astronomers Without Borders, a group who sees in our shared sky an opportunity to create “a global community that appreciates, studies, and shares the wonders of the universe, to broaden perspectives, transcend borders, and improve lives,” The group’s goals are twofold: to inspire and empower a worldwide community of astronomy enthusiasts and educators through astronomy-related programs and to cultivate a diverse, international community dedicated to sharing the Earth’s resources equitably. To try to accomplish these goals, Global Astronomy Month brings people together with arts activities, parties, and special events. To find resources, such as April sky maps in English and Spanish, and more information on how you can participate, visit the Astronomers Without Borders website.

The Little Spacecraft That Could: New Horizons’ Amazing Journey to Pluto and Arrokoth

Written by Joyce Lapin | Illustrated by Simona Ceccarelli

 

As the little spacecraft blasted away from the launch pad on January 19, 2006, she thought that her name—New Horizons—“was a brave-sounding name. And you had to be brave to fly to the edge of the solar system.” New Horizons was on her way to Pluto—the first spacecraft to do so. Zooming through space, her engines dropped away in stages. Free of these engines the little spacecraft, “no bigger than a small piano… streaked through space at more than 10 miles per second.”

While she soared, New Horizons wondered what she would find when she finally reached Pluto. She knew that everyone was counting on her to provide answers about this mysterious planet. People had a lot of questions, and New Horizons had a lot of time to ponder them. In fact, it would take her “nearly 10 years to reach Pluto.” Things were going well for New Horizons. She was on track and jogging along at 36,000 miles an hour… but then on August 24, 2006, astronomers decided Pluto wasn’t big enough to be considered a planet and demoted it to dwarf planet status.

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Planetary scientists didn’t and don’t agree with this change, and New Horizons? She just wanted to complete her mission, and she had to concentrate on what came next—meeting up with Jupiter at just the right time to take advantage of this giant planet’s gravitational pull to speed up her trajectory toward Pluto. Carefully, New Horizons got into position. She sped faster and faster and was flung into space, heading toward her destination at “nearly a million miles per day.”

Now and for the next eight years, New Horizons would fly on autopilot while she took a well-deserved nap that would conserve fuel as well as her computers and instruments. Periodic wake-ups by the scientists on Earth made sure everything was going well. Finally, on December 6, 2014 it was time for New Horizons to wake up and go to work. She wouldn’t be landing on Pluto but doing a “flyby” 7,800 miles away from the surface of Pluto. At this distance the photographs she took would be clear and her other instruments for listening, smelling, feeling, and measuring other aspects of Pluto and its atmosphere would work too.

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

New Horizons couldn’t wait to get started and began snapping pictures “from half a million miles out.” What people saw when she sent back her photos “sent the internet on fire.” It appeared that Pluto was holding a white heart—a valentine for Earth. “Everybody loved the dwarf planet with a heart!” This heart is actually a glacier made of nitrogen, which on Pluto’s cold surface forms ice instead of gas like on Earth

On July 14, 2015, New Horizons at last reached her optimal distance, and what wonders she uncovered! Towering ice mountains, valleys deeper than the Grand Canyon, “‘ice blades’ the height of New York City skyscrapers,” and “‘ice volcanoes’…that spew out icy slush instead of lava.” This was only the beginning of what scientists discovered. Measurements also showed that Pluto was larger than was thought—bumping it up “from second-largest dwarf planet to the largest.”

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

New Horizons also took pictures and measurements of Pluto’s moons and, after snapping one last picture: Pluto “‘crowned’ with the hazy blue glow of its atmosphere” while lit from behind by the Sun, New Horizons was off for Arrokoth, an object in the Kuiper Belt that hadn’t even been discovered when she blasted off from Earth all those years ago. A billion miles later, New Horizons reached Arrokoth on January 1, 2019. New Horizons continues to send information about this fascinating body, and because she’s still so “robust…her team wants [her] to visit an even more distant Kuiper Belt world in the 2020s. No one doubts she can do it.

In addition to the story about New Horizons’ journey, each page contains illustrated insets with detailed facts and information about the New Horizons spacecraft, Pluto, our solar system, how the planets were named, and more.

Back matter includes a timeline of New Horizons’ journey, an extensive glossary, a list of books for further reading and research, and a list of internet resources where readers can see videos and learn more about New Horizons and her mission.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-pluto-heart

Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Joyce Lapin’s thrilling true tale of New Horizons’ mission to Pluto and beyond lends pep and personality to this little spacecraft that the world watched blast off with the heart and anticipation of a parent sending their child off on their first day of school. Her engaging storytelling helps kids understand and appreciate the magnitude of New Horizons’ flight and all it has accomplished. Lapin’s clear descriptions of the various stages of the mission, scientists’ expectations, and the tricky maneuvering necessary to put New Horizons at the right place at the right time are delivered smoothly and concisely.

Scientific vocabulary and definitions are woven seamlessly throughout, enhancing the reader’s understanding without their losing any of the suspense. Kids will identify with the childlike nature of New Horizons’ confidence in herself and commiserate with her dismay when Pluto is demoted. Readers will cheer on this little spacecraft as her mission is expanded and will be excited to learn more about what New Horizons has already discovered and what she will find in the future.

Simona Ceccarelli’s illustrations are nothing short of phenomenal. Photographic in detail, Ceccarelli’s vibrant images take kids from the launchpad with the fiery rocket boosters produce clouds of smoke as the spacecraft climbs into the sky, into outer space, where they see how the engines disengaged to set New Horizons free to navigate past Mars, pick up speed from Jupiter (shown in its colorful, striped glory) and rocket past Saturn (the rocky debris of its icy rings clearly visible) to become just a dot in the black sky.

Ceccarelli also takes readers into the control room where graphs, screens, coordinates, and more line the walls and computers stand side-by-side on the desks and carefully observed by the mission’s directors. Images of the heart on Pluto include internet snapshots that will remind some readers of how the world reacted to the first images sent back by New Horizons.

The final images of Pluto, showing a landscape of ice blades, deep canyons, mountains, and swirling patterns of color and then backlit by the Sun, are breathtaking. The spacecraft itself is lightly anthropomorphized with expressive eyes and mouth and cable-thin arms. Drawn from all sides, the images of New Horizons give kids a good a look at this amazing spacecraft.

A sensational achievement in presenting the scientific and human accomplishments involved in the New Horizons mission as well as an exhilarating overview of our solar system, The Little Spacecraft That Could would be a stimulating addition to science units for elementary and high school students to spark a love for astronomy, engineering, research, and other related subjects. The book will be a favorite and is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 7 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1454937555

Discover more about Joyce Lapin and her books, visit her website.

To learn more about Simona Ceccarelli, her books, and her art, visit her website

Global Astronomy Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-tic-tac-toe-game

Out-of-This-World Tic-Tac-Toe Game

 

You can launch your own Tic-Tac-Toe Game with this set you make yourself! With just a couple of egg cartons, some crayons, and a printable game board, you’ll be off to the moon for some fun! Opposing players can be designated by rockets and capsules. Each player will need 5 playing pieces. 

SUPPLIES

  • Printable Moon Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board
  • 2 cardboard egg cartons
  • Heavy stock paper or regular printer paper
  • Crayons
  • Black or gray fine-tip marker

DIRECTIONS

To Make the Rockets

  1. Cut the tall center cones from the egg carton
  2. Trim the bottoms of each form so they stand steadily, leaving the arched corners intact
  3. Pencil in a circular window on one side near the top of the cone
  4. Color the rocket body any colors you like, going around the window and stopping where the arched corners begin
  5. With the marker color the arched corners of the form to make legs
  6. On the cardboard between the legs, color flames for blast off

To Make the Capsule

  1. Cut the egg cups from an egg carton
  2. Color the sides silver, leaving the curved section uncolored. (If your egg cup has no pre-pressed curve on the sides of the cup, draw one on each side.)
  3. Color the curved section yellow to make windows
  4. With the marker, dot “rivets” across the capsule

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-cover

You can find The Little Spacecraft That Could at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 7 – It’s National Humor Month

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About the Holiday

There may be no more infectious sound than the giggle or guffaw of a good laugh. Laughter is therapeutic and can make tough times a little easier. Established in 1976 by comedian and author Larry Wilde, National Humor Month promotes all things funny and raises awareness of the benefits of laughter and joy. The health benefits of an optimistic outlook are well documented, and lightheartedness also improves communication skills and boosts morale. Kids, it seems, are born with the ability to see and appreciate the silliness, absurdity, and fun in life. This month, enjoy the zany side of things by reading funny books, and check out the Funny Literacy Program that offers lots of resources and activities to fill your days with humor! Click here to learn more. Get started with today’s book and enjoy a good guffaw not only during April but every day! 

Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot

Written by Kate Dalgleish | Illustrated by Isobel Lundie

 

You’ve probably heard that elephants never forget. But little “Edmund did forget…a lot.” Still, his mother had entrusted him to pick up supplies for his little brother’s birthday party. She even gave him a song to help improve his memory (“‘Elephants always remember, / Elephants don’t get it wrong. Elephants always remember, As long as they sing this song.'”) and as a back-up, she gave him a list with six items on it.

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Image copyright Isobel Lundie, 2021, text copyright Kate Dalgleish, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But when he stopped for a moment on his way to the stores, Edmund realized he’s forgotten the list! Meanwhile, Colin the cricket discovered the mix up and hurried after Edmund. Fortunately, Colin had a (typical) elephant’s memory and knew every item on the list. As Edmund came to the first store and pondered what was first on the list, Colin called out “‘It’s a bunch of blue balloons.’”

Despite his big ears, Edmund couldn’t hear the tiny cricket, “but suddenly he saw… ‘Aha! A gang of masked raccoons!’” He picked them up and put them in his wagon. At the next stop, Colin tried to remind Edmund about the “‘…twenty pointy party hats.’” Edmund knew it was something like “bats… or rats,” so when he saw “‘seven sassy dancing cats’” he knew he had it right. He loaded them up and continued on.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-edmund-the-elephant-who-forgot-cats

Image copyright Isobel Lundie, 2021, text copyright Kate Dalgleish, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But what was number three? Edmund sang his mother’s song to try and remember while Colin shouted it as loudly as he could. Just then Edmund crashed into exactly the thing he needed. Into the wagon they went. Only three items left. But what was the next one? Colin bellowed the answer, but into the wagon went “‘a swinging baboon known as Betty!’” Edmund hurried to the last two stores and stocked up. Edmund was so proud of himself. “He’d not forgotten a thing!”

When Edmund got home, his mom took one look at his piled-up wagon and shook her head. Colin told her he had “‘tried to help.’” But “‘Edmund,’” his mother asked, “‘did you remember to give out all the invitations?’” What invitations? Edmund exclaimed, “‘You forgot to give them to me!’” But Edmund’s little brother didn’t mind. He thought his party was going to be the best ever!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-edmund-the-elephant-who-forgot-toucans

Image copyright Isobel Lundie, 2021, text copyright Kate Dalgleish, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Kate Dalgleish’s clever-to-the-max story will have kids laughing out loud as Edmund picks up more and more outrageously silly items for his little brother’s birthday. As Colin the cricket reminds Edmund (and readers) of the actual party supply he’s supposed to buy at each shop, kids will be eager to see how this forgetful elephant interprets what little he does remember. Dalgleish’s pitch-perfect rhythm-and-rhyme pairs will have kids in stitches, and some young wordsmiths may want to try making up their own alternate party decoration. Edmund’s mother’s song is a delight, and kids will love singing along on the repeated choruses. Shrewd touches reveal that everyone has foibles, but in the end we can still enjoy the “best party ever.”

There’s so much wonderful absurdity going on in each of Isobel Lundie’s cartoon-style illustrations that after the first reading, kids and adults will want to start over again to catch all the humorous action, allusions, facial expressions, and, especially, creatures in this busy town. For kids who love search-and-find puzzles, this book is a gift, with untold numbers of things to look for, count, sort, and chuckle over. At the end, one of the raccoons even invites kids to find him twenty-seven times throughout the book. Lundie’s bright colors, delicate line drawings, and lots and lots of witty detail, spotlight the funny text and make this whole package shine.

For story times that are just plain fun, wild, and wacky (and – okay – you can probably throw some math in there too) that will leave kids giggling long after the story’s finished, Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot is definitely one to remember when you’re adding to your home, classroom, or public library collection.

Ages 3 – 7 (and up)

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1913337391

You can connect with Kate Dalgleish on Twitter.

To learn more about Isobel Lundie and see a portfolio of her art, visit Plum Pudding Illustration Agency.

National Humor Month Activity

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Made You Laugh! Word Search Puzzle

 

Humor and laughing are such a part of our lives that there are lots of words for this universal emotion. Can you find all the words for laughter in this printable puzzle?

Made You Laugh! Word Search PuzzleMade You Laugh! Word Search Solution

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You can find Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

February 8 – Opera Day

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About the Holiday

Opera has been a favorite art form since its beginnings in Italy in the 1500s. Combining magnificent voices, soaring arias, grand costumes, and dramatic storylines, operas continue to thrill audiences and gain new fans. To celebrate Opera Day today or at a time in the future, enjoy a performance in your area or find one on YouTube and gather your family and friends for an opera party.

I received a copy of Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse

Written by Laura Sassi | Illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings

 

Fernando had many loves in his life—including chocolate, cheese, gumdrops, and popcorn—but what he loved most was “feasting on Mozart, Puccini, and Strauss, / and lending a paw at the Old Opera House.” Delores loved nothing more than being in the spotlight, and now she was getting the chance to leave her place in the chorus to “take center stage and be Diva Delores.” She warmed up in her dressing room with “Me-me-me-me!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-dress

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Fernando wanted to give Delores the benefit of all of his years of experience, but she wasn’t having it. A mouse was not a suitable helper for someone as great as she, she thought. At the rehearsal the next day, Delores was a flop, hitting wrong notes, missing her entrance, and the last song? Well…. From the back Fernando called out that he could help. He wrote cues on little cards “and—presto!—Delores knew just what to do.” You’d think Delores would be thankful, but instead she complained that a mouse’s help was just not proper for a diva, and she shooed Fernando away.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-fernando

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

The day before her big performance, Delores found that her dress didn’t fit. Again, Fernando rushed to her rescue, but what thanks did he get? Delores grumbled and fussed. “Then grabbing a bottle / of stinky perfume, / she spritzed poor Fernando / right out of the room!” Fernando went home, wanting to quit. But as he looked at his pictures of Mozart, Puccini, and Strauss, he knew that without him the show would fail and that he couldn’t quit now.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-manners

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

First, he went to Delores and laid down the rules: “For starters, I’d like to hear / thank you and please / when I help fix your dress / or bring crackers and cheese.” Delores was startled and quickly said good night. At home she wondered: had she been rude? The next day, Delores was nervous. She tried calming herself with candy and tea. She even looked for Fernando, but he was nowhere to be found.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-wig

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Standing on stage in the glare of the spotlights, “as the orchestra played, / Delores felt faint. / First she swooned… / then she swayed.” When she opened her mouth, no notes, no sound, no song came out. Then inside her wig she saw Fernando, who squeaked “‘You can do it.’” And then Delores did sing “with a voice rich and sweet.” When she forgot some words to her song, Fernando reminded her by tra-la-la-ing along.

The audience loved them. They cheered for Delores; they cheered for Fernando. Later, Delores admitted she could not have done it alone. Then she apologized to Fernando and asked for a fresh start on their friendship. “Of course!” he agreed, and now they bring down the house night after night as “the Opera House team!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-cheering

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Laura Sassi’s clever and original story about teamwork and sharing the spotlight hits all the right notes in showing how accepting help can elevate anyone’s performance and lead to a new friendship. After playing second fiddle in the chorus, Delores finally gets her chance to shine, but her vanity exceeds her experience. When a tiny mouse offers help from his deep well of knowledge, Delores takes one look at Fernando’s diminutive size and rejects him and his advice. Through her perfect rhymes and musical rhythm, Sassi engages readers in how to graciously learn from another’s experience and encourages the Fernandos out there to keep trying, even when their initial offerings of assistance are rebuffed.

Rebecca Gerlings lends charm and humorous touches to Sassi’s tale, and the promise of the enticing cotton-candy fluff of a wig, introduced in the first pages and teased throughout the story, is comically and satisfyingly fulfilled in the end as Fernando directs Delores to a winning performance from within. Along the way, readers are treated to an octopus piano player, multiple meltdowns as Delores dispatches Fernando from her orbit, and demonstrations of persistence as the little mouse stands up for himself, good manners, and the honor of his beloved opera. 

A smart, fresh, and fun read aloud, Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse has multiple applications for discussing friendship, modesty, respect, and collaboration. The book would make a delightful addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454922001

Discover more about Laura Sassi and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rebecca Gerlings, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Opera Day Activity

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Sparkly Opera Glasses by Laura Sassi

 

Make a pair of these fancy glasses, then pretend you are at the opera while reading Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse.

Supplies for each pair of opera glasses

  • Two recycled toilet tissue tubes one large craft stick
  • Markers tacky glue
  • Two paper clips assorted fancy embellishments (We used feathers, sparkly gems and snippets of shimmery ribbon, but use whatever you have around the house. Be creative!)

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Directions

  1. Decorate the tissue tubes using markers.
  2. Glue the tubes side by side, as shown. Be sure to insert the craft stick in between so your opera glasses have a handle. Slip a paper clip at each end over the sealed part for extra  pressure while drying.
  3. Use tacky glue to affix whatever fancy embellishments you choose. The more the better!
  4. When dry, elegantly hold your opera glasses up to your eyes and pretend you are watching Diva Delores and Fernando at the opera!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-cover

You can find Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 16 – Appreciate a Dragon Day

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About the Holiday

Appreciate a Dragon Day was established in 2004 by author Danita K. Paul to celebrate the publication of her novel DragonSpell, the first book in her Dragon Keepers Chronicles series. The holiday now encourages all readers to get involved with reading through fun activities—dragon-themed, of course! Teachers, librarians, and all those who love reading can find lots of suggestions for creative ideas that encompass art, crafts, displays, drama, and many other mediums on Danita K. Paul’s website. So, round up your favorite dragon books and breathe some fire into your reading today!

The Book Dragon

Written by Kell Andrews | Illustrated by Éva Chatelain

 

In Lesser Scrump, reading was a chore. To teach the alphabet, the schoolmaster, Mr. Percival, drew on tree trunks with bits of charcoal, scratched on slate with a rock, or drew in the dirt of the schoolyard. One day, Rosehilda said that “‘reading would be more fun if the letters and words were written as stories.’” She even suggested writing them with ink on papers that could be put together. The students were shocked and “Mr. Percival sent Rosehilda home with a stern note scratched onto a leaf.”

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When Rosehilda got home she asked her grandfather what all the fuss was about. He told her about the Book Dragon, who instead of hoarding gold, collected books. Rosehilda had never heard of a book, and her grandfather explained that it was “letters and words written on papers that are attached together.” He pointed out the window to Scrump Mountain and told Rosehilda that the Book Dragon lived deep inside and stole any book brought into the village.  

The next day at school, Rosehilda declared that the school needed books and that she was not afraid of the Book Dragon. Mr. Percival explained that after the dragon snatched a book, she terrorized the villagers the next night, and he sent her home again with another note etched into a candle stub. On the way home, Rosehilda met a peddler who had a book in her pile of wares. She gave it to Rosehilda in exchange for the candle stub.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

That night Rosehilda read a story about a brave knight who defeated a dragon and won its hoard of gold. “For the first time, reading wasn’t tiresome. It was amazing!” In the morning, the book was gone. Rosehilda’s grandfather told her that they and all the villagers would have to lock their windows that night. Rosehilda felt guilty. “She vowed to challenge the dragon and win her book back.”

She went to the top of Scrump Mountain and peered into the dragon’s cave. The Book Dragon was lying atop an immense pile of books. She looked surprised to see Rosehilda standing there. Rosehilda summoned her courage and demanded that the dragon return her book. The Book Dragon apologized and explained that because she was too big to live in the village, books were the only friends she had.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Rosehilda scolded the dragon for stealing so many books. The dragon said she only meant to borrow them, but when she tried to return them, the windows were locked and people screamed when she knocked. The dragon agreed to give Rosehilda her book back, but Rosehilda had a hard time finding it among so many books.

While searching for it, Rosehilda and the Book Dragon began stacking the books “by subject and author.” At the end of the day, they had plenty of piles and more books to sort, and Rosehilda hadn’t found her book. The Book Dragon suggested she borrow a different one. She read late into the night, and the next day she went back to the dragon’s cave to help sort books. She left with another book. This went on all week.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-book-dragon-pile

Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Finally, all the books were sorted and Rosehilda found her book. She was excited that she wouldn’t have to come back, but the Book Dragon looked sad and suggested that she “borrow another book…and come back tomorrow.” That gave Rosehilda an idea. The next day at school, Mr. Percival and the other students were horrified to see the dragon outside their window, but Rosehilda explained that she was just returning their books. Now the Book Dragon oversees the “Official Village Library of Lesser Scrump,” and everyone reads as much as they want!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-book-dragon-book-found

Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Kell Andrew’s clever story will delight book lovers of all scales with its mix of fantasy, mystery, courage, and friendship. Fearless Rosehilda is a plucky role model for all kids, and the Book Dragon’s desire for company will melt readers’ hearts faster than a breath of fire. Andrew’s storytelling reflects the best of fairy tale lore for a modern audience, with touches of humor, mistaken motives, and a creative resolution.

Éva Chatelain bridges the medieval and the familiar in her bright illustrations that draw on the rich yellows, reds, and greens of leather-bound books, piles of gold, fiery emotions, and woodland villages. Chatelain introduces brave Rosehilda as she challenges her teacher and buys a book,  but she also reveals the trepidation Rosehilda overcomes to confront the Book Dragon, showing readers that even the most courageous people can feel fear too. As Rosehilda reads her treasured book, kids’ suspense will quicken to see the silhouette of the dragon outside her window. The stacks of books that Rosehilda and the Book Dragon build are cunning references to library stacks, and the final images of a happy town and a happy (dragon) librarian will charm readers.

An enchanting story for book buffs, dragon devotees, and fairy tale fans, The Book Dragon would be a favorite addition to story times and home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454926856

Discover more about Kell Andrews and her books on her website.

To learn more about Éva Chatelain, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Appreciate a Dragon Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-darling-dragon-match-puzzle

Darling Dragon Matching Puzzle

 

In this group of darling dragons, each dragon has a twin. Can you help them find each other in this printable puzzle?

Darling Dragon Matching Puzzle

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You can find The Book Dragon at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review