DEMIGODS AND MAGICIANS by Rick Riordan: A Review and Recommendation

May 23, 2016

DemigodsDemigods and Magicians:  Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes by Rick Riordan

As we wait for the next installments of Rick Riordan’s series (yes, more than one!), it’s fun to revisit characters we know and love in this collection of inter-related short stories as the Egyptian and Greek demigods team up to defeat an ancient enemy who is mixing Greek and Egyptian incantations for an evil purpose.  It’s a nice little series of cross-over adventures, told with Riordan’s signature story-telling genius.  Lots of action with giant crocodiles and three-headed monsters, not to mention incantations, magic, and gods and demigods.  To really enjoy the stories, it helps to have read both the Percy Jackson series and the Kane Chronicles.  I appreciate the inclusion of the illustrations of the characters–and the excerpts from the new Rick Riordan series The Trials of Apollo as well as Magnus Chase.  This short collection of Greek-Egyptian hero collaboration will help tide over Riordan fans while we wait for those forthcoming novels to come out.


THE GENIUS FILES by Dan Gutman: An Adventure Recommendation for Tweens

May 14, 2016

The-Genius-FilesThe Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman

Twins–a boy and a girl–out to explore Americana with their family on a road trip.  Sounds tame, but slightly familiar. . .But wait!  Twelve-year old twins Coke and Pepsi (yes, there’s a story behind their names) find themselves part of a secret government plot!  They discover they are on a list of Young American Geniuses (YAGs) who are slated to solve the complex problems of the nation.  We join them in their their adventure-filled trek across the US, which includes stops at the Donner Party Memorial, a museum of PEZ memorabilia, and the world’s largest ball of twine, all while being pursued by dangerous “dudes with bowler hats.” Frequent sidebars direct readers to Google Maps to track the twins’ journey, and occasional photos of the attractions add to the fun. A humorous–and quite suspenseful–read.  But wait!  There’s more:  this book is just the first installment, with the fifth just out. A treat for young James Bond fans, as the titles are often plays on Ian Flemings’ novels (such as You Only Die Twice and From Texas With Love).

Another highly recommended tween series.

SECRETS OF THE MANOR SERIES: Downton Abbey for Tweens

May 7, 2016

ClaireClaire’s Story, 1910:  Secrets of the Manor by Adele Whitby

A French manor, two young girls–one “upstairs” and one “downstairs”–and both at the heart of a mystery and on-going saga.  What’s not to love?  Though this 8th in the series is set a bit before our Downton obsession, it is a good lead-in and piggy-backs on Camille’s Story, 1910.

This series will be appealing to tweens who like a mystery, adventure, and a historical fiction setting in old manor houses.  I read the first in the series as well, set in the United States in 1914, Beth’s Story--also kind of cute, but to me, less appealing than the France setting.  But a great start of a generations saga of the Chatsworth family, that works both forwards and backwards as well unfolding the many secrets among grandmothers, daughters, and 11-year-old and early teen girls.

A quick and fun light reading adventure! And a great introduction to the pleasures of historical fiction, and multi-generational sagas.  And you might also check out our post:  Downton Abbey for Children’s Literature Fans.  Happy Reading!





Celebrating Music!

April 30, 2016

Our family loves all kinds of music, and we are exploring two instruments in particular these days:  the clarinet and the violin.  That’s thanks to two musicians in the family:  Molly loves her clarinet, and Jacob is quite the violin player!

Literature for children and adolescents abounds in fine picture books for young musicians and their families.  This month, we are delighted to highlight. . .

BennyBenny Goodman and Teddy Wilson:  Taking the Stage as the First Black -and-White Jazz Band in History by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated  by James E. Ransome

Get ready for a picture book infused with the spirit of jazz, in both the lyrical text and the compelling illustrations. Growing up in the Roaring Twenties, Benny and Teddy both loved and were inspired by music. While a young Benny Goodman was growing up on the West Side of Chicago, Teddy Wilson was in Alabama, listening to Fats Waller.  Their stories are told on alternating pages until their lives merge when they meet in New York City. Benny’s clarinet is blowing “all sweet / all dance / all white.” Teddy’s piano playing is “all hot / all rhythm / all black.” Though they played and recorded together, they were not allowed to play onstage together as a black-and-white band. When they added Gene Krupa on drums, they became the Benny Goodman Trio–but at first, left Teddy at home when they performed.  In Chicago, in 1936, they became the first integrated jazz band–and an immediate hit.  The endpapers tell more of a detailed history–one that will be fascinating to young musicians.

Recommended companions:  the audio/CD video version and Benny Goodman:  16 Most Requested Songs


Man-with-ViolinThe Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Duan Petricic

Young Dylan wants to listen to the beautiful music he hears being played by a street musician as his mother hurries him through the train station.  The music swells and fills the air and Dylan tugs at his mother’s hand as he is drawn to the sounds.  Not just his mother, but the other adults in the station are oblivious to the miracle of the music.  Later that evening, he hears strains of the same music coming from the radio and he exclaims, “That’s the man in the station! ”  Together, he and his mother listen to the story of Joshua Bell, one of the finest musicians in the world, playing his Stradivarius violin–yet few people listened for even a moment.  In Joshua Bell’s Postscript, he tells his story of that event–and relates that among those who tried to listen were several children, whose parents dragged them away, hurrying to their destinations.  The tale is well-told, and the illustrations are perfect.  I especially love the swirls of sound that surround young Dylan, both at home and at the station. Even the jagged lines that represent the discordant sounds of the subway are captured.  A stunning story of the importance of listening–and the power and magic of music.

Recommended companions: To download “Ava Maria” and “Estrellita,” two of the songs Joshua Bell performed in the subway, go to:

and for a great audio cd:   Joshua Bell’s Four Seasons by Vivaldi

April 30th is Save the Frogs Day

April 23, 2016

Fab-frogsAnd what better time to celebrate our amphibian friends with a delightful picture book–and compelling video?  Fabulous Frogs by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Tom Hopgoods is a hot-off-the-presses picture book, perfect for home and school for the pre-k through kindergarten set.  I love that it features the diversity of kinds of frogs rather than just a focus on the frog life cycle, as many children’s books on frogs do.  Jenkins begins the book by letting readers know that “there are more than 5,000 kinds of frogs” in the world. The book then attempts to illustrate to the reader a few of the more unique variety of frogs in the world: from the giant Goliath frog to the tiny frogs of Papua New Guinea. It gives examples of frogs that can jump really far to ones that appear to fly to frogs that live buried underground. The illustrations do a great job of illuminating the text and are essential to understand the knowledge in the book. The last two pages of the book include paintings of eight more frogs and a short index.


Looking for more for the whole family?  You can’t go wrong with the PBS special:  Nature: Fabulous Frogs from Sir David Attenborough.  From this link, you can watch the trailer,–and perhaps rent or buy the video.  It’s awesome!


April 16, 2016

Donald-DuckDonald Duck: The Old Castle’s Secret by Carl Banks

Yes, “something old and something new.”  The old comic strips (called “the funnies” in the 1950’s ) have been compiled into book-length collections.  The Carl Banks’ Donald Duck series (from 1948) is a lasting favorite–not just for the older generation, but the moms and dads and the tweens and teens of today.  The title story, “The Old Castle’s Secret,” is notable not just for being the first full-length 32-page adventure instigated by Scrooge McDuck (in his second-ever appearance), but for featuring some of Barks’s spookiest, lushest settings in old Clan McDuck castle of Dismal Downs. There are 18 more stories in this collection, ranging from one-pagers to over 30.  The title story is such a pleasure, a terrific ghost mystery set in an old Scottish castle, with puns and funny dialogue, and all the character traits that make Donald, Scrooge McDuck, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie so enduring.

Jacob-comics The art looks stunningly beautiful and detailed, thanks to the extraordinary quality of Barks’ original drawings; apparently the publishers used the original negatives for this reprinting.

MollycomicsSome 9-year-olds we know give it 5 stars!

Beverly Cleary’s Birthday is April 12th: Happy 100th!

April 9, 2016

beverly-clearyAll the members of our family have always been  big Beverly Cleary fans.  It helps that we live near her old stomping grounds right here in Portland, OR.  We  have even been known to take local literary vacations in her honor. On turning 100, Beverly Cleary noted:  “I didn’t do it on purpose.” For more details from her  recent interview, check out this link.

She’s pretty awesome, as you’ll discover if you dig into more of her history as a reader and writer.

In honor of Beverly Cleary’s centennial birthday, may we recommend:

RamonaRamona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Some heroines are princesses (Sleeping Beauty), some are very rich (Eloise), some are fabulously beautiful (Snow White), some are incredibly strong (Pippi) or brave (the Paperbag Princess). Ramona is a normal little girl – funny, smart, energetic, and beleaguered by all the problems every 8 year old faces. Kids love Ramona because they identify with her travails and the way she deals with them. Parents love Ramona for the same reasons. This is actually the second book in the series, which begins with Ramona and Her Father. For those who love the characters, there are several additional titles in the series.


If you’re interested in renewing your acquaintance with her books, scholastic has a terrific link .

Happy reading–and celebrating!



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 292 other followers