Binny Bewitched

This was my introduction to Binny and her family, and I was bewitched from the start. This is the third Binny book by Hilary McKay, and I hope Ms. McKay has many more tales to tell about this enchanting character!BinnyTwelve-year-old Binny (Belinda) Cornwallis lives with her mother, her seventeen-year-old sister Clem (Clemency), and her six-year-old brother James. They live in a small house, where they had to move after Binny’s father died four years ago. Money is tight, but fortunately they have some help fixing up the house from a handyman named Pete.

Binny is walking home from school one day, wishing she had money to buy her mother a birthday present. As she passes the bank, she spies a pile of money left in the ATM. It appears her wish has been granted! Magic or miracle, Binny is glad to accept the gift.

She soon decides that the witch who lives next door, Miss Piper, knows about the money. Guilt begins to gnaw at her, and Binny realizes that she has to return it to the bank. But when she looks for the money, she discovers she’s lost it.

Binny asks Gareth, her best enemy and most loyal friend, to help find the missing money. They create a list of suspects and then begin an investigation so that they can cross names off the list. Against her better judgment, Binny allows herself to be convinced to include friends and family as suspects.

Through her investigation, Binny begins to mistrust even people closest to her. She finds out how easy it can be to hurt those she cares about, and learns how wrong she can be about people. She has to work to repair her relationships, and even starts to like Miss Piper. She concludes that money can’t solve all of her family’s problems.

Although I haven’t read the other two Binny books, I suspect that this is not the only time that Binny’s wild imagination and impetuous nature has gotten her into hilarious situations. Binny is the kind of kid who makes you smile—or laugh out loud—as you root for her. And yet, you know that if you were her parent, you would simply shake your head and sigh, “Oh Binny!” before pulling her into your arms.

Hilary McKay is the author of a number of children’s books, including the Binny books, the Casson Family series, the Lulu chapter book series and the Meet Charlie—He’s Trouble chapter book series. Ms. McKay explains on her website (www.hilarymckay.co.uk) that she left a job as a biochemist so that she could devote more time to her writing (and her children). Thank-you Ms. McKay!

Ms. McKay describes the first stage of writing a book as “a bit like cooking.” I love her analogy, and am adding the whole recipe to my “Ingredients for Cooking a Book” page!

I received an advance reader copy of Binny Bewitched in exchange for my unbiased review of the book. But I’m on the lookout for other Hilary McKay books now—starting with the first two Binny books! I’m so glad to have been introduced to this fantastic author!

Have you read any great books lately?

Magic in the City

A mother and her two kids are walking past a magician when he offers them some of his magic items for free. With a stopwatch, they’ll be able to stop time. With a camera, they’ll be able to put themselves into a picture. And with his carpet, they’ll be able to fly.

Why doesn’t stuff like this ever happen to me?

Unfortunately, the mother I describe is not this hopeful blogger. She is the mother of two of the three main characters in Magic in the City, by Heather Dyer. Rachel Grubb and her sons, Jake and Simon, are traveling from their home in Canada to live with her sister in England when they meet the magician.Magic in the CityThe night they arrive at their Aunt Helen’s house, Jake and Simon discover that the magician was telling the truth about the magic carpet. They fly off over London, seeing the sights they had read about in their tourist guidebook.

Their cousin Hannah joins them the next day as they test the stopwatch. Younger brother Simon wants to see the Queen, but Hannah soon suspects that Jake has something else in mind. Their day is filled with adventure, fun, and surprises!

Magic in the City is an enjoyable and quick read. The action moves swiftly and draws young readers in, as they wait to see what will happen next to Jake, Hannah, and Simon.

If I had one wish with this book, it would be that Jake, Hannah, and Simon had spent just a little more time in each of their adventures. The picture Ms. Dyer drew of each place was so vivid, and the predicament that the kids were in was so entertaining, that I would have loved to experience each place for just a bit longer. But, I suppose this is like many a book that I’ve read and loved—Ms. Dyer successfully left me wanting more!

Heather Dyer is the author of five children’s novels and a picture book. She explains on her website that, like Magic in the City, “all of [her] books feature ordinary children to whom something magical happens.” These include a story about a girl whose bedroom can fly her to magical adventures, a story about twins who meet a girl with feathery wings, and a story about a boy who finds a mermaid with stringy hair and a chipped front tooth!

Ms. Dyer’s website is www.heatherdyer.co.uk. She also joins 30 other authors in providing content for the Awfully Big Blog Adventure.

Although I received an electronic advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review, Alex read the first chapter and loved it so much that he wanted to do a book report on it for school. We pre-ordered the book so that it would arrive the day it was released and then Alex could work from a paper copy over the next two months as he prepared his report. If you follow this blog (or even check it out once in a while), you know that we read a lot of books in our house, so Alex’s reaction was high praise, indeed!

Have you read any great books lately?

Thoughts on Traveling to Japan?

We have a trip to Japan scheduled later this year. Folks who know us wonder what we are going to eat – rice, I say!

Japan
Japan National Tourism Organization: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/

Anyway, I’ve found a few amazing ideas for kids to do in Japan: traveling on the bullet train is a MUST (click here for an article about the Shinkansen), and I think we need to take a trip up to see the Jigokudani Monkey Park (check out this article!).

Anyone have other thoughts of what we absolutely HAVE to do while we are in Japan? I would hate to come home and learn about other great opportunities.

Please send your suggestions in the comments or by email! Keep in mind I will have two small kids with me.

Zinnia and the Bees

I’m amazed to be sharing the second knitting hero* in one week! Zinnia and the Bees opens with Zinnia and her older brother yarn bombing the middle school mascot, Ronny the rattlesnake.ZinniaFor those unfamiliar with yarn bombing, it is street art for knitters—covering bike racks, parking meters, and other items in the public eye with knitting or crocheting. Check out some beautiful examples here.

Zinnia is a twelve year-old girl with what can only be described as a knitting compulsion. Her passion for knitting becomes compulsive (or more compulsive) when her brother Adam disappears, leaving her with their emotionally absent mother. Their mother, Dr. Flossdrop, communicates with Zinnia almost exclusively by leaving post-it notes on their door.

When Dr. Flossdrop refuses to talk to Zinnia about Adam leaving, Zinnia decides that she’ll have to search for him herself. She decides to begin the search at Adam’s favorite hangout—an ice cream parlor. And that’s where she runs into THE BEES.

I have to admit that bees are one of my irrational fears. Put me in a room with a bee, a wasp, anything with a stinger and a buzz, and the flying menace is the only thing I can concentrate on. It’s become a bit of a joke among those who know me well (or, frankly, those who know me at all but have been in the room with me during these unpleasant encounters).

So I was both fascinated and horrified by the description of the cloud of bees following Zinnia from the ice cream parlor. In that chapter, author Danielle Davis essentially described my nightmare come true. But when the bees catch up with Zinnia, unlike in my nightmares, the bees don’t sting her. Instead, 4,000 bees take up residence in Zinnia’s hair (I’m not sure that’s much better than being stung).

The buzzing and tingling feelings are ever-present reminders of the bees throughout the book. Zinnia hides her hair under a sweater hood so that no one will see the bees.

Zinnia needs to figure out how to get rid of the bees in her hair and how to find her brother. She feels completely lost and doesn’t know where to start. But then she meets Birch, who is visiting his uncle for the summer. Birch offers to help find a solution for the bees. Through her time with Birch, Zinnia learns about friendship and about herself.

This is a fantastic debut novel by Ms. Davis. She explores emotional themes of parental loss, family relationship struggles, former friendships, and personal growth with an excellent touch for the middle-grade reader. Zinnia and the Bees is a tough book to put down (another set of late nights . . .).

Zinnia and the Bees will be released on August 1, 2017. I received an advanced reader copy of the book so that I could provide an unbiased review.

Ms. Davis is online at www.danielledavisreadsandwrites.com. You can download a discussion guide (which includes Ms. Davis’s answers to questions, so it’s also like having a mini author interview) and facts about honeybees.

Have you read any great books lately?

 

*Wilf the Mighty Worrier loves to knit too!

Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle

The unique star of the Wilf the Mighty Worrier series by Georgia Pritchett is a sweet, endearing hero who will grab readers’ hearts and have them cheering until the very end.WilfBefore I go on, let me clarify one thing: I did not make a typo in the title of this post. Wilf is, indeed, a Mighty WORRIER. He worries about many things. He even carries a leaflet around called “How To Stop Worrying,” which he consults throughout the book. He also keeps extra copies handy so that he can pass the leaflet out when he learns of others’ fears.

When presented with a challenge, Wilf will consult the leaflet. Then he often has a great big old worry, and then he has a great big old think, and then he thinks so hard that his brain feels dizzy—then he’ll get an idea! This habit gets him out of many scrapes!

Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle opens with Wilf making a list of thing that he is afraid of. This list includes: scarecrows, poodles, being eaten by animals, beetles, snakes, and crocodiles. One might imagine that he’s unlikely to run into many of the things on his list at home. But then his mom tells him that they are going on vacation to Africa!

To make matters worse, they are going on vacation with the next-door neighbors—Alan and Pam. Alan is full of evil plans to destroy the world, and the trip to Africa doesn’t slow him down at all.

Wilf finds himself in the middle of Alan’s plans for destruction, and has to save the world. He must also face many of his fears and keep his baby sister safe.

Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle is aimed at early readers, and features the occasional fart or poop joke to generate laughter. My youngest laughed out loud for a long time at the mention of Alan’s great invention—the Premier Official Optimum Beast Understanding Machine, or “POOBUM.” Most of the book is accessible for young readers; however, it does have some invented words (like “exhaustipated”) that will be tough to figure out.

The illustrations in Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle bring additional humor to the book. There are pictures on nearly every page. In a few instances, they provide details not found in the printed story (such as the items on Wilf’s list of things that he is afraid of).

There are currently four books in the Wilf the Mighty Worrier series, with a fifth expected soon. Wilf has his own website: www.wilfthemightyworrier.com, where you can find “The Worrier Checklist: How to Stop Worrying.” The checklist is similar to the leaflet Wilf takes to Africa—some of the suggestions are the same. There is also a Wilf Quiz, an Extra Story, and many video clips.

Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle will be released tomorrow, July 11, 2017. I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Have you read any great books lately?

Ulaq and the Northern Lights

I have always been fascinated by the Northern Lights. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the North – I used to stand outside at night wishing (or hoping) to see them. Or maybe it’s just because the Northern Lights are simply a very cool natural phenomenon!

Harriet Peck Taylor has created an extraordinary tale about the Northern Lights in Ulaq and the Northern Lights. A fantastic picture book for all ages!UlaqOne evening, a very curious fox named Ulaq sees “strange blue and green ribbons of light that swirled across the darkness.” He can’t rest without knowing what they are.

Ulaq begins running across the snowy tundra, asking all of the animals he meets to explain the lights. Without hesitation, each animal gives him a new (and different) explanation for what the lights are and what they mean.

To Seal, they are a sign that there will be plenty of fish to eat over the coming year. Wolf sees the flames of the campfires of distant hunters, while Polar Bear sees a sign from unborn children. Caribou explains that the lights are swaying ghosts and that it is dangerous to be out in the open because sometimes the ghosts actually come down from the sky.

The more animals Ulaq meets, the more explanations he hears. You’ll have to read the book to see what Ulaq finally figures out about the Northern Lights!

Ms. Taylor included an Author’s Note explaining that:

People living in northern regions often created their own legends to explain the mystery of the northern lights, which scientists call the aurora borealis. Some people thought the lights were ghosts, while others believed they saw flames in them, and still others thought they saw their ancestors, or foxes, fish, or other images. This story is based in part on several of those legends.

Ms. Taylor’s illustrations in Ulaq and the Northern Lights are beautiful. The various shades of blue in the sky, the sea, and the snow are vibrant. Each of the animals are outlined in white, which creates a striking contrast with the dark blue of the sky.

I love the first paragraph of the author bio found on the back flap of the book:

Harriet Peck Taylor was surprised by the aurora borealis late one night while camping on the shores of Lake Superior. She noticed a faint glow in the sky. Slowly it became brighter and began moving like a great curtain of green and white light. As curious and awed as Ulaq the fox, she knew then that the northern lights would form the basis of one of her stories.

Ms. Taylor is an artist known for her batik paintings and is author and illustrator of seven picture books for children. Visit her website, www.harrietpecktaylor.com, to see some of the beautiful, colorful, and inspiring art that she has created. Or you can look through the hundreds of pieces of artwork she has created over the years at https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/harriet-peck-taylor.html.

Have you read any great books lately?

Dinosaur Empire!

I’m still fairly new to graphic novels, but I couldn’t resist this first book in the Earth Before Us series by Abby Howard. Dinosaur Empire! takes fifth-grader Ronnie (and all of its readers) on a magical and informative journey through the Mesozoic Era.Dinosaur EmpireThe story begins as Ronnie is walking home after failing a quiz on dinosaurs. She is lamenting the fact that she has to retake the test the next day when she walks past retired paleontologist Miss Lernin’s house. Miss Lernin pops her head out of her recycling bin and offers to teach Ronnie about dinosaurs. All Ronnie has to do is climb into the recycling bin with her for an “immersive” lesson.

Because it’s a graphic novel, Ronnie jumps into the recycling bin without hesitation (yuck!). She discovers that the recycling bin is actually a Time Tunnel that will transport her and Miss Lernin back to dinosaur times. They travel using “Science Magic” (this magic also protects them from harm and lets them breathe underwater – I knew I should have studied science in university instead of music!).

And so begins their travels through the three main periods of the Mesozoic Era, with a few stops at Miss Lernin’s Learning Center along the way. They meet all of the dinosaurs I can name, and many, many I’ve never heard of!

Miss Lernin separates the dinosaurs they meet into sauropods and theropods, in addition to telling Ronnie their names. By the time Ronnie and Miss Lernin reach the “Early-ish, Almost Middle Cretaceous” Period, Ronnie is also pointing out which dinosaurs are sauropods and which are theropods.

I have to say, I LOVE Miss Lernin! If we all had the same passion for our chosen careers as she does, the world would be a happy and enthusiastic place. When she successfully teaches Ronnie the concept of phylogenetic trees, excitement screams from her fist-pump to her announcement that phylogenetic trees are awesome!

Miss Lernin doesn’t only show dinosaurs to Ronnie. At each stop in their journey, Miss Lernin also shows Ronnie the insects and mammals that exist at that time.

Ronnie’s reaction to insects is a lot like mine: When they hit the insects of the Late Jurassic period, Ronnie remarks, “Oh . . . sigh. Insects again.” Ever enthusiastic, Miss Lernin responds, “I think you mean ‘Hooray! Insects again!’ . . .” Just wonderful!

Every once in a while, the insects and mammals in Dinosaur Empire! jump in with a comment about what is happening. These little comments often made me laugh out loud as I was reading the book!

I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. We’ll be watching for the next book in the Earth Before Us series. What a great way to learn science! Dinosaur Empire! was a fabulous start to the series.

Abby Howard writes two online comics: Junior Scientist Power Hour and The Last Halloween. Monthly subscribers can follow her on Patreon.

Dinosaur Empire! will be released on August 1, 2017.

Have you read any great books lately?

Sharing the Love!

I was delighted to be one of the recipients of Todd Burleson’s $500 gifts this year! Warner Enhanced Elementary School is a community school located in the center of historic East Nashville. It is a wonderful asset to the area. It serves children Pre-K through 4th Grade and gives them a solid foundation for middle school.

With Todd’s gift, Warner’s Kindergarten classes were able to boost up their classroom libraries so that they will be full of new books when students return in August.

Thank-you, Todd!

Todd Burleson

Source: Sharing the Love!