Matylda, Bright & Tender

Wow! If I could give a book more than five stars out of five, this would be the one. It’s rare that a book can make me laugh out loud, wipe away tears, and stay up most of the night so I can finish it in one day. But Matylda, Bright & Tender by Holly M. McGhee made me do all of these.matyldaMatylda, Bright & Tender is the story of two best friends, Sussy and Guy, who have been together since they built the never-ending potato in the Mr. Potato Head corner in kindergarten. They walk to and from school together, they play together—although not all the time—and spend time at each other’s homes after school.

One afternoon, their lives change. They convince Sussy’s dad that they need to have a pet that they can own together. Sussy’s dad takes them to Total Pets, where they pick out a leopard gecko. Sussy and Guy name her Matylda, and she lives in a vivarium on the dresser in Sussy’s bedroom.

Sussy and Guy love Matylda. They figure out how to trap crickets for her to eat. They get her to walk up Guy’s arm and sit on the back of his neck (she doesn’t want to walk on Sussy’s hand). And, most important of all, they create her origin story, giving her an identity beyond simply having lived in a pet store before they adopted her.

Matylda becomes the focus of their days, until something of even greater significance and impact happens in their lives.

In Sussy and Guy, Matylda, Bright & Tender introduces us to two characters that readers will quickly fall in love with. They are genuine, honest, and realistic. Their friendship is strong and pure, and they are truly devoted to one another.

The book is narrated in first person from Sussy’s perspective. Her love for Guy is evident in all of her descriptions of him. We watch Sussy grow and overcome challenges as the book progresses, and I, for one, was actively rooting for her by the end.

Matylda, Bright & Tender was written by Holly M. McGhee. Ms. McGhee is both author and literary agent, founder of the agency Pippin Properties. As an author, Ms. McGhee previously wrote under the pen name Hallie Durand. While writing as Hallie Durand, Ms. McGhee published a chapter book series (Dessert First) and multiple picture books. Matylda, Bright & Tender is the first book Ms. McGhee has published under her own name. She has a picture book, Come With Me, coming out in the fall.

Ms. McGhee can be found online at www.hollymcghee.com. The heading on her website is “holly m. mcghee (who sometimes goes by the name Hallie Durand).” Very clever! Ms. McGhee has a blog on her website.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book so that I could provide an unbiased review. Without a doubt, this will be one of my top books of 2017!

Have you read any great books lately?

Superfairies: Adventures in Peaseblossom Woods

Great news – a new Chapter Book Series is being released on April 1! The Superfairies are a team of four fairies who use super powers to help the animals of Peaseblossom Woods when they are in trouble. My daughter and I couldn’t get enough of the Superfairies and wish there were more than four stories in Superfairies: Adventures in Peaseblossom Woods.SuperfairiesThe Superfairies live in the Cherry Blossom Tree. The Superfairy team is made up of Rose, Berry, Star, and Silk.

Rose blows super healing fairy kisses to animals to make them feel better. Her kisses can always calm the frightened animals while they rescue them.

Berry has super eyesight and can see for miles. She flies the fairycopter when it is needed, and uses her super eyesight to watch for danger.

Star can create a dazzling brightness when she spins around, to bring light to dark places.

Silk can make a web to help rescue the animals and keep them from danger. If an animal is in trouble, she can catch them in a web and keep them safe.

Superfairies: Adventures in Peaseblossom Woods has four stories in it—one for each season of the year. In each story, the fairies learn that an animal is in trouble and they work together to save the day.

In Spring, the animals are just emerging from their winter hibernations. Basil the Bear Cub wanders down to the river to play and gets his paw stuck on an old bridge. The animals call the Superfairies for help, and there is an exciting rescue scene. You’ll have to read the book to find out if the Superfairies are able to save Basil . . .

Summer brings the Peasebottom Woods Summer Fair and the annual dance contest. Dancer the Wild Pony gets upset about the dance contest and runs away, and it’s up to the Superfairies to bring her home!

When Autumn comes, so does the Autumn Queen, bringing along a big Autumn storm. The storm causes trouble for many of the animals. Poor little Martha Mouse is even blown away by the strong winds! The Superfairies need to work their super magic to solve this problem.

In Winter, snow covers Peasebottom Woods. The animals have fun in the snow until Violet the Velvet Rabbit gets into trouble. Fortunately, the animals are able to call the Superfairies—who might be able to help them (I don’t want to give away the ending!).

The Superfairies books hit everything just right for a young chapter book series. The books are very easy to read. They are short (each story is just under 50 pages) and have beautiful illustrations every few pages to keep kids interested. There is action, magic, and fun. I received an Advance Reading Copy of Superfairies: Adventures in Peaseblossom Woods in exchange for my honest review. I will definitely be on the look-out for the next Superfairies release!

Superfairies: Adventures in Peaseblossom Woods is written by Janey Louise Jones, who also writes the Princess Poppy series. She has a website devoted to the Princess Poppy series (www.princesspoppy.com), and is also online on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janeylouise.jones.

Have you read any great books lately?

Elizabeti

I think Elizabeti, created by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and illustrated by Christy Hale, is my new favorite picture book character. Elizabeti has been around for a while and is the subject of multiple books by Ms. Stuve-Bodeen, but I just recently discovered her.Elizabeti's dollElizabeti lives in a village in Tanzania. In Elizabeti’s Doll, Elizabeti decides after watching her Mama take care of a new baby that she wants to take care of a new baby too.

She didn’t have a doll, so she went outside and picked up a stick. She tried to hug it, but it poked her and she dropped it on the ground. Then Elizabeti picked up a rock. It was just the right size to hold and it didn’t poke Elizabeti when she hugged it. She kissed the rock and named it Eva.

Elizabeti does everything for Eva that she sees her Mama do for her new brother Obedi. She gives Eva a bath, she feeds Eva, she keeps Eva’s diaper clean, and she carries Eva around on her back while she does her chores.

When Eva gets lost, Elizabeti is heartbroken. No other rock-dolls can take Eva’s place. Elizabeti is inconsolable until Eva turns up in an unexpected place.

Elizabeti’s adventures continue in Mama Elizabeti, which I haven’t found or read yet. I can’t wait to read this second book of the Elizabeti series!Mama ElizabetiWe see Elizabeti again in Elizabeti’s School. Elizabeti is going to school for the first time, so she puts on her new school uniform and shiny new shoes. “No more bare feet! Elizabeti smiled. School must surely be a very special place.”Elizabeti's schoolElizabeti hugs her rock doll Eva, her baby sister, and lets her little brother Obedi give her “a sloppy kiss.”

At school, Elizabeti plays outside with friends until the teacher rings the bell. It is time to go in for class. Elizabeti has trouble paying attention:

The other children started to copy the letters the teacher had written on the blackboard. Elizabeti started to copy them too, but she couldn’t help wondering if Obedi wanted her to take him for a walk or if Eva was feeling lonely, sitting in the corner by herself at home. Elizabeti wondered if they missed her. She was certainly missing them!

By the end of the day, Elizabeti is glad to go home. But she discovers that it is fun to tell her family all the things she has learned at school.

Part of what makes Elizabeti so endearing is the books’ illustrations. The illustrator, Christy Hale, used pictures that Ms. Stuve-Bodeen had from Tanzania for reference. She created fabulous collage paintings for these stories, and has captured Elizabeti perfectly. I love seeing Eva show up again in the pictures in Elizabeti’s School!

Ms. Stuve-Bodeen was inspired to write Elizabeti’s Doll by her experiences serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania. Ms. Stuve-Bodeen won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award for Elizabetis Doll.

Ms. Stuve-Bodeen has written a number of picture books since her debut with Elizabeti’s Doll. She also writes middle grade and YA novels under the name S.A. Bodeen. Her website is www.writersabodeen.com.

Have you read any great books lately?

Aberdeen

Do you ever wish you could fly up into the sky? I do, and I think that’s why Aberdeen appealed to me.AberdeenIn Aberdeen by Stacey Previn, a little mouse sees a red balloon floating by. The balloon is “taunting Aberdeen as he [tries] to catch it,” and he chases it until he successfully grabs hold of it in the neighbor’s garden.

Aberdeen didn’t mean to fly away. BUT his tail got tangled in the string from the balloon and a gust of wind blew them both up in the air.

With this simple twist of fate, Aberdeen begins his adventure. He gets lost, faces a predator, and needs to find his way home.

Aberdeen didn’t mean to cry. BUT his mama had warned him about owls. He was all alone, and it was getting dark. He missed his mama so badly that he thought he heard her call his name.

Aberdeen is a sweet and simple story of how a mouse’s curiosity gets him in trouble.

The two excerpts I have quoted show the repeating pattern found throughout Ms. Previn’s book: Aberdeen “didn’t mean” to do something, “BUT” then he does (for reasons that are really not his fault). As a parent, I hear a version of this at least a few times each week. Fortunately, my kids have not met with any owls or gotten too lost yet!

The illustrations in Aberdeen are lovely watercolors by Ms. Previn. She has created an adorable little mouse for us to watch as he chases after the balloon. She expertly uses white space in some of her pictures, contrasting those pages with others filled with color and action.

Ms. Previn describes Aberdeen as her “first story book.” She has also authored Find Spot (published in 2014) and If Snowflakes Tasted Like Fruitcake (which was published in late 2016). Ms. Previn says “this story is light and sweet and [she] felt the art needed to have that same warm and fuzzy feeling.” She certainly succeeded!

Ms. Previn is on the web at www.staceyprevin.com. You can find a link to her blog on that website as well.

Have you read any great books lately?

Proof of Lies (plus a giveaway!!!)

Proof of Lies Banner

I have something a little different today. A new and fascinating-sounding book was just released on March 7. If you read YA books, this is one that you can’t miss! Proof of Lies is book #1 of the Anastasia Phoenix series, by Diana Rodriguez Wallach.

Proof of Lies

Here’s a short description of the book:

Some secrets are best kept hidden…

Anastasia Phoenix has always been the odd girl out, whether moving from city to international city with her scientist parents or being the black belt who speaks four languages.

And most definitely as the orphan whose sister is missing, presumed dead.

She’s the only one who believes Keira is still alive, and when new evidence surfaces, Anastasia sets out to follow the trail—and lands in the middle of a massive conspiracy. Now she isn’t sure who she can trust. At her side is Marcus, the bad boy with a sexy accent who’s as secretive as she is. He may have followed her to Rome to help, but something about him seems too good to be true.

Nothing is as it appears, and when everything she’s ever known is revealed to be a lie, Anastasia has to believe in one impossibility.

She will find her sister.

You can pick up a copy of Proof of Lies at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or directly from the publisher, Entangled Publishing.

Ms. Wallach is giving away something really unique as part of the blog tour happening right now: the winner will get to name one of the secondary characters in Book #2 of the Anastasia Phoenix series! Enter here!

If you would like to read more about Proof of Lies, including some reviews and some discussions with the author, check out some of these great blogs, who are all participating in the blog tour for Proof of Lies:

Smada’s Book Smack               Literary Chanteuse

A Dream Within A Dream       Roxy’s Book Reviews

Positively Book Crazy               Crossroad Reviews

Kourtni Reads                             RoloPoloBookBlog

Cindy’s Love of Books              Book Lovers Life

The Book Beacon                       Just One More Chapter

For Love of Books4                    Sleeps on Tables

Book-Keeping                             Bibliophile Mystery

Readingwithwrin                        All Things Christine

Bibliobibuli YA                            Rockin’ Book Reviews

Literary Meanderings                Literary Dust

Deal Sharing Aunt                       Hannah Plus Books

Never Too Many To Read           The Phantom Paragrapher

YA Reads

About the Author:            
Diana

Diana Rodriguez Wallach is not the child of super spies, as far as she knows. But she is an avid traveler, and every scene in her books comes from a place she has lived or visited—from her senior year apartment in Boston, MA to the hotel where she stayed in Cortona, Italy. In addition to the Anastasia Phoenix series, Diana is also the author of the award-winning Amor and Summer Secrets series; the Mirror, Mirror short story collection; and essays in both Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories and Latina Authors and Their Muses. She is an advisory board member for the Philly Spells Writing Center, and is a Creative Writing Instructor for Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. She holds a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two kids. But of course, this all could be a masterly crafted piece of disinformation…

Website: http://www. dianarodriguezwallach.com/

Twitter: @dianarwallach

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ dianarwallach

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!!

The First Last Day

As I look forward to our family’s Spring Break trip at the beach, I already find myself wishing that it would last forever. In The First Last Day, Dorian Cirrone illustrates why I should hope that my wish is never granted.The First Last DayHaleigh Adams is mourning the end of her summer vacation on the last day of summer. She and her family have been staying by the beach all summer. She has developed a close friendship with neighbor Kevin Damico, but fears that the friendship will end when they return to their respective homes.

On the morning of the last day of summer, Haleigh meets up with Kevin. They spend the entire day together, including a trip to Atlantic City.

At the end of the day, Haleigh finds a set of “Magic Paints” in her backpack. She doesn’t know who put them in there, but she is intrigued by their instructions: “Paint your heart’s desire.” She thinks back over the day and remembers a scene from the beach. She paints the scene, takes a deep breath, and wishes “for a mulligan of [her] last day of summer.”

Haleigh wakes up the next morning to discover that her wish has come true—it is not the next morning at all, but a do-over of the last day of summer. People say the same thing to her throughout the day, the same events happen over the day, and the day ends the same way (although without her painting the picture).

Day after day, Haleigh wakes up to this same “last day of summer.” She tries changing certain parts of the day, and although she can make little changes, she can’t change the biggest things that happen during the day. I loved this passage:

By the time Kevin wanted me to play Scrabble, my mind was as mixed up as the tiles Kevin poured out onto the table. Still, I picked the same ones I did every night. I’d memorized everyone’s letters as well as the words they’d put down. And I’d secretly researched tons of words on the Internet so I could figure out how to get the most points. I knew it was cheating. But it was just a game. It wasn’t hurting anyone. Right?

So when Kevin put the letters M, R, O, N next to the letter O that was already on the board, I was ready. I scrunched up my face as if I were concentrating really hard, and then placed my O, X, and Y before the word “MORON.” “Yes! Forty-two points!” I shouted.

“Oxymoron?” Kevin said. “How did you know how to spell that?”

“I looked it up.”

“What?” he said. “When? You’ve been sitting here the whole time.”

“Uh, I mean I looked it up once in school—when we studied poetry. It’s when you put two words together that contradict each other.”

“She’s right, son,” Mr. Damico said. “She’s gotten us good.”

Haleigh eventually realizes that the never-ending summer has to come to an end. She enlists Kevin to help her—which means she has to figure out how to tell him (again and again) that the last day of summer keeps repeating.

Ms. Cirrone has created an engaging story with a believable main character. It is written in the first-person from Haleigh’s perspective, and Haleigh’s friend Kevin is a fabulous sidekick. Not only does the book have a great concept, but it is rewarding to watch Haleigh grow through her experience with the time-loop.

Ms. Cirrone’s website is www.doriancirrone.com. At her website, she has a link to her blog, which includes a post that shows “some of the many incarnations” of the first page of The First Last Day. It is amazing to see how different each of these versions are! Sometimes it is easy to forget how hard writers work to find the perfect way to tell a story—Ms. Cirrone’s blog post gives just a little taste of that for us.

Have you read any great books lately?

The Pandora Device

From the moment I read the description of Stella’s treasure hunts in her hoarder Grandma’s home in the opening pages of Joyce McPherson’s The Pandora Device, I was hooked. As I read about Stella and her Grandma, I realized that I could not recall ever reading a book in which the main character lived with a hoarder.The Pandora DeviceReading the following passage, my mind flashed to some old trade magazines that I’ve been holding onto because “surely someday I’ll read them.” I had to stop myself from putting down the book and going right away to clean out all those years of saved magazines.

“Let’s show Grandma,” I said.

We dashed down the hall to her library and squeezed through the stacks of newspapers that filled the room like yellowed skyscrapers.

She sat in her recliner in the midst of them, and I had a quick image of those towers slowly tilting until they whooshed across the floor and through the front door. That was my biggest nightmare—that the whole neighborhood would find out about Grandma’s collections.

Much as I would have loved to explore Stella’s life at Grandma’s house, Stella has other adventures to keep her busy in The Pandora Device. During one of these treasure hunts, Stella and her friend Lindsey find a box containing some keepsakes, including a photograph of Stella’s parents as teenagers at camp.

Stella wants to learn more about her long-deceased parents, so she decides to attend the camp in the photo—Camp Hawthorne. Before she leaves for camp, however, she receives an anonymous warning not to search for information about her parents.

Stella, her friends Lindsey and Jayden, and school bully Ellen, travel to Camp Hawthorne. There, they discover that Camp Hawthorne is not like any camp they have ever attended before, and that the camp counselors and staff will help each camper find and develop gifts they never knew they had.

The kids in The Pandora Device keep the fun and excitement moving as they explore their gifts at Camp Hawthorne, sometimes with funny results. They are guided by a host of counselors and staff, all of whom have their own quirks (as well as gifts). Stella’s dilemma of whether to try to find out more about her parents despite the threats and warnings draws the reader closer to her. Overall, Ms. McPherson has created a group of memorable characters that kept me up far too late at night rooting for them!

I was fortunate to receive an advance reader copy of The Pandora Device in exchange for my unbiased review of the book. I am so glad that I did, because I now look forward to reading the next books in the Camp Hawthorne series!

In addition to the three books that she has already written in the Camp Hawthorne series, Joyce McPherson is the author of a number of biographies and abridged Shakespeare plays for children. You can find Ms. McPherson online at http://joyce-mcpherson.blogspot.com. Ms. McPherson’s blog has information about her books, experiments, and even a link to her tools for creating a Shakespeare camp for children (https://sites.google.com/site/shakespearetools/).

Have you read any great books lately?

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip

This colorful picture book tells the story of the invention of the potato chip which, like so many great inventions, was discovered by accident. According to the story told by Gaylia Taylor in George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, potato chips were created by a frustrated chef named George Crum who was trying to satisfy a picky customer.George CrumThe book begins long before George’s famous culinary creation. It starts by telling of George’s childhood in the 1830s in Saratoga Springs, New York.

George was part Native American and part African American. At school, he battled other children’s perceptions that he was inferior to them because they were white. Ms. Taylor discusses this prejudice directly and describes how George fought this discrimination throughout his life.

When he was finished with school, George spent his time fishing and hunting in the nearby Adirondack mountains. One day while he was out hunting, he met a Frenchman, who happened to be an excellent cook. The Frenchman taught George how to cook what he had caught over a campfire.

This experience sparked George’s realization that “he had a passion for cooking.” He began experimenting until he had perfected recipes for the birds, fish, venison, and other game he trapped.

George wanted to show all of Saratoga Springs what a good cook he was. He decided the best way to do this was to become a chef in a restaurant. It wasn’t easy for George to get a job as a chef in those days. Most restaurant owners wouldn’t hire a man of color to be anything but a waiter. George didn’t let that stop him.

George got a job as a chef at one of the best restaurants in Saratoga Springs. He became famous for his cooking, and wealthy, prominent people traveled far distances to eat his dishes.

George found that some of those customers were difficult to please, and he had little patience for them. One day, a fussy customer came in and ordered French-fried potatoes. George was sure they were perfect, but the customer sent them back, claiming they were too thick.

George grabbed a potato and sliced it so thin that when he held a slice up to the light, he could see straight through it. He put them into a pot full of hot oil, and cooked them longer and at a higher temperature than was needed for French fries. When they were done, he piled them onto a plate and served his new creation to the customer himself.

The customer declared them to be “the most delicious potato delicacy she had ever tasted.” And the “Saratoga Chip” was born!

Frank Morrison’s illustrations in this book are amazing. Full of color and detail, they take the reader from the one-room schoolhouse where George could not count to 100, to the beauty of the Adirondack mountains, to the excitement of the kitchen in Moon’s Lake House restaurant. They are a perfect pairing to this story, and will help young readers fully engage with the tale of George Crum. Mr. Morrison’s art is featured on his website: www.morrisongraphics.com.

Have you read any great books lately?

The Valentine Express


In all of the excitement about chocolate and flowers, it wouldn’t hurt for us to stop for a moment for a lesson from the bunnies in The Valentine Express by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.the valentine expressMinna begins the day at school learning some of the tales of the possible origin of Valentine’s Day (including the story of a man named Valentine, who was kind to children and would send notes signed “from your Valentine”). When lessons are over, the school day includes the typical classroom Valentine’s Day party.

As Minna and her younger brother Pip walk home after school, they run into one of their neighbors. Minna realizes that the grown-ups in their neighborhood might not have received any valentines. So she and Pip decide to make valentines for them.

Minna gets out her art box, filled with colored paper, glue stick, markers, scissors, string, and other crafty things. They work hard to create valentines that will be meaningful for each of the neighbors—for example, a homemade puzzle for the neighbor who they saw walking home holding a package from “The Puzzle Works Shop.”

Once they have a valentine ready for each of their neighbors, they load up Pip’s wagon and become “the Valentine Express.” They deliver valentines, kindness, and joy throughout the neighborhood.

There is so much I love about this book. There is, of course, the overall idea of Minna and Pip deciding to do something thoughtful for others to make them happy. It is such a sweet, simple way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Ms. Wallace has done a wonderful job sharing this ideal without letting the lesson get in the way of the story.

Kindness shows up in The Valentine Express in smaller ways as well. The interactions between Minna and her brother Pip are beautiful, as Minna is always encouraging to her younger brother. For example, after Pip tries (somewhat unsuccessfully) to cut out some construction paper hearts, they have the following exchange:

Pip held something in his hands behind his back. “These are not good hearts, Minna.”

“Can I see?” Minna asked.

Pip put some of his hearts on the table and stuffed the rest into his pocket. “They are my practice hearts.”

Minna thought for a minute. “That’s OK, Pip. You were busy helping me.”

Another charming part of The Valentine Express is that Minna and Pip decide to make the valentines out of basic art supplies. In a time when it has become far too easy to stop by the store for the box of printed valentines, Ms. Wallace has reminded us all how nice homemade valentines can be (she has included a page full of them earlier in the book as well).

Finally, Ms. Wallace has shown exactly what can be done with those art supplies. Using cut paper, scissors, and a glue stick, she made three-dimensional artwork to illustrate The Valentine Express. The effect is inspiring.

Ms. Wallace has a great website at www.nancyelizabethwallace.com. It lists all of her books (there are many!) and provides some cut-paper activities for readers to try at home. You can even make some puppets for a puppet show!

Have you read any great books lately?