The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball

It’s sometimes too easy to forget that the way we live (whether in Canada, the United States, or China) is not the only way. The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball explores just how jarring moving halfway around the world can be—particularly for children.BaseballThe Forbidden Temptation of Baseball follows two brothers, Woo Ka-Leong and Elder Brother Woo Ka-Sun, as they move from their village in Southern China to Suffield, Connecticut in 1875. They are part of a group of 120 boys that the Imperial Government of China is sending to the United States as part of the Chinese Educational Mission. Their task is to learn English, complete college degrees, and return home to help transform China to a strong, modern country.

The boys participating in the Chinese Educational Mission are sent to the United States with almost a year of training in the English language (enough to be polite), descriptions of American culture, and many admonitions: do not act “too American,” do not join a church (although they must attend with their host families), do not cut the long braid that all Chinese men and boys wear as a symbol of loyalty to the emperor, and avoid the American frivolity called “baseball.”

Ka-Leong and Ka-Sun are placed with the Swann family: Reverend Swann, his wife, and their two daughters, Julia and Charlotte. The Swanns immediately begin calling the boys Leon and Carson, deciding their Chinese names are simply too difficult to pronounce. A day later, Carson, who is the more serious and studious of the two brothers, is dismayed to learn that their teacher will be a woman.

This is just the beginning of the clash of the two cultures. As the boys’ time in America continues, they are teased by children and adults for their braids and their clothing. They struggle to learn the English language and to continue their own Chinese studies after their lessons. They are stunned by aspects of American culture that they were unprepared for, in particular, the role and treatment of women.

Author Dori Jones Yang has done a fantastic job identifying many ways in which the cultures of 1870s China and 1870s America differed. But even more impressive is her interpretation of how the Chinese boys might have responded to these disparities. Although Leon and Carson are brothers and come from the same home and upbringing, their reactions to life in America, and their willingness to adapt to this new life, are dissimilar.

I was enamored with this tale of two brothers and could not put it down. Ms. Yang’s exploration of the relationship between Leon and Carson was brilliant. I loved the use of baseball to symbolize one brother’s attraction to American culture, while he pulled away from both his brother and the life in which he was raised.

The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball is based on the true story of the Chinese Educational Mission, in which the emperor of China sent 120 boys ages eleven through sixteen to study in America. They stayed with host families in Connecticut and western Massachusetts. You’ll have to read the book to learn whether the Mission was successful!

I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Dori Jones Yang is the author of a number of books, from non-fiction to YA novels to children’s readers. Her website is www.booksbydori.com.

Have you read any great books lately?

Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver

There comes a time when a child no longer believes that his parent knows everything. The child may even be embarrassed by how his parent behaves in public. Enter Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver. He finds ways to help children change their parents’ unattractive behavior.

Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver by Lorri Horn is an entertaining read for middle grade kids. It tells of young entrepreneur Dewey Fairchild and his ingenious profession.Dewey Fairchild.jpgDewey got the idea for his business when his friend Seraphina shared a problem she had with her mom. Nine-and-a-half-year-old Seraphina’s mother was being overprotective: holding her hand to cross the street, walking her into school, and protecting her from using butter knives. She even cut Seraphina’s meat for her at dinner!

Dewey spent time observing Seraphina and her mother. He then came up with a plan to change Seraphina’s mom’s behavior. It worked so well that word spread that Dewey was a “parent problem solver.” Soon, every kid needed his help.

One year later, Dewey’s business is so busy that he has an office (in his attic), an assistant (his old babysitter), and letterhead stationery. Kids who want to request his services crawl through the air ducts and fly down a slide into the attic, munching on homemade cookies that have been strategically placed in the air vent entrance.

Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver follows Dewey as he tackles his cases. He searches for solutions to the parent-created problems of kids in his town, including, with the help of three good friends—Seraphina, Colin, and assistant Clara—a problem that is close to home. When he overhears his parents talking about moving the family to Alaska, he decides something has to be done. Surely Dewey Fairchild, PPS, can solve this parent-problem!

Readers will laugh out loud at Dewey’s investigative strategies, at the various problems he faces (including a public nose-picking dad!), and the solutions he dreams up! Parents: watch your behavior around your kids once they’ve read this one, or you might find yourself crying on YouTube!

Lorri Horn thought she wanted to study vervet monkeys and become a famous biological anthropologist. But she says: “it turns out you have to rough it and camp to do that kind of job and Lorri’s more of a pillow-top mattress and no bug-repellant kind of gal.” Plus, the monkeys never showed up for story time. So she became a teacher instead! You can read more about her on Dewey Fairchild’s website: www.deweyfairchild.com. This is Ms. Horn’s first middle grade fiction book.

Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver goes on sale next week. I highly recommend picking up a copy for your middle grade readers! I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. We can’t wait for the next book of Dewey Fairchild’s cases!

Have you read any great books lately?

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Beauty and the Beast

The Beast kidnapped Belle and held her in the castle against her will. She fell in love with him because she had Stockholm Syndrome.

This is how Maddie’s Rotten Stepbrother Holden “Ruined Beauty and the Beast.”Rotten StepbrotherEleven-year-old Maddie loves fairy tale princesses. For Halloween, she decides to dress up as Belle. Her new stepmother suggests that Holden should dress up as the Beast. After creating a truly horrifying costume, Holden presents his Stockholm Syndrome alternative to Maddie’s true love fairy tale.

Holden is forced to change out of his costume before they go to the school Halloween party. Maddie’s dad suggests that he wear a suit and tell people he’s a lawyer.

After the party, Holden notices that his tablet (what lawyer goes anywhere without one?) is still turned on. He looks at it and calls Maddie over. They see pictures from the story of Beauty and the Beast, but the tale doesn’t end the way they remember. They realize that Holden has somehow changed the story. Before they know what’s happening, they are transported into the story so that they can fix it.

Maddie is transformed into Belle. Holden is. . . the lawyer.

Maddie and Holden enter Beauty and the Beast just as Belle is marrying the Beast. But the Beast hasn’t changed back into a human. Before they can be married, he is arrested for kidnapping.

Holden is the Beast’s lawyer. He has to overcome his feelings about the fairy tale and work with the Beast to find a strategy to fight the kidnapping charge.

Meanwhile, Maddie has her own challenges. Holden’s statements have her questioning whether Belle’s love for the Beast is true love or the result of brainwashing. She sets out to find out the truth for herself and for Belle!

Jerry Mahoney has created a hilarious new spin on the classic fairy tale. His story combines a wonderful step-sibling dynamic and adds in the natural language barriers inherent in transporting two 21st-century kids to a secluded French village “once upon a time.”

Jerry Mahoney is the author of Mommy Man: How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, his memoir. After reading just a few posts on his blog, I bought a copy of the book—it looks like it will be just as entertaining as his children’s books! His website is http://www.jerry-mahoney.com.

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Beauty and the Beast will be released on August 1, 2017. I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review. Three other titles in the My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Fairy Tales series are being released on August 1 as well. I can’t wait to read My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella (the first book in the series), My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Aladdin, and My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Snow White!

Have you read any great books lately?

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?

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!

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?

The World’s Greatest Chocolate-Covered Pork Chops

When I started reading a book about a child culinary prodigy who wanted to open a restaurant, I didn’t know what to expect. Little did I know that I was about to receive life lessons for my own workaholic life!Chocolate Covered Pork ChopsRyan K. Sager’s The World’s Greatest Chocolate-Covered Pork Chops tells the tale of Zoey Kate, child chef extraordinaire. Twelve year-old Zoey Kate creates culinary masterpieces that you can’t get anywhere else, such as Lobster Eggs Benedict, Cinnamon Bacon Octopus Pho, and, of course, Chocolate-Covered Pork Chops.

Zoey’s greatest wish is to share her cooking with all seven billion people in the world. But she’ll settle for opening the greatest restaurant in San Francisco—for now.

Opening a restaurant is harder than Zoey expected. She has to convince a bank to loan her start-up money, find the perfect location, navigate the world of business ownership, and get her parents’ permission! To make matters even more challenging, Zoey is first threatened, then sabotaged, by one of the great chefs in the city.

Fortunately, Zoey has great friends who she can lean on, including Dallin Caraway. Dallin is the biggest kid on his football team, but his coach doesn’t let him play during games.

And here is where the life lessons come in. As Zoey builds Zoeylicious, her fabulous restaurant on wheels, she has to make choices between her friends and her career. Boy, that really hit home for me! I didn’t expect to learn anything from Zoey Kate (except maybe how to make some interesting food), but I recognized those difficult family/friends versus work conflicts in my own life. Just like Zoey, I wonder if I’ve always made the right choice . . .

The World’s Greatest Chocolate-Covered Pork Chops goes on sale tomorrow, so you can pick up a copy to see if anyone goes to Zoey’s trolley-restaurant, if the sabotage succeeds, and if Zoey chooses friendship over fame. I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Learn more about Ryan K. Sager at his website: www.ryanksager.com.

Mr. Sager admits on his website that he is not a good cook, and that he finds cooking overwhelming and scary. But he has included a recipe for Chocolate-Covered Pork Chops in the back of his book. Should you try it? Yes! A chef from New York City created the recipe just for this book! How cool is that???

Have you read any great books lately?

The Frog Princess Returns

For some of us, the thought of kissing a frog holds no appeal whatsoever. But in both the Brothers Grimm tale and Princess Emma’s story in E.D. Baker’s Tales of the Frog Princess series, a frog somehow manages to convince a princess to kiss him. Astonishing!

Unlike in the original tale, when E.D. Baker tells the story, Princess Emma turns into a frog instead of breaking the spell for the Frog Prince. (Sound familiar? Disney optioned the first book in the series for an animated movie, and eventually released The Princess and the Frog! You can read a little about this process in the F.A.Q. section of Ms. Baker’s website.)

The Frog Princess Returns is Book 9 of Ms. Baker’s series and was published yesterday – approximately fifteen years after Book 1 was released. We have never read any of the other books in the series, but we have read and enjoyed some of Ms. Baker’s other books, such as the Magic Animal Rescue Series.Frog PrincessJumping into the series at Book 9 was no problem. The book worked very well as a stand-alone story, and we did not ever feel lost or wish we had read the other books first. When Ms. Baker felt background was needed to explain (or remind readers) how Princess Emma met certain characters, she gave it in just a few sentences.

In The Frog Princess Returns, Princess Emma and the Frog Prince, Prince Eadric, are human again. They are engaged to be married and are very happy. Then one day, a princess from another land arrives in Prince Eadric’s family’s carriage. She claims to be Princess Emma’s long-lost cousin, but soon, she won’t leave Prince Eadric’s side.

Princess Emma hardly has time to react to this strange arrival when fairies begin appearing and asking for her help. Did I mention that Princess Emma is also a witch who cares for the humans and fairies of her land? She has a big responsibility!

With a little investigation, Princess Emma discovers that the Fairy Queen has disappeared. The fairies believe she has “faded away” (the fairy version of died), so three new fairies are competing to take her place. After listening to the campaign speeches of the three politician-fairies, Princess Emma realizes that none of the three would be a good choice to lead the fairies.

So Princess Emma, Prince Eadric, the “long-lost cousin,” and a handful of fairies, set off on a search for the Fairy Queen. While she is interviewing dragons, flying a magic carpet, and outsmarting fairy magic to find the Fairy Queen, Princess Emma must still figure out what the “long-lost cousin” is really up to. It’s a busy couple of days. The book flew by (no pun intended) and was engaging and enjoyable from start to finish.

I received an advance reader copy of The Frog Princess Returns in exchange for my unbiased review of the book.

E.D. Baker’s website is www.talesofedbaker.com. She has information about all of her series and individual books, as well as many writing tips for aspiring writers. Ms. Baker is also active on Facebook @edbakerauthor.

Have you read any great books lately?

Foiled

There are few things more exciting to a ten year-old boy than aliens, so a story about Roswell in 1947 was a big hit in our house! Combine that with non-stop pursuit, and you have a sure winner!foiledIn Foiled, by Carey Fessler, good friends Kate and Billy live on a U.S. Army Base near Roswell, New Mexico. One afternoon, Billy shows Kate his “big secret” – pieces of foil that his dad collected at an alien crash site.

Agents from the CIA show up at Billy’s house that same evening, demanding that Billy’s dad turn over the souvenirs, and informing Billy’s family that they are being transferred to Germany immediately. Billy’s dad signals to Billy not to give all of the foil to the agent, and Billy asks Kate for help. The two friends escape through a window with one of the pieces of foil. They find themselves on the run from Military Police and the CIA!

Kate and Billy leave the base and begin a journey to Kate’s grandfather’s house more than 200 miles away, searching for a safe place to hide. As they continue their trek, they discover that the foil might have special powers. Their journey places them in situations they had never been in before, from stealing rides in the back of pickup trucks, to hitchhiking, to blackmailing a State Trooper so they can keep away from the CIA agent who is chasing them. When it seems like things can’t get any worse, trouble finds them again!

Foiled is a compelling read for middle graders. It combines historical facts about life on a military base and the crash in Roswell with a dramatic adventure by two eleven year-olds trying to outwit the CIA. The chase is thrilling and action-packed, perfect for the middle-grade reader.

Mr. Fessler has a fascinating website full of interesting facts: www.careyfessler.com. He fills in some details about Foiled (Kate’s father was a pilot in the 509th Bomber group, who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan in August 1945). He also shares much information in his media kit. His official “short bio” is:

The author was a ‘military brat,’ growing up on Air Force bases. He planted roots in Albuquerque, New Mexico before dropping out of college to travel the world. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy’s ‘silent service’—submarine duty and finally unpacked his sea bag in the ‘Land Down Under’—Sydney, Australia.

Mr. Fessler is the author of two other adventure books, one of which was just released and the other will be released next year. Shanghaied: Escape from the Blackwolf and Shipwrecked: Dragon Island both feature twelve year-olds Emma and Scott who are forced to join the crew of a submarine and have to find a way to escape. My son can’t wait to read them!

I received an advanced reader copy of this book so that I could provide an unbiased review of Foiled. Many thanks to the publisher and to Cary Fessler for the opportunity to read this book!

Have you read any great books lately?