‘Raised by Animals: The Surprising New Science of Animal Family Dynamics’ Is a Stunningly Informative Guide to Child Rearing

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Those who adopt a dog often think of how much they have to teach their new family member, but few consider how much the animal kingdom has to teach us, even about childbirth and childrearing. As Jennifer Verdolin, author of “Raised by Animals” would tell you, they have lots and lots of good advice for humans. But since animals can’t talk, Verdolin has researched that information and consolidated it into an easy-to-read, fascinating book.

Animal lovers know that animals aren’t really that different from us. They can express affection, experience joy, get lonely, copy our actions and have families. But Verdolin explains that animals do much more than merely reflect human values; often, animals teach their offspring those very values. In fact, do our values spring from the combined knowledge of what we’ve learned from the animals around us? Verdolin might very well argue for that theory.

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‘Restart’ by Gordon Korman is fine middle grade fiction


“Restart” by Gordon Korman is typical fabulous Korman middle grade fiction wherein a boy — usually in middle school — goes through an experience that changes him. In “Restart” Korman’s protagonist, Chase Ambrose, is a fairly dark character.

The reader learns that this middle school sports prodigy, a football player who has won awards, is also a terrible human being. He delights in bullying others. In fact, one fellow student has been so tormented by Chase and his two best friends that he’s left school and gone to a private school. Chase and his friends had set firecrackers to go off in the piano he was playing on during a concert.

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‘Scar Island’ is Action-Filled Middle Grade Fiction

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“Scar Island” is the third book by Dan Gemeinhart, but it follows his formula of a boy facing what appear to be insurmountable challenges. In this story, Jonathan Grisby is sent to Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys, a correctional facility built, similarly to Alcatraz, on an island in the middle of the ocean . Scar Island consists of the crumbling, depressing old building that looks like a fortress and features a veritable maze of passageways, cells, and abandoned rooms.

Although there aren’t many other boys there, some are truly terrible, while others are not. It seems apparent almost from the beginning that Jonathan is one of the smartest boys on the island, while another boy, Sebastian, is the bully who wants to be in charge. There is also Benny, who is the head warden’s pet and delights in small cruelties.

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Horribly Abused Dog Desperately Needs Rescue with Experienced Foster


Baby has been horribly mistreated during her life. Half of her tail is missing, her eyes droop, and her coat was a terrible mess. She was found as a stray, and the months she has spent at the shelter have not been kind to her. She has withdrawn from people, and she needs a very special kind of rescue to help her.

Baby cannot be adopted, but she needs to be pulled by rescue. Soon. She is frightened of strangers, and she startles easily. Baby does not quickly trust people.

babywithvolunteerIn fact, it took a long time for the volunteers at The Humane Society of Aurora, Illinois, to get her to trust them. Finally, Baby decided to trust a few of them, and to everyone’s surprise, she is a very loving girl! While her abusive history has made it difficult for Baby to trust many people, with patience and love, she does return affection.

The love that she shows to those she trusts makes the volunteers think that with the right rescue, and the right foster, Baby could eventually be a different dog.  This scared girl with a rough exterior has a huge heart that is longing for a chance to love someone with all her might. Baby needs a home of her own, a soft bed, and a family who will promise to keep her loved and safe from harm.

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‘The Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy’ is Fabulous Fantasy Fiction for Young Adults


Rick Riordan is the master of middle grade fantasy. Series like “The Trials of Apollo” began years ago with a book called “The Lightning Thief.” It spawned sequel after sequel after series after series. Now, “The Dark Prophecy” is Book Two in the newest series, “The Trials of Apollo.”

The plot is that Apollo really gets his father, Zeus, angry. To punish Apollo, Zeus sends him to earth as a pimply, flabby teenager. He is tossed into a New York alley, replete with garbage and two thugs out to murder him. Apollo’s adventures in the first book, “The Hidden Oracle,” continue as he and his companions travel to Indianapolis on a mechanical dragon (made like a Lego). They end up in the old railway station, which is called Waystation. Waystation communicates via the two women who live there and run things. Both are retired Hunters (demigod warriors with Artemis, Apollo’s sister), and Waystation shares information telepathically with them. Waystation also creates rooms as they are needed and leads travelers to the rooms that they need to access.

The characters are just as quirky and wisecracking as one would expect from Riordan. But in this series, Apollo shines as the brightest sun of all. In fact, that’s what he calls himself often — the handsomest, the most talented, the quickest, the most musical, and of course, the most divine.

The joys of reading this book include the many, many very clever and humorous “Apollo-isms,” like when he admits to murdering someone:

“I know what you are thinking. But Apollo! You are divine! You cannot commit nurder. Any death you cause is the will of the gods and entirely beyond reproach. It would be an honor if you killed me! …  I like the way you think, good reader.”

Apollo and his friends are on a mission to keep the Triumvirate, a group of three immortal Emperors from Ancient Rome, from destroying the world. Nero is the first emperor that they found in the first book in the series. In this book, the second emperor is unmasked. Along the way, the heroes encounter magical creatures called blemmyae, creatures whose existence has really been illustrated on medieval maps. Riordan makes these creatures absurdly polite. If someone approaches one of them with a question, they are obligated to answer the question before killing the person.

So when they are trying to kill Apollo, and he is lying to the blemmyae about a certain weapon, one asks if he is sure about that. The other elbows her and says, “He just said it was a well-known fact. Don’t be impolite!”

And later, one of the blemmyae, Nanette, says, “if you’re trying to trick us somehow…and I apologize for raising that possibility…” and later they excitedly say, “Then we can rip your limbs off… and trample your bodies into jelly!” The absolute politeness and absolute barbarity make for a very clever and humorous combo.

When Apollo’s companion, a strange demigod named Meg (she’s very strange — must read both books to realize how weird), recites the prophecy after their quest into the Oracle is complete, Apollo is stunned. It is in the form of a sonnet. Apollo kindly explains what makes it a sonnet.

“I had thought the limerick of Dodona was bad. But a full Shakespearean sonnet, complete with ABAB rhyme scheme, ending couplet, and iambic pentameter? Such a horror could only have come from Trophonius’s cave. I recalled my arguments with William Shakespeare.

Bill, I said. No one will accept this poetry. Du-DUH, du-DUH, du-DUH, du-DUH, du-DUH. What sort of beat is that?”

That prophecy is the one that will lead to the third book in the series. But in the meantime, readers of all ages will greatly enjoy this series. It’s supposed to be for older middle grade readers — those in fifth grade through eighth grade. But much of the humor is really aimed at adults, who will enjoy the witticisms that will go right over the heads of the younger set reading the books — especially the music references which will be enjoyed by adult music aficionados.

Another rather daring Riordan twist is that, true to the nature of the Greek Gods, Apollo is bisexual. In fact, in this book, he is attracted to more men than women. Ironically, one of his early lovers is  the evil emperor in the novel. When he first describes the extremely handsome emperor, he says:

“I wanted to whimper. Not just because I still found Commodus attractive after so many centuries, not just because he had a, er, complicated history, but also because he reminded me what I used to be like.” And in a flashback, “We had been friends, more than friends, for almost a month at that point.”

But Apollo, vain, arrogant, self-centered, selfish, does grow in both the first book and this one. Toward the beginning of the story, he is incredulous that two women have given up being Hunters (and being immortal) because they were in love and wanted to be able to live their lives together. Later in the book, he reflects on how they have aged:

“I had never considered that growing older, grayer, and thicker might make someone more beautiful. Yet that seemed to be the case for Emmie. Standing on the table, she was the room’s calm, steady center of gravity.”

Riordan’s Apollo embraces forgiveness when he saves the life of one of Commodus’ fighters after Commodus decides to have him killed. He changes significantly by the end of this second book and even is willing to sacrifice his life for that of a companion.

This reviewer almost wishes that this could be billed as a middle grade/young adult/adult series because readers from all those age groups will greatly enjoy this action-filled, fast-paced, funny fantasy.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Disney-Hyperion, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘The Giant Jumperee’ Is a Lovely Picture Book by Julia Donaldson


“The Giant Jumperee” is written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, both ladies from Great Britain, and both ladies renowned for their body of children’s books.

In this story, there’s a mysterious “Jumperee” in Rabbit’s burrow. He tells Rabbit, “I’m the GIANT JUMPEREE and I’m scary as can be!” Rabbit is appropriately frightened. He goes running for help and meets Cat, who assures Rabbit that he can handle this matter.

But the Jumperee tells Cat, “I’m the GIANT JUMPEREE and I’ll squash you like a flea!” Cat is frightened and goes running away. On and on this story goes, with the Giant Jumperee scaring a bear and an elephant in addition to the rabbit and cat.

Finally, a small creature says that she can get the Jumperee out. The animals beg her not to, repeating the menacing threats from the Jumperee. But the small animal is not frightened. She goes to the burrow, and kids will LOVE the twist to the ending. And they will understand why the mysterious creature called himself (or herself) a Jumperee.

The illustrations are pure England and done in soft watercolors that reflect the misty, brightly lit British countryside. The combination of pencil and watercolor gives all the animals a soft, shaggy look, and their expressions are beautifully rendered.

Kids will not only love the twist at the end; they will also love hearing this story with its repeated actions and comforting and non-scary ending.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover picture book provided by Dial Books, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘7 Ate 9’ Is Hysterical Picture Book by Tara Lazar


“7 Ate 9” is one clever picture book by Tara Lazar and illustrated by Ross MacDonald. I is not just a letter, he’s a Private I, and he investigates. So when 6 burst into his office because he claimed 7 was out to get him, I got to work.

To solve the mystery of the missing integer, he had to interview many letters and numbers, but he was finally, cleverly able to figure out which double-crossing digit was at the root of the problem.

This book is so imaginative and beautifully created that it would be a great choice for a wide range of readers and for a variety of reasons. It’s filled with double-entendres and puns on numbers; idioms and alliteration; mathematical terms throughout; and lots of humor. Even the title, “7 Ate 9,” is a clever play on words.

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‘Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?’ by Celebrated Children’s Author Liz Kessler


Children’s author Liz Kessler has a new stand-alone children’s novel, “Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?” and her many fans will love it. There are no mermaids, though, for those who love the “Emily Windsnap” tales, but they will still love this super-power book.

In this story, Jessica, a rather ordinary girl, finds out that she turns invisible when she gets sleepy. She and her best friend figure out that if she empties her mind, she can control how it happens.

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‘Don’t Blink!’ by Tom Booth is an Adorable Picture Book for Young Readers

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In “Don’t Blink!” Tom Booth takes a childhood game of staring and cleverly has the main character in the book, a cute girl with huge brown eyes (appropriate for staring), engage in a staring contest with not only many wild animals, but the reader of the book.

Yes, the child to whom this book is being read (or who is reading it alone) is part of the story. The animals join to girl one by one, and finally there is a large group all staring at…the reader.

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‘This Is Really Happening: True Stories’ by Erin Chack


“This Is Really Happening” by Erin Chack reads like a humorous set of stories because that is what it is — it’s just that this funny — and at times outrageous — set of stories is totally true. At least to the best of Chack’s memory.

Chack is an editor for BuzzFeed, an online site, and she frequently reflects on how lucky she is to work there.

Many of the stories she writes about have been shared on her BuzzFeed pages. For example, “10 Times I Knew I Loved You” includes stories that are expanded upon in the book. The book includes some moments that many people would never consider sharing with their friends, much less the entire world.

Some of what she shares is touching as she struggles through her cancer treatment at the age of nineteen. Some of what she shares is funny even when it’s about something sad. She shares the story of how all her neighbors crowded around when a neighbor shaved her head during the cancer treatment. It’s simultaneously funny and touching. She writes descriptively about peeing in a public parking lot in London and what to do when there’s no toilet paper. So some of the book is actually educational, in a manner of speaking.

She also shares in minute detail her first adventure using a menstrual cup. The way she writes about it is what makes the story wonderful. “I awoke the next day around eight A.M. and zoomed into the bathroom, excited to see what my cup had harvested while I slept.” Unfortunately, the cup doesn’t want to come out. Several pages are devoted to what Chack (and her friends) went through to remove the obstinate item from inside her body.

Nothing is too private to share, but the stories somehow manage to be humorous instead of crude — at least to most readers, probably.

Chack’s no-hold’s-barred approach to this memoir makes it a quick, enjoyable read.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Razorbill, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London’ is sweet story

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“The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London” by Penrose Halson is an interesting story about a real agency that began matching couples in 1939. It’s by turn sweet, touching, grim, and terrifying.

Two young women from different social backgrounds joined forces to start something revolutionary — a matchmaking service. They were organized and brilliant at what they did. These are some of the stories about the agency and the people whose lives it touched.

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‘BIG CAT, little cat’: A Picture Book About Sibling Love

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In “BIG CAT, little cat,” author/illustrator Elisha Cooper addresses two very emotional and touching subjects: sibling rivalry and the circle of life. The book celebrates companionship but also reflects the reality that all good things must come to an end. Yet the possibility of finding joy in life might very well appear at any time.

At the beginning of the story, there is a cat. He (or she) is never named, just called “big cat.” The new cat, the kitten, the “little cat,” learns about life, love, litter boxes, and leisure from his (or her) new “big brother.” Or sister.

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