‘Tips for Magicians’ by Celesta Rimington is a superb middle grade book that deals with overcoming loss, family and friendship

Tips for Magicians by Celesta Rimington

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from “Tips for Magicians,” a new middle grade book by Celesta Rimington. The title sounded cute—but I realized the book is much more than “cute.” It’s a powerful and touching story of a boy who loses his mother in an unexpected accident, and we see that the grief and the resulting damage to his family seems overwhelming. Harrison’s mother was a beautiful classical singer, and she performed all over the world. His father was her stage manager, and since her death he’s been working a lot. We don’t know if he needs to work or wants to be busy to assuage his grief, but he’s gone a lot. Since her death, Harrison’s father can’t stand to hear music in their home, and Harrison has been grieving not only the loss of his mother, but the loss of the music that both he and his mother loved and shared together.

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Two cat picture books about the joys — and the problems — of the cats we love

Cats. Can’t live with them; can’t live without them. At least some of us feel that way. I adore my black cat, Blacky, yet my other black cat Natty is a big pain in the neck. He jumps on us, delights in knocking over things on our nightstands, and eats any flowers I bring into the house (so I don’t get flowers anymore). But we love them even when they drive us nuts. Here are two picture books that celebrate those cats that can be “negative” or have “problems.” You’ll love them both as much as my grandson and I do.

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‘Dog Eat Dog’ by David Rosenfelt takes intrepid Andy Carpenter to Maine where he performs his legal/investigative magic

Dog Eat Dog by David Rosenfelt

Every Andy Carpenter mystery has a dog in it—usually more than one, and “Dog Eat Dog” is no different. The dog is often the device by which the main character, Andy Carpenter, gets dragged, kicking and screaming (figuratively, at least) into representing someone charged with murder. Someone we readers know is innocent. In this case, the accused murderer meets Andy when they see a dog being abused by its owner. The poor dog is being kicked and dragged on a leash, and before Andy’s intrepid wife Laurie can reach the abuser to stop the abuse (Andy allows her to be the enforcer as she is a former cop), another man steps in. After telling the abuser to stop, the abuser punches the would-be rescuer who then punches back. The police arrive and arrest both men. The dog savior tells Andy it’s not going to go well for him, and Andy doesn’t know why. It was clearly self-defense.

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‘Tender Is the Bite’ by Spencer Quinn is the latest lovable entry in the Chet and Bernie series

eTender is the Bite by Spencer Quinn

There’s a reason that in the title of this series, “Chet and Bernie,” the dog’s name comes first. As with all the other mysteries in the series, in “Tender is the Bite,” Chet, the almost-K9 shepherd, narrates the tale of his and Bernie’s adventures. Quinn presents this narration brilliantly, and it seems that with each new Chet and Bernie book, Chet’s narration gets better and better. Through Chet’s eyes (and ears and nose, which—no offense—are far superior to ours), we simultaneously know more and less that Bernie does. It’s a delicate balance, writing from the dog’s point of view, and Quinn has it nailed.

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Three picture books that will make kids laugh…and think

It’s difficult to say when children outgrow picture books. Educator and book expert Colby Sharp reads picture books daily to his fifth grade students. My fourth graders loved hearing and discussing picture books this past year. Often, picture books are aimed at older readers, but even those for younger readers can have important messages to impart and ponder. Here are three picture books which are adorable on the surface but also thoughtful and worthy of discussion.

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‘What a Dog Knows’ by Susan Wilson is about the connection we have with the animals we live with and about searching for family

What a Dog Knows by Susan Wilson

In “What a Dog Knows,” author Susan Wilson gives us an entirely relatable main character who is not a young woman, and who has been dealt a tough hand since birth. While she is a grandmother, she is certainly not your typical grandmother, although she does, on occasion, knit. Ruby Heartwood, formerly known as Mary Jones, was left at a Canadian convent as an infant. Her only family is a daughter, conceived after Ruby was raped as a young teenager, and a dog who found shelter with her after a thunderstorm.

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‘Dog Days: A Novel About Love, Loss and What It Is To Be Human’ by Ericka Waller

Dog Days by Ericka Waller

The novel “Dog Days” by Ericka Waller is kind of like what might happen if Fredrik Backman decided to write a novel with Jenny Colgan. It has Backman’s sardonic view of life and the people we might encounter and Colgan’s setting on the coast of England with blustery weather and beautiful views and muddy dogs. In this novel, we meet several important characters: Dan, a counselor who is OCD, and who has not had the courage to come out as gay; Lizzie, who lives in a women’s shelter with her son, Lenny; and George, an irascible old man whose wife has died and who doesn’t know how to cope.

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National Geographic Kids hits a home run with summer reads kids will LOVE

Ask any teacher what they want kids to do over the summer and most will reply: read. Of course we teachers all want kids to be outside, enjoying the summer weather and swimming and playing, but we also want them reading. Learning to enjoy reading, and reading for the sake of enjoyment, is a pastime that will have lifelong benefits. A person who reads is an informed person who is better able to analyze what is fact and what is fiction.

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‘A Dog’s Courage’ by W. Bruce Cameron; a tribute to the soul of a dog

A Dog’s Courage by
W. Bruce Cameron

In “A Dog’s Courage,” W. Bruce Cameron brings back the courageous and intrepid Bella, the dog we first met in “A Dog’s Way Home.” In this sequel, which also works as a stand alone story, Bella and her human family, Lucas and Olivia, are separated when there is a huge, all-encompassing forest fire that rages out of control in Colorado, where they are camping.

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‘Rez Dogs’ by Joseph Bruchac is a touching, timely, terrific middle grade novel about life during COVID on the reservation

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

“Rez Dogs” by acclaimed author Joseph Bruchac is not only a timely story about life on the reservation during COVID, it’s also the story of a girl and her dog, as well as a brief overview of the history of the government’s treatment of Native people even recently. All this in Bruchac’s evocative verse, succinct yet poetic and lovely.

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‘Seven Perfect Things’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Seven Perfect Things by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Before we even open to the first page, the cover reveals the mystery of the title. The jacket of “Seven Perfect Things” by Catherine Ryan Hyde is adorned with adorable, sleeping puppies. And when thirteen-year-old Abby’s abusive father tells her that nothing in life is perfect, and even dares her to “name one thing in this life that’s perfect,” she responds that she could name seven. We know that these seven perfect things, the “things” that changed Abby’s life, were once so unwanted and considered so imperfect that someone put these precious puppies in a bag and threw them off a bridge to drown in a river.

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