‘Cat Among the Pigeons: A riotous assembly of unrespectable African creatures’ by David Muirhead: Amusing and oh-so-clever tales of African wildlife

cat among

Be assured, “Cat Among the Pigeons” by David Muirhead is not a boring compilation of facts and information about the creatures in Africa, but rather an erudite and always entertaining collection of anecdotes, history, and interesting tidbits about those sometimes exotic (wildebeest), sometimes not (wasp), animals.

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Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Five: Nonfiction (mostly) picture books

 

Some of these picture books are completely nonfiction while others skirt the line between fiction and nonfiction. I’ve included a few that are really fiction but that include enough nonfiction information that I think they impart content that merits inclusion in this collection. I hope you enjoy reading about these and share a few with your favorite young reader!

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Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Two: We’ve gone to the dogs

As many have discovered during this pandemic, adopting or fostering a dog (or cat) is a lovely way to have a furry, loving companion who gives nothing but love (and fur). There’s nothing quite like an animal’s unconditional love. Here are some reading choices that will share some training tips you may (or may not) want to take note of, as well as some doggy quirks (like digging in dirt), and two picture books about dogs and reading.

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‘A Guard Dog Named Honey’ by Denise Gosliner Orenstein is a sweet summer story of determination, friendship, and a big slobbery dog

guard dog honey

I started the middle grade story “A Guard Dog Named Honey” by Denise Gosliner Orenstein predisposed to dislike it. I don’t usually approach books with that attitude, of course, but this one is about a girl who wants to sell a dog for profit in order to raise the bail money to get her brother out of jail. I’m all about the dogs, and if her brother was in jail, I reasoned, no dog should suffer because of his stupidity.

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‘Devoted’ by Dean Koontz brings back — in spirit — a genius dog from decades ago.

devoted

The Dean Koontz book that got me hooked on him was “The Watchers,” and the dog in that book, a brilliant golden retriever, thoroughly enchanted me. In “Devoted,” Koontz creates a dog, and then a network of dogs who — maybe, he hints — descend from that highly intelligent dog. And Kipp, the loyal golden, is the kind of dog every dog lover dreams of having — a dog who understands us completely and can communicate with us freely. Continue reading

‘Race the Sands’ by Sarah Beth Durst is an amazing accomplishment – her best work that uses a fantasy world to teach us about our own

race the sands

“Race the Sands” is Sarah Beth Durst’s 20th published book, and maybe her best book yet. It’s a lovely fantasy in which women prove their strength not physically, but through mental exertions. The two main characters, Tamra and Raia, each have escaped a tortured childhood in the desert kingdom of Becar. They each end up working with kehoks, monsters who are born with the souls of depraved humans who didn’t deserve to come back in a human or animal body. Once reborn as a kehok, they are destined to be reborn as kehoks forevermore. It’s eternal damnation, and kehoks are monsters.

These monsters don’t respond to love or kindness. They want to kill and maim and destroy everything because of their monstrosity. Tamra, a former elite kehok rider, is desperate to find a kehok to train and a rider to race the kehok in Becar’s national races and win. It’s the only way she will be able to continue paying her daughter’s tuition at the school for augurs. Augurs are elite citizens, and the only ones who can read your soul (aura), who can tell you what you will be in the next life. It’s all about life, death, and rebirth. And the augurs control it all in Becar, where the emperor has died and his younger brother, Dal, cannot be coronated until his brother’s soul has been located in its new vessel and protected. But the augurs cannot find Zarin, his brother, in whatever new body he was reborn into, and time is running out. The neighboring country is amassing troops to invade, and important decisions cannot be made until there is a ruler.

Raia is running from unloving parents and an unwanted engagement to a man who killed his first wife. She is determined to make her way in the world, and if she can ride a kehok and succeed, so be it. What no one expects is how the newborn kehok Tamra buys, an apparently unmanageable killer, reacts to Raia, and what happens when they begin to race together.

The trainer, Tamra, is an unusual main character. She is not beautiful, but rather scarred and determined. She is a wonderful mother, but she is far from perfect. What she does have is an inner kindness and humanity. While other kehok trainers beat and starve their animals into submission, Tamra controls them with her mind, while treating the kehoks humanely. She is so powerful she can control several kehoks using just her thoughts. Strong women in this book show the men in it that physical strength isn’t always most important.

Durst forces us to question the status quo about religion and government. She opens our eyes about the nature of power and the corrupting forces that power and money can bring. She makes readers realize that no one is better than anyone else because of their position or their title. And that those who would preserve their power at the expense of the freedom of others are monsters.

While kehoks are monsters, they are straightforward monsters. You know by looking at them that they are monsters. Human monsters are a different animal. They walk among us, look like us, and often have power over us, but under their human disguise, they are as ugly and venal as any kehok.

“Race the Sands” will grab you and not let go. While the first few chapters take a slower pace because Durst is building the background and the world of Becar, the pace picks up to the point that this becomes a book you can’t put down, a book that you will savor at the same time you are feverishly turning the pages to find out how it all ends. I actually reread it immediately, looking for and enjoying my favorite parts. The characters and their world will linger in your mind long after the last page has been turned. It’s a perfect book — powerful, thoughtful, heartbreaking, and impactful.

Review first posted at Bookreporter.com.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the author for review purposes.

‘The NOT Bad Animals’ by Sophie Corrigan is the perfect book for an online lesson in critical thinking

not bad animals

It’s stay-at-home time in Illinois with COVID 19 everywhere. We left school on a Thursday afternoon expecting to return on Friday. But after an emergency school board meeting, our superintendent (rightly) decided to close school that night. School as usual was cancelled, and we have not been allowed to go back.

For me, it’s presenting a problem because all of my treasured personal picture books, a collection built up over years of reviewing superb books, are in my classroom. But a few new picture books have arrived in the mail, and one, in particular, is going to make for an excellent lesson with my first and second (and maybe third) grade students. Continue reading

‘Olympig’ by Victoria Jamieson is a fabulous picture book with an important lesson

olympig

“Olympig!” by Victoria Jamieson is the story of Boomer the pig. It’s also a story of determination and desire. And hard work and practice. And it’s a story about reality.

Boomer is determined to win at the Animal Olympic Games. When the newsman, Mr. Hamstring, interviews Boomer, he asks, “The other animals in the Olympics will be faster and stronger than you. Tell me, Boomer, how can you possibly win a gold medal tomorrow?” Continue reading

‘The Blackbird Girls’ by Anne Blankman is a touching story of Chernobyl, of the Holocaust, of love, and of friendship

blackbird girls

“The Blackbird Girls” by Anne Blankman is so much more than its description. It is about two young girls who are rivals, Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko who end up escaping from the town of Pripyat, their town near the nuclear power plant Chernobyl where their fathers worked. After the explosion, we learn that the government hid news of the explosion for two days, and the day after it happened, residents of that small town strolled about the streets as if it were a normal day in spite of the clouds of blue smoke and the red skies that lit up over Chernobyl. Continue reading

“Do not miss” nonfiction picture books: three books for children about RBG, an iconic figure, plus the stories of two other important women in history

3 RBG books

There’s a pandemic going on, and now more than ever, children need to read about inspirational figures. Few women have motivated more young girls than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Three recent releases celebrate her life; each is appropriate for a different age group of children and all three are books that are worthy to be read to children and by children right now. All of them cover the amazing life of Ginsburg, but each is special in a different way. Additionally, two other new picture books feature the lives of two relatively unknown women, Mother Jones and Febb Burn, both of whom changed the lives of women in our country. Continue reading

‘City Spies’ by James Ponti is a fast-paced thriller for middle grade readers that’s a perfect adventure to escape into

city spies“City Spies” by James Ponti is an action story that kids (and adults) will love. A group of underdog kids as young as twelve live in an old manor home in Scotland and work with a British spy nicknamed “Mother” as a team foiling international villains.

First we meet Sara, from whose perspective the story is mostly told. She is in custody after hacking into the New York City computers to expose her cheating, horrible foster parents. But when a debonair man offers to represent her, she quickly chooses him as her lawyer rather than the public defender who was going to agree to her serving time in a juvenile detention home. After she quickly hacks into the State of New York court computers to substitute in the new lawyer, the change of attorneys looks legitimate . By that evening, she’s on a plane to Scotland and a new life. Continue reading