Review: Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System

solar systemReview:

Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System

Author: Bethany Ehlmann with Jennifer Swanson

Publisher: National Geographic Kids, 2018

Ages 9-12, Grades 4-6

Source: ARC

This new offering by National Geographic Kids is part of the Science SUPERHEROES series. Bethany Ehlmann – aka Dr. E – is a planetary geologist. She studies rock, not only from Earth but from the other planets in our solar system.

This could be a bit of a heavy topic. However, Dr. E has approached it in a way that will interest young readers. Some sample chapter titles include Our Cosmic Neighbors, Planets, Frozen Worlds, Volcano Worlds, and Craters. Each chapter is introduced with a comic before Dr. E dives into the denser material. And even that is handled in a clear and understandable manner.

The book is packed with cool facts. Learn why dust – stardust, in particular – is so important (pg. 28). Find out why poor little Pluto got a demotion (pg. 23). Learn which planet may have diamond rain (pg. 99). And if you believe that a crater is just a big hole, check out pages 88-89. And if this is a topic that interests you/your child, see page 87 to learn how you can become a planetary mapper.

The photos in this book are enough of a reason to purchase it. We can view the surface of many of the planets. There are also close-ups of specific features, like the dunes on Titan, windblown sand ripples on Mars, or the northern polar ice cap on Mars. Absolutely beautiful!

And at the risk of sounding like a corny infomercial, if that’s not enough there are experiments to try. One of these activities explains how Earth moves on its axis. Another activity helps construct a star viewer. And in another one readers learn how to create a convection current. Although some of these experiments do need adult supervision or help, most are not overly complicated and don’t need unusual materials.

While this book is interesting to read, it would also make a great classroom resource. A+ all the way!


Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Review: Argos


Argos: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog

Author: Ralph Hardy

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

Ages: 8-12

Source: ARC

This month I have two selections which have been based upon The Odyssey. The first selection, which posted earlier this month, was Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy by Douglas Rees. This book is not a retelling and readers won’t really get much of The Odyssey’s storyline by reading it (and perhaps that is fine with some folks).

Argos, however, is a retelling. However, it is told from the viewpoint of Odysseus’s faithful dog, Argos. Argos learns of his master’s adventures through the stories that other animals who have been able to travel and learn about Odysseus’ exploits share with Argos. Stories from gulls, sea turtles, bats, and a ship’s cat let Argos (and the reader) know that his master is alive and fighting to return home.

I can appreciate that there will be skeptical readers. They may not feel that The Odyssey is their cup of tea. I understand the feeling – for instance, I always feel that I could have happily and successfully lived my life without ever having read Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy – so why bother? (That is my opinion, but obviously my teacher felt differently.) Let me encourage readers to keep an open mind. Argos is well-written and fast-paced. I promise – it’s not a painful read.

My one criticism is that this book is meant for the 8-12 crowd and they will not have read The Odyssey yet. In light of this fact, I think that a glossary of characters, including a pronunciation guide, would be helpful. It’s not an absolute necessity in order to understand and enjoy the story, but I think it would even increase interest.


*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.



Review: Astronaut Aquanaut

Review:astronaut aquanaut

Astronaut Aquanaut

Author: Jennifer Swanson

Publisher: National Geographic Kids, 2018

How do space science and sea science interact?  They are more alike than many people realize. Explore these extremities with the help of this new book by Jennifer Swanson and National Geographic Kids.

Here are just a few of the similarities:

  1. In both space and the sea, explorers will need to bring their own oxygen supply. Plus, since neither environment is warm and cozy, scientists who study these places need protective gear in order to survive.


  1. Both environments are dark.


  1. Whether you want to become an astronaut or an aquanaut, the requirements are similar. The first step for both careers is a four-year degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).


  1. Living conditions in either a long-term space or underwater mission are similar. Think snug.


  1. In both environments, robotic technology is essential.


  1. Almost all space conditions can be mimicked under the water.


  1. There is garbage everywhere – both in the depths of the ocean and in the depths of space.


Of course, each environment has unique features and challenges. In space, there is no gravity. Actually, that is incorrect. In space it is microgravity. (Check out pages 14-15 for the in-depth explanation.) Under water, divers experience an additional force: buoyancy. (And again – check pages 16-17 for technical details.)

With plenty of great photos, quotes from astronauts and aquanauts, and experiments to try at home that help readers understand complex topics in simple ways, Astronaut Aquanaut brings fresh perspective to modern-day explorers.


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.




Review: The Battle of Junk Moutain


The Battle of Junk Mountain

Author: Lauren Abbey Greenberg

Publisher: Running Press, 2018

Ages 8-12

Source: ARC

Shayne is spending her summer, as she has always done in the past, with her grandmother, Bea. It should be like other summers of the past, but it won’t be. Though at first Shayne may think that things in Thomas Cove, Maine never change, they do.

For one thing, her grandfather has died in a boating accident and now Bea is alone. For another, there is a new neighbor next door, a crotchety old man Shayne calls Cranky. His grandson, Linc, is the same age as Shayne (twelve) and is also visiting. Mostly, though, Shayne notices that her “summer sister” Poppy has changed. The things they once shared are no longer important to Poppy, who is now much more interested in boys. Even Bea is different, though initially Shayne can’t quite understand exactly what is going on with her.

Shayne had gone to Maine with the idea of helping Bea on a project. Bea is a collector, but her plan is to clean out her house and sell all the unnecessary things at the local flea market. The trouble is, Bea thinks it is all necessary. The house – which Shayne calls Junk Mountain – is simply overflowing with stuff and whenever Shayne tries to clear things out, Bea puts it all back. Shayne just can’t make any progress. It is troubling, but there is so much else going on that Shayne doesn’t dwell on it too much. She’s got problems with Poppy, Linc, and Cranky to keep her plenty occupied.

Last week I reviewed Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy. Though I liked the book, I felt frustrated with the adults in the story. This book was the same. I liked the story and the younger characters, but Shayne’s mom annoys the heck out of me. I mean, I understand that you and your mother may be very different people and it can sometimes be tough to get along, but if you suspect (know) that an older parent is having some issues since when does it become your twelve-year-old daughter’s responsibility to resolve these issues? What makes the mom believe a kid has the experience or maturity to deal with any of it? When Mom calls Shayne and bawls her out for not getting rid of anything at the flea market, I just want to yell back at her, “Get off your own behind and act like an adult! This problem is far bigger than your kid daughter can handle so stop yelling at her for not being able to do what you don’t want to do!”

Well, now I feel better. Anyway, I think young readers will (as with Elektra) miss this point entirely so the pleasure of the story won’t be spoiled for them a bit. I actually really liked the intergenerational mix of characters. I also felt the outcome was totally realistic. Everything is not all sunshine and daisies, but it does end on a positive note. And Shayne’s experience does teach her an important lesson. When Shane complains that change sucks, Linc points out that “sometimes it can surprise you in a good way” (169).  This book is filled with good surprises.


Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Discussion Questions: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

elektra's adventuresDiscussion Questions for Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy by Douglas Rees


  1. On the trip from Mississippi to Guadalupe Slough, Elektra complains that the trip is “running away” while Mama sees the trip as an “adventure” and a “rescue from Mississippi.” Who do you think is right?


  1. Elektra claims that Mama has left her father because he wouldn’t leave Mississippi. Could Elektra be mistaken?


  1. When Mama, Elektra, and Thalia arrive at their new home, Elektra feels a ray of hope. She is sure they will be returning to Mississippi pronto. Do you think this will happen?


  1. What do you think of the new neighbors?


  1. Once again, we see a difference of opinion between Elektra and Mama. Mama couldn’t handle Mississippi because it was “rigid, hypocritical, and, worst of all, boring.” Elektra feels that life in Mississippi was “rich as delta soil and sweet as molasses” (pg. 41). What might be some of the reasons behind their differing opinions?


  1. We meet more neighbors and Mama’s tone of voice makes it clear that they, at least, are not boring. How might Elektra feel about this?


  1. The family receives a rather unique gift from one of their new neighbors (Ralph). How would you feel about receiving George?


  1. The girls explore the town by going to the library. They meet more of the residents of the area. How would you feel about these people? Interesting or boring? Elektra thinks they might be interesting, but do you think that will make her want to stay?


  1. Thalia likes their new town, but Elektra feels trapped. Why do they have such different opinions?


  1. Elektra meets Carlos Gonzales. How do you think she feels about him at this first meeting?


  1. After multiple tries to reach her father, he finally answers one of Elektra’s calls. Instead of saying she should return to him, he claims it is best for her to stay with her mother. He refuses to let her go home, but doesn’t really explain his reasons. Why do you think he feels that Elektra belongs with her mother?


  1. After this conversation, Elektra convinces herself that her father needs her and was just confused about what he really wanted. Do you agree with this?


  1. Elektra begins to wonder: What Would Odysseus Do? “Odysseus never complained unless he thought it would do him some good” (pg. 111). Elektra has done plenty of complaining. Has it done her any good?  Has it changed her situation? What do you think about her plans for action?


  1. As Mama evaluates her prospects for employment, Elektra responds with a smart-ass answer about their outlook. Mama slaps Elektra’s face. How do you feel about Mama right now? What about Elektra’s response?


  1. Elektra knows that to get back to Mississippi, she will need money.  How successful do you think she will be earning enough in Guadalupe Slough?


  1. Even as she plans to return to Mississippi, Elektra suddenly remembers a family trip to the Aegean Sea. Looking back, she now wonders about her father’s behavior toward her mother during that time. Do you think that summer caused this summer to happen? Do you think this revelation will change Elektra’s mind?


  1. How does Elektra feel about Carlos now that he is no longer Carlos-the-geek but Carlos the nineteen-year-old Stanford grad? Obviously, there is more to Carlos than she first realized. Could this be true of others, too? Evaluate the ways this is both good and bad.


  1. Mama comes home to find the girls missing. They were at get-together with the neighbors. Mama is angry, even though she learns that Ralph has fixed her car. Does she have a right to be?


  1. Thalia believed the incident was just her and Elektra having a good time with good people. Elektra explains that Mama was upset because she went by what she saw – Thalia and Elektra in a room full of adults where there was drinking going on – not by what they (Elektra and Thalia) knew. Could Elektra be making the same mistake in some of her relationships? Do we all do this at times?


  1. How do you think Thalia knew how to handle the situation with Ralph? (pgs. 157-159). We haven’t discussed much about Thalia, but what do you think about her outlook on everything – the change in her life, her new circumstances?


  1. Elektra knows that her actions in trying to get home are not truthful or honorable. She rationalizes that she can start being a good person again once she gets home. Do you think it is right for her to be “skeevy” just because she didn’t get what she wanted?


  1. Mama claimed she could never write because she never had a day to spend on her work. She couldn’t just walk away from taking care of her family. Will this new living situation really change that? Do you think that was Mama’s real problem?


  1. Elektra reads the following quote in one of her mother’s books on writing: “Your characters are defined by their actions…” (pg. 179). What do Elektra’s actions say about her? What about the actions of Mama and Thalia? Carlos or Ralph?


  1. Mama goes off on her interview and Elektra uses the opportunity to make her escape. En route, she finds out that her father has resigned his job, moved, and has a new wife. What do you think about Elektra’s plan now? What do you think about her father?


  1. At the same time Elektra receives this shocking news, she also learns her mother has been in a terrible accident on the way home from her interview.  What do you think of her next actions?


  1. What do you think about the neighbors after Mama’s accident? Has your opinion of them changed at all?


  1. Elektra wants to earn Ralph’s respect. She also needs to respect herself. Is this important?


  1. Mama finally comes clean about the circumstances of the divorce. Do you think she should have explained to the girls sooner? Was her plan to wait until they were older reasonable?


  1. What do you think of Elektra and Thalia’s plan to get some money? And what of their plan to tell Mama the truth, but slant?


  1. What do you think about the relationship between Rob and Mama. And what do you feel about the way Elektra and Thalia handled the fact that he “likes our Mama” (pg. 270)?


  1. Carlos thinks Elektra belongs in Guadalupe Slough. “The slough can be a good place for people who aren’t trying to be someone they’re not” (pg. 275). Was Elektra trying to be someone else when she arrived in California? What about now?


  1. Elektra’s father finally calls and admits he has been “remiss.” What do you think of Elektra’s response (pg. 281) to him?


  1. Elektra says Mama could have played it safe, but didn’t has Elektra come to understand her decision? Does Elektra always play it safe? Do you think that even though they don’t play it safe, they will be safe?

Review: Because You Love to Hate Me

Review:because you love to hate me

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy

Edited by: Ameriie

Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2017

Source: Library

In this anthology, thirteen acclaimed best-selling authors team up with thirteen booktubers to reimagine stories about our favorite villains – folks like Hades, the Sea Witch, and Medusa. The result is thirteen unconventional and unforgettable tales about the villains that we so love to hate.

What captures our imagination so fiercely? I think Ameriie explains it best in the introduction to this book:

“Villains take the risks our heroes can’t afford to take and make the choices our heroes are too afraid to make. They live in the Grey, and I, for one, love that sliver of space between light and dark, where things tend to be more interesting, people are more complex, and its harder to draw clean lines. Look into a villain’s eyes long enough and we might find our shadow selves, our uncut what ifs, and unchecked ambitions, a blurry line if ever there was one.”

Here are just a couple of examples of what is in store for readers.

  1. Whitney Atkinson’s (whittynovels) villain challenge to April Genevieve Tucholke (Wink Poppy Midnight, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea) was: Beauty and the Beast: Suitor’s Revenge. Tucholke’s story is “Indigo and Smoke.” As with the other stories, it is followed by Atkinson’s response to the story and her article, “Glamorized Recovery: Expectations vs. Reality” is just as interesting as the story itself.


  1. “Death Knell” by Victoria Schwab (Shades of Magic series) is in response to the challenge by Jesse George (jessethereader). In this tale, Hades wakes up after being unconscious at the bottom of a well in Ireland. George’s response, “Dear Death,” is a letter written to Death questioning Death’s motives.

These short stories will open your eyes to all sorts of new possibilities involving those dreaded, beloved folks we call villains.

Review: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy


Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

Author: Douglas Rees

Publisher: Running Press, 2018

Age: 13 and up

Source: ARC

When Elektra Kamenides’ parents divorce, Elektra and her sister Thalia must move with their mother from their home in Mississippi to a new home in Guadalupe Slough, California. It’s painful, especially since Dad has made it clear that he thinks it is best for the girls to go with their mother. Elektra does not agree. She belongs in Mississippi.

Their new home – which their mother has bought sight unseen – is an ancient trailer parked on a barge which is sunk into a mudflat. To say it is an unappealing prospect is an understatement. The family is surrounded by a cast of eccentric characters, including “a retired brothel keeper, a suicidal failed poet, a lunatic with a gun, and a mean old Mexican man who hates white people” (pg. 96). There also happens to be a tarantula named George, a neighborhood dog named Boozer, and – oh, yeah – a hot young artist close to Elektra’s age. However, it is not as bad as it sounds, for the new neighbors are surprisingly welcoming and caring.

As the daughter of a professor of Greek mythology, Elektra tries to figure out “What Would Odysseus Do?” How can she find her way back to Mississippi and her father? She determines that the best course of action is to run away. Just as she is about to achieve her goal, life will take a dramatic turn that will cause her to reevaluate her plans and her goals.

I think young readers are going to love this story, with both comedy and tragedy mixed to make a heart-warming adventure. As an adult reader, I will admit to feeling some frustration with the actions of both parents. Near the end the father admits, “I’ve been remiss.” You think? I would have used much stronger language. Fortunately, I think the younger readers will miss all that and focus on Elektra and her emotions, which are totally plausible and understandable.


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Snail Mail


Snail Mail

Author: Samantha Berger

Illustrator: Julia Patton

Publisher: Running Press, 2018Ages

Ages: 3-6, PK-Grade 3

This book starts with the line: “A long, long time ago, but really not THAT long, before e-mail and testing, clicking and sending, mail was delivered in a much different way.” I hate to say this, but young readers/listeners have no idea how mail – the actual physical kind – works. I have actually had to explain to middle school and high school students how to make out an envelope! Hopefully, this book will encourage some changes.

Snail Mail does remind all of us of the pleasure of getting a real card or letter. In this book, the mail really is delivered by snails, a group that includes Dale Snail, Gail Snail, Colonel McHale Snail and Umberto. The particular letter readers get to follow on its journey across the country is a love letter.

The snails brave all kinds of weather. You remember the old line: rain, snow, sleet, hail, etc. etc. The desert is hot, mountains are high. Sometimes they receive help from others. Mostly it is a lot of hard work, but they can tell it is worth it when that very special letter is finally received.

After reading this book, I went out and bought a couple of cards to send to my own children. I put on special stamps and wrote little encouraging notes. I hope other readers will be similarly inspired.


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Review: Colorama


Colorama: From Fuchsia to Midnight Blue

Written by: Cruschiform

Publisher: Prestel, 2017

This book is not really one of my read-aloud selections, but I think it will make an excellent resource for anyone whose children are artists, especially those who like to use colored pencils and paints.

Each page names a color and gives a brief write-up relating to that color. The following page is a full color sample.

Here is an example description:

“Cotton Flower

People first grew cotton more than 3,000 years ago. After blossoming, cotton flowers change into cushioned pods of soft, white vegetable fiber. Then, when they burst open to release their seeds, the fiber is picked and turned into yarn and other woven materials, which can be used to create all types of fabrics. At present, cotton flower is the most worn textile in the world.” (007)

There are 133 different shades to explore.


Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Review: Adventures in Science (The Human Body)


Adventures in Science: The Human Body

Author: Courtney Acampora

Publisher: Silver Dolphin Books, 2017

Today’s TV-free selection is actually a kit. It includes a book, but as you will see in the photos, there is also a skeleton model to build and stickers which are to be attached to posters (also included but not shown in photo). It took a lot of self-control on my part not to complete everything myself. However, I did wait and plan to share the activity with young friends. I will report on any feedback.

human-body-kit-e1525135311496.jpgI did, however, read the book. It is filled with pictures and diagrams. The information is very basic and not overwhelming, best for elementary ages. (Although I looked everywhere on the packaging and in the book, no suggested age range was given. I just hope the skeleton is not too fiddly for the age group.) It covers the human body pretty thoroughly, with pages devoted to things like the skeletal system, senses, the brain, the muscular system, the heart and blood, the lungs. There is also some information about keeping fit and healthy, a topic I believe is important to teach at an early age.

The set would make a great gift. Although the posters can obviously only be completed once, the book will remain a useful resource.

As mentioned earlier, I hope to be able to share this activity myself. I will let readers know my findings!


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.