Review: Math Lab for Kids


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Math Lab for Kids: Fun, Hands-On Activities for Learning with Shapes, Puzzles, and Games

Authors: Rebecca Rapoport and J.A. Yoder

Publisher: Quarry Books, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., 2017

Source: Public Library

Age 6-10

I have been seeing a lot of math books on the market lately. Although I’m glad to see some interesting STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) books becoming available, I was still curious. It seems so unlikely that a kid would pick this up as a book to read. I wondered if these activities could possibly be as fun as the titles claim.

For this book, at least, the promise of fun is truly fulfilled. There are lessons in geometry, topology, and graphs, to name just a few of the topics covered. I tried a few of the labs myself. I made the gumdrop pyramids (and sampled plenty, just like any kid would. Can’t imagine there are going to be too many complaints with this activity). I drew some parabolas but then stitched some, too. For kids who like gross motor activities, one lab takes students out-of-doors to make a giant ellipses.

I like how the activities in this book can be adapted to many age groups. I’ve seen preschool aged children working on similar activities to the shape labs. We used straws that had been cut to smaller lengths and balls of play dough (a homemade edible version, just in case). And I have seen much older kids making fractal snowflakes. Though some supplies are needed for the activities, most are things readily on hand or inexpensive to purchase.

I still don’t know if this is the type of book children will pick up on their own, but parents and teachers should. Do the activities with them. And perhaps you might not mention the word math. It’s kind of like hiding vegetables in favorite treats. Sometimes what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

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Review: Children of Refuge


Children of Refuge (Children of Exile: Volume 2)

Author Margaret Peterson Haddix

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017

Source: ARC

In Volume 2 of the Children of Exile series we follow the story of Edwy, Rosi’s frenemy from Fredtown. Edwy, like Rosi, is twelve, one of the first children to be brought to Fredtown. Unlike Rosi, Edwy has always been a bit of a rebel. Despite his perfect Fred upbringing, things like lying and rule-breaking have always come easily to Edwy.

Now back with his biological parents, Edwy’s situation is totally different from Rosi’s. His parents, the Watanabonesets, are rich. In fact, his father is a powerful crime lord with all kinds of underground connections. Edwy’s older brother and sister don’t have to live in their former hometown, now called Cursed Town. No, they live separated from their parents in a town called Refuge City. Refuge City has all kinds of things to make for a better life but most people can’t leave Cursed Town. Only Edwy’s father has the kind of clout to get his son out of Cursed Town to live with his siblings in Refuge City.

Life in Refuge City should feel natural to Edwy. It’s a place where everyone seems to lie and cheat. Edwy’s siblings, Enu and Kiandra, have found ways to fool their parents into thinking that they really attend school. When Edwy plays basketball with Enu and his friends, cheating is not only expected but accepted. So why does it suddenly seem wrong to Edwy?

When Edwy learns of Rosi’s fate in Cursed Town (because Kiandra hacks their computer system), he realizes that Rosi, poster child for the Freds, has been wrongly imprisoned. He knows he must help her in some way. To do so, he must do all kinds of things that Rosi and the Freds would think wrong. Yet is it wrong to do bad things in order to help his friend?

Once again readers are pulled into the story as we wonder not only about the actions of Edwy, but also the fate of Rosi. Be sure to check out the discussion questions tomorrow.



Review: Children of Exile

Children of ExileReview:

Children of Exile

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016

Source: ARC

Rosi has always believed she was an orphan. She has been raised in Fredtown by Fred-parents along with her five-year-old brother, Bobo. Yet now, at the age of twelve, she learns that she is not an orphan, and that the Freds are going to return her and all the other children living in Fredtown to their biological parents.

Rosi learns that the reason the Freds have raised her and the other children is because it was too dangerous for the children to remain with their real parents. Now the situation – Rosi has no idea what the situation truly is – has been resolved. Crowded onto a plane with all the other children, she is sent back without the support or comfort of any of the Fred-parents.

Life with her biological parents is a shock to Rosi. They seem as different from her Fred-parents as they could possibly be. While the Freds seemed perfect, her real parents are physically and emotionally scarred. They are also unkind, uncouth, and perhaps more than just a little bit scared, as well. And it’s not just her parents that seem so different; it’s all of the other parents. Why would the kind and loving Freds send the children to such a place?

When Rosi finally dares to speak out about the things she has observed, she unknowingly gets into trouble – real trouble which is leading her further into a dangerous world she has never known existed. She is only beginning to understand that not everyone is exactly what they seem.

Haddix has the reader on the hook right from Chapter 1, and she slowly but surely reels us in as we begin to wonder, along with Rosi, what is really going on in Rosi’s world. We immediately feel that something is wrong and are increasingly drawn into the mystery. Then Haddix throws her bomb, a shocking revelation that will force Rosi to take actions she never dreamed possible, which leaves the reader hungering for the next book in the series, Children of Refuge.

Tomorrow I will be posting discussion questions for Children of Exile and I will follow that with the review of Children of Refuge – and, of course, more discussion questions. Stay tuned!


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

Review: The Bad Seed


The Bad Seed

Author: Jory John

Illustrator: Pete Oswald

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2017

Source: Public Library

Sunflower Seed (my name for the seed) is a baaaad seed. All the other seeds are afraid of him. He’s always late, doesn’t wash his hands or feet, cuts in line, and never listens.

Why is he so bad? Well, there has been some real tragedy in Sunflower Seed’s life. Once he was part of a happy family. Then his sunflower home drooped and he and his family were packed away in darkness. The next thing he knew he was heading down the gullet of a sunflower-munching giant! He survives due to a lucky spit, but Sunflower Seed is certainly damaged by the experience. He becomes BAD.

Readers and listeners might recognize a few of our sunflower friend’s traits, but the good news is he is ready to be happy again. He’s not perfect by any means, he’s learning to make the change. It’s a nice little message for all of us.

I love the seed illustrations. There are peanuts, corn kernels, almonds, pistachios, cashews to name some of the seed friends. They are cute and really kind of funny.

Review: Shadow Magic

Shadow MagicReview:

Shadow Magic

Author: Joshua Khan

Publisher: Disney Hyperion, 2016

Source: ARC

Grades 3-7, Ages 8-12

The House of Shadows is one of the six Great Houses of Magic. The Shadows command the magic of darkness. Gehenna is a dark and gloomy place: misty forests, craggy mountains. The sun never shines and the dead walk. It is ruled by Lileth Shadows (usually called Lily, sometimes Lady Shadows), the thirteen-year-old girl who is the last surviving direct descendant of the Shadow family. In Gehenna, Halloween is the biggest holiday of the year (yes, I saved this review especially for today!) as Gehenna was once a country of necromancers who could summon ghosts and ghouls. They celebrate with the Halloween Ball, and it is something that Lily has always looked forward to attending.

Twelve-year-old Thorn is a slave – with secrets. He’s the son of a woodcutter, but he has talents that extend beyond the typical woodcutter. At the slave market he is bought by Master Tyburn, Executioner for the House of Shadows. Tyburn’s mission, although unknown to Thorn, is to find the one remaining man of the group that murdered Lily Shadow’s family. Tyburn senses that Thorn’s skills may help his search, so he brings Thorn back to Castle Gloom.

Once at Castle Gloom, Thorn quickly learns the situation. Lady Shadows is to be married to Gabriel Solar, heir to Lumina and a member of rival house, the House of Solar. Traditionally the House of Shadows, who command darkness, and the House of Solars, who command light, are enemies and a union between them will weaken their magic. However, Lily will do anything to protect Gehenna, even marry into the very family she suspects has something to do with the deaths of her father, mother, and brother.

Unlikely as it seems, Lily and Thorn strike up a sort of friendship. And it is a good thing, especially for Lily. She’s in constant danger, for someone really wants to get rid of all of the Shadows. Thorn, with his common sense, street-smarts, and brash acts of derring-do, is just the boy to help keep her safe. He is helped by a cast of other characters; saving Lily takes a lot of work.

Fans of the Harry Potter Series will love this new story. With plenty of mysteries, plot twists and turns and the corresponding red herrings, it’s one wild and thrilling read. It’s filled with unusual magical folk, most of whom are likeable and some of whom make very satisfying villains. There are a few illustrations which have a graphic-novel feel to them. At the end, you know there is more to come (and there is: #2 in series is Dream Magic and #3 is Burning Magic so far) – and you just can’t wait to find out more!


Review: Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Deep and Dark and DangerousReview:

Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Publisher: Sandpiper, an imprint of Houghton Mufflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2007

Source: Public Library

No Halloween reading list would be complete without a selection by Mary Downing Hahn. Her books are always so deliciously creepy! Although this is not a newly published book, it is wonderfully chilling – just right for reading on a dark and dangerous night with your back up against a wall.

Ali is getting to spend the summer at Gull Cottage on Sycamore Lake in Maine despite her mother’s negative attitude toward the whole idea. Her mother hasn’t been to the cottage since she was a girl, but according to her the place is always rainy, mosquito-ridden and unpleasant. Sycamore Lake is deep and dark and dangerous. Aunt Dulcie, an artist preparing for a big show, has decided it is time to return and get some work done. She needs Ali to babysit her five-year-old daughter, Emma. Despite a lot of reservations, Ali’s mother agrees.

Once in Maine, Ali realizes that her mother’s fears may be well-founded. Emma shares a scary dream in which bones in the water come out and chase her. Then a malicious and mysterious girl of about nine or ten shows up. Sissy is a nasty little thing, made all the worse because she seems to be a bad influence on Emma. After hanging out with her, Emma begins lying, telling Aunt Dulcie that Ali tried to push her off the dock into the lake.

It is through Sissy that Ali and Emma learn about a girl named Teresa: how Teresa was drowned in Sycamore Lake and her body was never recovered. “… her bones are still out there someplace deep down in the dark, dark water” (pg. 87). Most frightening of all is the accusation that Ali’s mom and Aunt Dulcie were somehow involved in the tragedy.

Can Ali find out the truth after all this time? Can she keep herself and Emma safe while trying to find out just what happened at Lake Sycamore? And is Sissy going to make more trouble – or might she actually help solve the mystery? Those questions really keep the pages turning.


Review: The Witch’s Boy


The Witch’s Boy

Author: Kelly Barnhill

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers, 2014

Source: Personal Purchase

Recommended Ages: 9+

Ned and Tam are twins. They built a raft which they tried to float in the Great River. The craft was not seaworthy and the boys were thrown into the water, fighting for their lives. People of the town gathered at the edge of the river and called out to their father, “If you can only save one, make sure you save the right one.” He saves one boy, Ned, and Tam is drowned. The townspeople shake their heads. They felt he had saved the wrong boy.

The boys’ mother, Sister Witch, realizes that she is also about to lose Ned. So she uses her magic and as Tam’s soul leaves his body, she takes hold of it and sews it onto Ned. Ned survives.

Áine is the daughter of the Bandit King. Her mother’s last words are, “The wrong boy will save your life, and you will save his.” Her father was so grieved at the loss of his beloved, that he locks himself away with a jug of wine and howls his sadness. When Áine points out that they desperately need money to survive, the Bandit King finally rouses himself. Suddenly there is money available, but her father is much changed. What has caused this change? Áine does not know, but she knows that action is needed in order to save her father from himself.

When the Bandit King comes to steal Sister Witch’s magic, Ned knows he must do something drastic, so he attaches the magic to himself. But “Magic is chaotic. Magic is sneaky” (pg. 121). Perhaps Ned has taken on more than he can handle. He meets up with Áine and together they set out on a mission that will change the course between two warring nations and their lives.

The Witch’s Boy stands as a great classic fantasy story. However, I love it in part because it’s language is so rich. My partial vocabulary list includes words like multitudinous, implacable, prodigious, and stymied – not the vocabulary used by the average nine-year-old, or even much older kids, for that matter. So you might think this book is too hard for some of the younger audience to read. I’d like to quote Madeleine L’Engle from her book, A Circle of Quiet (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972):

To give a writer a controlled-vocabulary list is manipulating both writer and reader. It keeps the child within his present capacity, on the bland assumption that growth is even and orderly and rational, instead of something that happens in great leaps and bounds. (148)

The more limited our language is, the more limited we are, the more limited the literature we give to our children, the more limited their capacity to respond, and therefore, in their turn, to create. (149)

We need more books like this, books that use wonderfully expressive language. Sure, it’s a great story, but part of what draws us in are the words. I was so impressed by this that – as you may have guessed – tomorrow I will include a vocabulary list. Warning: it is a long one!

Review: Plant a Kiss

Plant a KissReview:

Plant a Kiss

Author: Amy Krause Rosenthal

Illustrated by: Peter Reynolds

Publisher: HARPER, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2012

Source: Public Library

I’ve got another picture book that is one both listener and reader will love. It’s not in my October theme, but it’s so good I had to include it anyway.

Little Miss plants a kiss. A kiss, you ask? Yes, a kiss. And with some sunshine and water and patience (and I suspect a bit of love, too), the kiss grows. What do you do with a kiss that grows? Little Miss knows. A kiss is meant to be shared.

With its lovely sing-song rhymes and illustrations reminiscent of Quentin Blake’s work on some of Roald Dahl’s books, this is one picture book that should be added to every library.

Review: Goldfish Ghost

Goldfish GhostReview:

Goldfish Ghost

Author: Lemony Snicket

Illustrations by: Lisa Brown

Publisher: A Neal Porter Book by Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Source: Public Library

Here is a wonderful little picture book ghost story. As the title suggests, it’s about a goldfish ghost. He lives in a bowl in a boy’s room (Alas! How many of us have had goldfish ghosts!), but it is a bit lonely there. He goes out to the local seaside town to try and find a friend, but no one seems just right. In the town, at the beach, and even over the ocean he finds plenty of folks. However, “It can be hard to find the company you are looking for.” So true! But don’t give up hope. Somewhere goldfish ghost is sure to find a friend.

With Lemony Snicket’s dark style of humor (but not nearly so much as the A Series of Unfortunate Events series) and Lisa Brown’s simply lovable goldfish ghost, this book is sure to please not only the listener but the reader, too.

If you’ve got kids or grandkids who will be getting plenty of candy and you are looking for a nice Halloween alternative, try this book. It’s a real treat.

Review: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

It's the Great PumpkinReview:

It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

Author: Charles M. Schulz

Publisher: RP Kids, 2010

Source: Public Library

It’s the time of year when TV stations are going to be playing the old classic cartoon, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. It’s fun to watch, so it must be fun to read, too. Right?

No, no and more no. I felt exactly as I do when reading many graphic novels. Too many noise-words and explanations that don’t move the story forward. Some things – like when Charlie Brown has trouble with the scissors – just didn’t translate that well into print. I didn’t like the use of the word “blockhead” (although it may be some slight bit better than today’s equivalent of dumbass – but probably not since the intention is the same. And I don’t really like that part of the cartoon, either.) What happened to the Snoopy vs. the Red Baron section of the cartoon? It’s completely missing in the picture book version. To be strictly honest, Snoopy is wearing the helmet; he just doesn’t go flying off on his doghouse. And since when does Lucy say, “Ewwww” when kissed by Snoopy? She yells “Dog germs!” You have to get these things right.


This book is a pass for