Review: Benjamin Franklin’s Wise Words


Benjamin Franklin’s Wise Words

Author: K. M. Kostyal

Illustrator: Fred Harper

Publisher: National Geographic, 2017

Source: ARC

We all recognize them:

Honesty is the best policy.

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Haste makes waste.

These were the sayings of Benjamin Franklin, the famous printer, diplomat, and scientist.

In this volume, young readers get these and many more of BF’s sayings, with explanations that pertain to today’s situations – and they are not so different from the past as you might imagine. Kostyal also works in plenty of interesting biographical and historical information.

I love the illustrations. They are wildly and wonderfully comical. For instance, readers should check out page 48 which illustrates the adage “He that Lies Down with Dogs, Shall Rise Up with Fleas.”

Learn more about K. M. Kostyal at:

Learn more about Fred Harper at:


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

Review: The Whydah


The Whydah, A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found

Author: Martin W. Sandler

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2017

Source: Library

Tales of pirates have fascinated us for generations. These legends, told over and over in print and on the screen, have had all sorts of fresh, modern updates. They continue to lure us with tales of adventurous lives.

So the real question is this: Is the nonfiction as entertaining as the fiction?

Yes – although perhaps not in the way readers will expect. The Whydah, A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found gives us plenty of information, not only about the Whydah specifically but of piracy in general. It debunks the myths of buried treasure and secret maps. Unfortunately, most pirates spent their loot too quickly to actually bury it and while some of the treasure was gold and silver, much of it was “ordinary trade goods, such as lumber, cloth, and animal hides – all items that would have been ruined if they had been buried” (pg. 110). And although pirates certainly were violent and cruel, no one really walked the plank. The most common – and feared – punishment was flogging.

Pirates were also surprisingly democratic. In fact, “the biggest reason to turn to piracy was the desire to be free men” (pg. 40). On a pirate ship, everything of significance was decided by vote and booty was distributed equally. Men of color were treated as equals, even though many had been (or had been destined to become) slaves. They even had a sort of “insurance policy” for men injured and disabled.

So will all of our romantic notions of pirates be shattered?

Not really. The Whydah was captained by Samuel Bellamy, known as “Black Sam” or “Black Bellamy.” He had jet-black hair and instead of the usual powdered wig,  he grew his hair long and tied it back with a black satin ribbon. His outfit, which consisted of a long velvet coat, knee britches, silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes, was “completed by a sword that hung at his left hip and four pistols that were secured by a broad sash” (pg. 11).  And of course there is a romance (though undocumented) of Black Sam and a girl from Cape Cod named Maria Hallett.

There’s plenty of adventure, too. Bellamy learned the pirate trade from Benjamin Hornigold, a legend himself because he trained so many pirates including the infamous Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. Bellamy quickly became one of the most successful pirates. The book gives details of pirate attacks, including tactics like playing weird music and doing even weirder dances meant to terrify their prey.

The Whydah sunk off the coast of Cape Cod in what meteorologist’s called “the perfect storm” and Bellamy and most of the crew died. Though heading to Maine, it is presumed that Bellamy had visited with Maria just before the wreck. The legends, however, have lived on. Then, in the 1980’s, the Whydah was discovered by Barry Clifford. It was first documented pirate ship discovered. Did the discovery take away from the mystery? Not at all. The archeological evidence is just as fascinating as the Whydah’s story.

If you are taking a trip to Cape Cod this summer, you might want to check out the Whydah Pirate Museum to see the real artifacts.

Review: I’m Trying to Love Spiders

I'm Trying to Love SpidersReview:

I’m Trying to Love Spiders

Author/Illustrator: Bethany Barton

Publisher: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015

Source: Library

I’ll be honest. In the official spider test, I chose d. run away screaming. So thinking my attitude may need some adjustment, I decided to give this picture book a try.

It’s hard to like spiders or their relatives, scorpions and ticks. They’re just not cuddly. Almost all of them are venomous, though most cannot bite a human (note that I did not say all – a particularly disturbing thought). They use their venom to liquefy their prey, which is kind of gross even if it does rid the world of a lot of unwanted pests. And it is not particularly comforting to know that there are some 40,000 species of spiders.

For young readers, though, this book gives plenty of arachnid facts, told in a very engaging way. Several species are listed, including all kinds of fun facts, so be sure to check out the end papers. For example, did you know that the Bird-Dung Crab Spider hides in plain sight by looking like bird poop? Or that there is even a spider called the Happy Face Spider? Actually, I have to admit it. This book actually leaves me wanting to know more about spiders.

I just don’t want to get too close. As Barton is the first to admit, loving – or at least getting to know – spiders is not easy, but as she also points out, we can all keep trying.

Check out Bethany Barton’s website at:



Review: Because of an Acorn

Because of an AcornReview:

Because of an Acorn

Authors: Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer

Illustrator: Preston Gannon

Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC, 2016

Source: Library

Because of an Acorn is a picture book intended for readers ages 5-9. It tells a story highlighting the interconnectedness of everything in nature. From an acorn will grow a tree. The tree can provide a safe home for a bird. The bird may spread seeds, which will provide food for other woodland creatures. In turn, those animals become food for predators.

At the end of the book, the authors provide explanations about ecosystems and food chains. They talk about the importance of trees, specifically the white oak as the foundation of the forest. Their notes give us a real sense of the importance of trees in our environment.

I think this book would be an excellent resource in the classroom library. The natural cycles are simply explained, but the connections are clear.  The illustrations are simple and not distracting. I especially like the cut-outs at the beginning and end of the book. I think that these also help to show the links from one page to the next, whether it is the acorn to the tree or the leaf as a part of the larger tree.


Review: This Book Stinks!

This Book StinksReview:

This Book Stinks!: Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish, and the Science of Trash

Author: Sarah Wassner Flynn

Publisher: National Geographic Kids, 2017

Source: ARC

Here is a little quiz, just to see how much you really know about trash:

1. How much trash is thrown away each day worldwide?

a. 4 tons

b. 1000 tons

c. 1 million tons

d. 4 million tons

2. In the United States, about ___ % of discarded electronics (e-waste) are recycled or reused.

a. 40 percent

b. 20 percent

c. 50 percent

d. 80 percent

3. It takes ___ years for a disposable diaper to break down.

a. 10 years

b. 450 years

c. 10 months

d. 100 years

4. What country is the world’s most wasteful?

a. United States

b. China

c. Brazil

d. Japan

5. What is the most common solid-waste material found in landfills?

a. newspaper

b. plastic bottles

c. food

d. aluminum cans

The answers to these questions (given below) may surprise you. In fact, much of the information in This Book Stinks! will not only surprise you, it will probably inspire you.

This Book Stinks! dives into a topic that many of us would like to ignore. It is packed with information about how much trash the world really produces, the different methods in which trash may be handled, and – best of all – things that we can all do to help lighten the load for planet Earth. There are plenty of simple suggestions like using reusable bags at the grocery store and a recipe for using milk that has gone sour. Also included are ideas for more involved projects, like organizing a neighborhood cleanup or repurposing trash to become art or other items.

The answers to the quiz are as follows:

  1. d. 4 million tons
  2. a. 40%
  3. b. 450 years
  4. a. The United States (How embarrassing!) Note: China is second, Brazil is 3rd and Japan is 4th.
  5. c. food


*Note: This book was provided to me for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Ultimate Explorer guide


Ultimate Explorer Guide

Author: Nancy Honovich

Publisher: National Geographic Kids, 2017

Source: ARC

Are you getting ready for summer adventures? Are you curious about careers that might take you to new places, to meet new people and see exciting new things? With the Ultimate Explorer’s Guide, you can get set to explore the world by land, sea, or sky.

Ultimate Explorer Guide is filled with information and activities. Each section of the book includes a “Help Wanted” section which lists possible careers. This section includes suggestions like zoologist, archaeologist, or oceanographer and gives a brief description of the job. What is even better are the many interviews given by professionals in the field. These are interesting, informative and encouraging.

And at the risk of sounding like a bad infomercial, I am going to add that the book just doesn’t stop there! It is jam-packed with activities that kids – especially those interested in science – are going to love. Learn how to build a worm castle or make a map. You can do an experiment involving erosion or one in which kids can learn how the acidity in water effects shellfish. We are also given Eco-Challenges – suggestions in which we, too, can protect the environment.

Ultimate Explorer Guide is just the interactive kind of book I love. Sure, it’s great to get your kids reading, but it is also great to have them apply that knowledge.


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

Review: You Can Be a Paleontologist!


You Can Be a Paleontologist!

Author: Scott D. Sampson, Ph.D.

Publisher: National Geographic Kids, 2017

Source: ARC

Are you – or your young readers – curious about dinosaurs? Do you want to learn more about the science of paleontology? With the help of this new book, you can explore these and many other questions about this interesting field. For instance, you will learn:

  • Where fossils are found
  • How paleontologist actually find fossils
  • What tools are used in digging up fossils
  • The kinds of fossils paleontologists find (they are not all dinosaurs)
  • How fossils are removed from the field
  • What happens to fossils
  • And the techniques paleontologists use to study their findings

This book is filled with all kinds of interesting information that will keep budding scientists totally engaged. For instance, readers will learn how to tell a fossil from an ordinary rock. They will learn what the job of a preparatory involves. Best of all, at the end of the book, Sampson will let you in on a BIG SECRET (no spoilers from me, though).

There are lots of fun illustrations in the book, but personally I love the photographs. These pictures give a much more accurate understanding of the field of paleontology and I appreciated the opportunity to see the workers in action.

You can learn more about Dr. Sampson at his website:


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


Review: 100 Things to Be When You Grow Up

100 things to be when you grow upReview:

100 Things to Be When You Grow Up

Author: Lisa M. Gerry

Publisher: National Geographic Kids, 2017

Source: ARC


Today is Take Your Child to Work Day. Many employers will be sponsoring special programs to get kids excited about the work the company does. I think it is a nice idea, although I wish that a bit more was done toward interesting students who are really thinking of careers (aka: high school students) at such events. However, if your employer doesn’t sponsor a program – or you simply can’t take them out of school for this day – there are other options available.


One nice resource is National Geographic’s 100 Things to Be When You Grow Up. It explores a wide variety of career choices. There are the “old stand-by” jobs: teacher, lawyer, doctor, or accountant. Often these jobs are given a bit of a twist. For example, your son or daughter could be a sports team physician (sounds a lot more cool than just being a simple doctor). Some of the jobs are a bit more unusual. Your child might want to explore being a paleontologist or a robotics engineer. Some of the jobs are downright wacky. A snake milker? A professional line waiter? Well, to each his own. I think kids will find these ideas fun and it will give them food for thought, if nothing else.


Interviews of a variety of professionals are included. If I have any complaint about this book, it is that it could have included more interviews as they were truly interesting. There were interviews of a Hollywood animal trainer, an iceberg tracker, and a woodworker, just to give you some of idea of the variety.


If you’re looking to get some conversations started about career choices, this book provides a fun way to begin.


*Note: This book was provided in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Picture Book Plus Review: Insect Detective

Insect DetectivePicture Book Plus Review:

Insect Detective

Author: Steve Voake

Illustrator: Charlotte Voake

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2009

Source: Public Library

Insect Detective is an engaging picture book that gives the read-aloud crowd a nice introduction to the world of insects. In an uncomplicated way, Voake introduces insects like wasps, bees and ants. He tells of the life cycle of an insect. He explains the different places they live and the ways in which they protect themselves from predators.

You all know how I love books that offer something more than just a reading experience. At the end of Insect Detective, Voake gives suggestions for activities that you can do with your children to further explore the world of insects. Some of these include making a house for solitary bees or attracting moths for observation.

I would like to add a further suggestion. Check out This website allows you to order butterflies, ladybugs, ants and praying mantis to raise in your home or classroom. You can buy complete kits or simply get “refills.” Everything comes with complete instructions, and it is easy to do. When my own son was turning four, I gave him a package containing caterpillars, ladybug larvae and a praying mantis egg case. It was such a hit that for many years after he always wanted to get “bugs” for a birthday present. Being able to observe the transformation of metamorphosis at close hand is truly memorable and educational. Insect Lore has plenty of other educational items for purchase, too. Check it out!

Review: Motor Girls


Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly into the Twentieth Century

Author: Sue Macy

Publisher: National Geographic, 2017

At one time men thought cars where too messy, too complicated and too dangerous for women. How wrong they were!

Motor Girls gives us the historical timeline of driving, while focusing on how women drivers got in on the act. And as we learn, women quickly fell in love with the freedom, power, and speed that cars gave them. These pioneer drivers were fearless.

Take Joan Newton Cuneo, for example. She took pro auto racing champion Barney Oldfield for some practice laps on a racing track, until “Oldfield finally felt compelled to blurt out “Slow down!” (pg. 57). In 1909, Alice Ramsey became the first woman to drive a car across the United States. Nell Shipman was a director and star who made films that showcased women saving the day due to their extraordinary driving skills.

However, driving wasn’t seen as just a pleasure for women. During WWI, the National League’s Women’s Motor Corp was one of the busiest and most successful units. Automobiles were far more efficient than horses and the women drove ambulances and supply trucks, often right into terrifying battle conditions. Back in Detroit, women were working in the factories manufacturing automobiles.

Filled with amusing facts and great photos, Motor Girls is historical fiction made fun.

Check out Sue Macy’s website to learn more about her books. I especially liked her tips for young writers, which is good advice for all writers.


Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All views expressed are my own.