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: Creepy Creatures (Zombies)


Creepy Creatures: Zombies

Author: Sarah Tieck

Publisher: Big Buddy Books, an imprint of Abdo Publishing, 2016

Source: Public Library

Looking for some Halloween-themed nonfiction books? The Creepy Creatures series is an option for those who also want a bit of a fright with their facts. Though I read the Zombies volume,  there are also books available about aliens, Bigfoot, vampires, mummies, ghosts, werewolves and witches.

Zombies gives some information about what a zombie is and whether or not they really exist. There are a few examples of modern-day zombie movies and stories (although plenty of other examples that came immediately to my mind were not mentioned at all). Historical information about zombies – where they originated and how the legends differ – was included.

My biggest complaint about this book is that it is neither here nor there. I think younger readers might find the pictures and some of the information a little too frightening. Yet slightly older readers will not find the book gory or detailed enough. I happened to fall into the second category and found myself wanting much more.

Review: Muddy


Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters

Author: Michael Mahin

Illustrator: Evan Turk

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017

Source: Public Library

Muddy tells the story of Muddy Waters. Throughout his childhood in one of the poorest and most heavily segregated areas of Mississippi to his later years as an influential artist in American music, Muddy’s life embraces music. He was persistent and determined and despite many difficulties and disappointments, he continued to have the ultimate faith in the music of his heart.

This picture book reflects the raw emotion of Muddy’s own music. The language is like music itself. “It was shake off the dust and wring out your worries and laugh and cry and feel alive music.” That may describe Muddy’s blues, but it also describes the language used in this book.

The illustrations, too, add to the beautifully written text. It’s primitive and raw and full of deep, rich colors. We can even feel the music through the illustrations. My favorite pictures are of Muddy Waters himself while playing his music. They depict his belief and love for his songs. We can sense the energy of the listening audience.

Reading this book will inspire readers to actually listen to his songs. Fortunately, there is a list of available “Best of Muddy Waters” compilations noted at the end of the book. Really, it’s time to listen to those old blues songs!

Review: Octopuses One to Ten

octopuses one to ten

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Octopuses One to Ten

Author: Ellen Jackson

Illustrated by: Robin Page

Publisher: Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, 2016

Source: Public Library

October 8 (today) is World Octopus Day, and in celebration, I will review Octopuses One to Ten.

At first glance this may seem like just another simple counting book. It is not. The intended audience is for grades K-3. Yes, it counts, but it also includes plenty of scientific information about octopuses. By combining both the math and the science, we get a book that is both new and interesting. For instance, did you know that octopuses have three hearts (#3) and nine brains (#9)?

I also love the illustrations because they are more than simply pictures of octopuses. That is interesting enough by itself, but what I really like is that when readers are exploring the ten types of octopuses listed in #10, there are extra pictures that show the size of each one in relation to the size of a person. The giant Pacific octopus can grow bigger than a man, while octopus wolfi is about the size of a thumb.

At the end of the book are included a few “octopus” craft projects that I am sure the kids will love. (Who wouldn’t want to gobble up an Oreo octopus?)

Learn more about Ellen Jackson at:

And Robin Page at:

Review: The Plot to Kill Hitler


the plot to kill hitler

Photo Credit: HarperCollins



The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero

Author: Patricia McCormick

Publisher: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 2016

Source: Public Library

What would drive the privileged the son of an aristocrat family, a pastor who hoped one day to study with Gandhi and an avowed pacifist to commit such acts as lying, stealing, and plotting murder? And why would we think of such a person as a hero? Now think of someone who is trying to fight against Adolf Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was that person, a spy for a conspiracy that was trying to end Hitler’s reign of terror.

Hitler had said that clergy “are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them” (pg. 70). Hitler may have been able to convince many of the clergy to unite under one national church which promoted his ideas, but a small number which included Bonhoeffer believed differently. They were deeply troubled by the fact that the church had become yet another instrument for Hitler’s oppression.

Standing up to Hitler cost Bonhoeffer dearly. He was fired from his position at the Berlin University and prohibited from teaching or public speaking. He gave up the chance to study with Gandhi and even returned from London to Germany, putting himself in danger. Yet he believed that “[s]ilence in the face of evil is itself evil” (pg. 85). He knew he must act. He joined a group of conspirators, all part of Hitler’s government who knew without a doubt about all of the atrocities committed due to Hitler and who were determined to kill their leader. The conspirators hired Bonhoeffer as a counterintelligence officer.

In Bonhoeffer’s new role, he was to collect information useful to the German government. His real purpose: to smuggle damaging information to other governments. He successfully made contact with British government officials and secretly traveled to Italy, Switzerland, and Sweden trying to gain support.

The Plot to Kill Hitler is a story of true heroism and fills readers with admiration for a man who stood up to one of the most evil leaders of all time.  Though the conspirators were unsuccessful (most were caught and killed by the Nazis), Bonhoeffer’s ideals did not die with him. His words and ideals have inspired many who have followed, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They will surely not be forgotten.



Review: What Would Happen?

What Would HappenReview:

National Geographic Kids What Would Happen?

Author: Crispin Boyer

Let’s play the ‘what if’ game. What would happen if I add almond flavoring to my favorite chocolate cake recipe? What would happen if I took a new route to work? What would happen if I won the lottery?

What Would Happen is like playing the ‘what if’ game on a much bigger, highly imaginative level (OK, the lottery idea wasn’t too bad, but it’s common). What if  you got sucked into a black hole? What if mosquitoes went extinct? What if aliens invaded Earth? These are just a few of the questions that Boyer presents.

I like that we are also given a reality check. Are we really likely to be sucked into a black hole? Nope, because the nearest black hole “would take hundreds of millions of years to reach” (pg. 49). Other things are more probable. Could you be the first person to walk on Mars? Maybe, since “NASA is planning to launch manned missions to Mars by the 2030s” (pg. 39). When you get there, you’ll know what to expect, since Boyer also gives the “Must-See Mars Attractions.”

This is a really cool book because it gets you thinking in far-reaching ways. Just a few years ago, most people would have said it is impossible to have a driverless car, bionic person, or to teleport. Yet all of these things exist already, at least on some level. I used one of these questions in my classroom as a little “warm-up,” and it really produced an exciting conversation!

Don’t forget! Today is your last chance to enter our giveaway for The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine! The winner will be announced later today – good luck to all who entered!


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

Review: Chomp!



Author: Brady Barr

Publisher: National Geographic, 2017

There’s a lot more to teeth than you might imagine. Chomp! gives us that information. Predators of all kinds are divided into categories: grippers, slicers, crushers, and gulpers.

First let’s meet the grippers. This group includes animals like the African Lion, the Tasmanian Devil, and the Nile Crocodile. These guys all kill their prey with a strong bite, but each animal listed has their own unique hunting adaptations and strategies. For example, the Tasmanian Devil’s “jaws open extra wide, to around 80 degrees (about the same as a T. rex) (pg. 11).

The next group are the slicers, animals whose teeth operate like a set of steak knives. Included in this category are the Alligator Snapping Turtle, the Great White Shark, and the Komodo Dragon. The Great White Shark is known as “the “bite and spit” predator. The Great White “attacks at high speed to cut and slice with a huge bite.” They also have protrusible jaws, which means they can spit their jaws out ahead of themselves for an even bigger bite (pg. 38).

Then we have the crushers who chomp away at their food. Humans are part of this group, as are the Gila Monster and the Grizzly Bear. Gila Monsters have the additional assistance of a deadly venom that uses grooves in its teeth for the venom to flow into the wound (pg. 63).

Lastly, we have the gulpers, those animals whose table manners don’t include much chewing. Animals in this group include the American Bullfrog, the Nurse Shark, and the African Rock Python. Unlike the Great White, the Nurse Shark sucks up its meals like humans would suck up a milkshake (pg. 82). Talk about diversity within a species!

Added to all of this fascinating information are Barr’s personal experiences with the animals. I have to admit – I couldn’t do his job. I am especially thankful for books like this one where the information is shared, and I can enjoy it in the comfort of my nice, safe home! Great photos and a snappy style makes this book a winner.


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

Review: NG Kids Ultimate Space Atlas

Ultimate Space AtlasReview:

National Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas

Author: Carolyn DeCristofano

A couple of weeks ago I recommended the National Geographic Kids United States Atlas. The Ultimate Space Atlas is yet another invaluable resource for your child’s personal resource library.

It includes a ton of information like seasonal maps of the Northern and Southern night skies and details on each of the planets in our solar system and the Milky Way. There’s also information on less-common space stuff like oort clouds and nebulas.

My favorite section is for the amateur astronomer. If you’re curious about ways to make your own personal observations or learn more about astronomy, this is an excellent resource to get started. And, as always, I think the trivia challenges and games found at the end of the book are not only fun but may give young readers the desire to learn more.


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

Review: NG Kids Weird but True Daily Planner

Weird but True PlannerReview:

National Geographic Kids Weird but True Daily Planner

Here’s another selection from National Geographic that should be a part of your back-to-school purchases. It’s a daily planner which will – hopefully – help your child keep track of all their necessary assignments.

The nice thing about this planner is that it is not just a weekly calendar. It’s filled with fun facts of all sorts. Did you know that a tiger’s skin is striped like its fur? Or that humans are the only animals that have chins?

It also lists special days. Sure, we all might remember that March 17th is Saint Patrick’s Day. But without this planner, you probably won’t know that November 19th is World Toilet Day or that October 14th is Chocolate Covered Insect Day.

Seriously, if your kid struggles with organization, this book is interesting enough that he/she just might not lose it.  It’s worth a try, anyway. And even if they aren’t the type who are going to misplace their planner (even a boring one) in the first week of school, they will still have plenty of cool information to share with their friends.


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

Review: NG Kids US Atlas

US AtlasReview:

National Geographic Kids United States Atlas, Fifth Edition

It’s time for back to school shopping, and if there ever was a book that needs to be in your home library, this is it. Last year I had the experience of preparing high school students for geography tests. Let me tell you, their geography skills were abysmal. I kept asking myself: how could we let them get to high school without at least knowing the states? I found their lack of knowledge embarrassing, even if they didn’t.

I’m old-fashioned enough to appreciate that there is a real map for each state. Yes, I like the maps in this book. The book is divided into regions, and for each area we get both a physical and a political map. There is an overview of the region and then information for each individual state. And on each state’s page there is a map that includes economy symbols. Lots and lots of wonderful maps!

Each state’s page also includes basic information: when it became a state, the capital, its population. There are also a few interesting facts about each state which makes the book more interesting than a standard atlas.

I won’t pretend that this is the type of book you are going to read from cover to cover, but it is an important resource. It’s the type of book you pull off the shelf to gain an understanding of not only geography, but for other history and social studies classes as well. It can help produce better reports and papers and maybe, just maybe, someday your child will be able to travel from state to state using only a map.


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