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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Discussion Questions: Children of Refuge

Children of RefugeDiscussion Questions for Children of Refuge:


  1. What do you think of Mr. Watanaboneset? Edwy feels that his father wants to rule him? Do you think this impression is correct?


  1. Edwy is being sent to boarding school – immediately. Why do you think his father does this?


  1. Edwy learns that he has an older brother (Enu) and sister (Kiandra), which raises more questions. One big question is why weren’t they taken by the Freds, too?


  1. What do you think of Udans? Is he just Mr. Watanaboneset’s lackey or is he something more?


  1. How is Refuge City different from Cursed Town? How is it the same?


  1. What is your first impression of Enu and Kiandra?


  1. Words that he learned in Fredtown keep coming back to Edwy. “You need to take a little time to ponder your words and actions more carefully…” (pg. 65). Once Edwy would have rebelled against such advice. Why do you think he keeps remembering it now?


  1. What do you think about Enu and Kiandra’s attitudes toward their parents? And what might their feelings toward Edwy be?


  1. What do you think of the values of the Watanaboneset family members? (father, Enu, Kiandra) Edwy, even though he always cheated and lied in Fredtown, now questions why others would cheer when someone cheats (see pg. 93).


  1. Enu tells Edwy, “The past has nothing to do with us.” Enu also says, “Why think about unpleasant you can’t do anything about?” What do you think about these two statements? Are they true? Should we ignore the past and anything unpleasant?


  1. Adults have always hidden information from Edwy and Rosi. Reread the list given on page 127. Do you think this list is complete?


  1. Edwy searches for other children raised by Freds who might be willing to help in his search for Rosi. Do you think they would be the only ones willing to help him?


  1. Edwy – with help from many others – comes up with a daring plan to rescue Rosi, Bobo and Cana. Do you think the plan can succeed?


  1. What do you think is next for Edwy and Rosi?


  1. Final questions: Is it OK to do a bad thing for a good reason?

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.



Discussion Questions: Children of Exile

Children of ExileDiscussion Questions for Children of Exile

  1. Rosi learns she is not an orphan and now she is being returned to her biological family.
    1. What do you think is the reason she (and all the other children) were taken by the Freds in the first place?
    2. Why do you think the Freds never shared this information at an earlier time?
    3. How do you think Rosi and the children feel about leaving the Freds?
    4. How do you think they feel about meeting their biological families?


  1. Why do you think the Freds are not going to be allowed to accompany the children on the return trip to their parents?


  1. Do a compare/contrast of the Fred-parents vs. biological parents/Fredtown vs. “home.”


  1. Why do you think Rosi refers to her biological parents are “the mother” and “the father.” Do you think if they were nicer to her she might call them something else?


  1. Look up some synonyms for the word “missionary.” (proselytizer, preacher, apostle, teacher, campaigner, champion, propagandist, activist, messenger) Which of these meanings seem to fit? Who do you think the missionary is?


  1. Together Edwy and Rosi try to discover just what has happened in their hometown. Edwy says “if nobody lies to us and nobody tells us the truth either, that just leaves us ….. stupid”. (pg. 159) Are lying and not telling (revealing) the whole truth the same thing?


  1. Edwy returns Rosi and Bobo’s suitcases to them. Why? Should he have done this? What are the results of his action?


  1. What do you think about the reaction to Rosi’s announcement in the marketplace that she fears that Edwy Watanaboneset has been kidnapped? And what do you think about her punishment?


  1. The missionary is allowed to visit Rosi in prison. He explains a bit of the history of her hometown (see page 226). We learn that the Freds stepped in an stopped the ongoing war by taking the people’s children. The Freds did this because they felt that these people couldn’t be trusted with their own children. Do you think this was the right action?


  1. The missionary helps Rosi escape.  Do you think she can really make it somewhere safe?


  1. Rosi’s father and mother also help in Rosi’s escape. Now that you have a better understanding of their situation, how do you feel about them? Have your feelings changed? Have Rosi’s feelings changed and how do you know?


  1. Rosi escapes with Bobo and Cana. She is helped by a Fred, Mrs. Osemwe. We learn about some unexpected powers that Freds have which will help the children in their escape. She explains some of the reasoning behind the Freds actions for taking the children. Now she is going to step in again and take these three children back to Fredtown. Is this right? And is Rosi’s decision not to go right?


  1. What do you think is going to happen to Rosi, Bobo, and Cana? What do you think has happened to Edwy?

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.

Event: CT Children’s Book Fair 2017

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the Connecticut Children’s Book Fair at the University of Connecticut. I love this fair because it is not only an opportunity to buy more books and pick up holiday gifts, it is an opportunity to meet some of the authors. I attended several presentations and all were wonderful. However, I would especially like to share some information I learned during the presentation given by Rosemary Wells. I feel the information she shared with attendees is just too important not to pass on.

I am sure many of you know Rosemary Wells. She has had a forty-five year career as an author/illustrator with 145 books published, including such classics as the Max and Ruby and McDuff series.

To start off her presentation, Ms. Wells showed an exciting new video of an MRI showing the connections a child’s brain makes when a mother or father reads to their baby. When the parent reads to the baby, the neural connections simply light up everywhere! And what this even more important is that these connections are permanent; the brain actually makes permanent growth. Now here is the scary part. After the age of six, this type of growth is not possible. The child’s brain NEVER develops to full capacity if you start reading to them after the age of six. (If you haven’t been reading to them earlier, you should still start. It does mean, however, that they won’t reach what their full potential might have been.) These studies show that reading to your child is “singly the most important thing a parent can do.” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep right on reading after age six. Of course you should – for as long as they will listen. But the earlier you start, the better.

After that exciting video and news, she showed a presentation that she often gives for school audiences: How I Put Together a Book. It was a very interesting presentation, but once again she shared some news that I felt should be passed on to readers. Today’s children have very low fine motor skills. She attributed this to the fact that children have too many screens in their lives. Although this was not scientifically proven, she is probably right. Additionally, she shared an exercise that she does every morning. For ten minutes she colors in a piece of artwork making sure to get it perfect (a coloring book would suit for young artists). She works with a steady hand and a sharp eye, focusing quietly and completely on the work. “When I can draw a straight line without a ruler, I know I have a steady hand and sharp eye.”  What a wonderful activity! It gives practice, helps focus and develops discipline. Perhaps this is the way everyone should start their day.

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.

October 2017 Round-Up

Check out my reviews for the month of October! You can find links to all of these reviews in the Index!

Let me know in the comments below what books you want me to review next!

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.