Friday, January 18, 2019

Ever the Hunted

Ever the Hunted, Erin Summerill, Clash of KingdomsEver the Hunted by Erin Summerill caught my eye with its beautiful cover first. I picked it up and read the back cover
blurb and found the story idea to be intriguing. A girl is caught poaching in the King's forest and in exchange for her life and her home, she is asked to track down and bring back her father's killer. It just so happens that all the evidence points to her best friend that she's come to think of as more than a best friend.

The beginning of the book was pretty slow, and it took me a while to actually get into it. There are flashbacks continuously throughout the book, and the story takes place shortly after her father's murder but without explicitly saying anything about it until later on. This and the fact that the worldbuilding is done bit by bit as the story unfolds makes it a little confusing and hard to know what is happening for a while.

But then it started to really pick up, and I didn't want to put it down. This book is full of secrets, betrayal, magic, and mystery. The main character, Britta, ends up in a race against time as she tries to find her father's murderer, find out who she really is, and decide what her relationships really are and should be with the other characters, all while two neighboring kingdoms are on the brink of war.

Britta has a hard time trusting people. And it's no wonder she does since there is a constant question about people's motives throughout the entire book. She's constantly questioning everything people are doing, and while it makes it hard for Britta to trust people, it also helps her to look at the bigger picture of what is going on in her world and to not always trust what has always been taught to her.

I really liked how this book focused not only the characters and their personal developments and relationships with each other but also had them questioning the world and the way things were. I think this is a great book for YA readers as they're reaching that age where they are more able to make a difference not just in their own lives but in the world around them.

There are several plot twists that keep the characters (and the reader) guessing which makes for a more pleasant reading experience in my opinion.

There was one aspect about the story that took Britta so long to figure out that I thought was pretty obvious from the beginning that made me wonder why it would take her so long to figure it out. She explains in the story that it's just something her father always told her, but it seems strange to me that she would just believe him and not ever question it when she questions everything else.

I really started caring about the characters though and what happened to them, so I was pleased (while also a little frustrated since it left a couple loose ends) when I found out that there is a sequel so I can read more about these characters.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale

My husband and I have been trying to keep up with all the Marvel superhero movies that have been coming out over the past several years, but apparently, there was another Marvel superhero that I hadn't yet heard of: Squirrel Girl.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, squirrel girl
Doreen Green (a.k.a. Squirrel Girl) is a teenage girl who has just moved with her family to a new city. She's doing what any teenager would do when moving to a new school in a new city, and that is trying to make friends. But she's not a normal teenager. She has a big, bushy tail like a squirrel that she keeps tucked in her pants, and she talks to squirrels. But even trying to make friends with the squirrels in this new place is hard.

As Doreen tries to become friends with Ana Sofia, she learns that there has been an increase in crime over the last two years and that people in the city are not like her at all. They aren't positive and optimistic, and they definitely don't talk to squirrels.

Doreen accidentally gets seen one night with her tail out when she was trying to clean up the garbage with her newly found squirrel friend that she made after saving it from an evil trap, and pretty soon all everyone at school wants to talk about is Squirrel Girl.

Doreen has always dreamed of being a superhero like the Avengers, and she takes it upon herself to take up her secret identity of Squirrel Girl and find out who is trying to kill the squirrels and why anyone would want to kill squirrels in the first place.

The narration of the story switches between Doreen's point of view, a squirrel named Tippy Toe's point of view, Ana Sofia's point of view, and then later to the villain's point of view.

Throughout the whole book, there are footnotes that are commentary from Squirrel Girl. At first, they were really strange and distracting, but they actually helped me as a reader get to know Squirrel Girl's personality a little better. And I did appreciate that they were just footnotes, and if they bothered the reader, they could just be ignored.

I thought it was pretty strange at first and wasn't really sure what I thought about it, but it ended up being a cute, fun story about a girl who is trying to discover herself, although she very much acts like a squirrel.

There are some really funny moments, some of which are when she is texting the Avengers. Her squirrel friend apparently got some of the Avengers' numbers for her so she could ask them for some advice on the villain in her town. But since she doesn't know which number belongs to which Avenger, she just starts talking to them and there are some really funny exchanges.

It was interesting to read this story to see a different aspect of the Marvel Universe and the birth of a new superhero who is quite a bit different than the others. One thing that bothered me though is that there was never any explanation in the whole book of why she has a squirrel tail or how that would even be possible, but there are some interesting facts about squirrels that can be learned by reading the book, and I was pleased that Squirrel Girl's abilities followed those of a real squirrel.

When the squirrels talk to each other, they are sometimes hard to understand, but it's fun to try to figure out what they're saying. Every once in a while, Squirrel Girl will provide a translation in the footnotes. When the squirrels are talking to Squirrel Girl, it's written as a bunch of chittering, which is then translated in the story by Squirrel Girl.

The story ends with a section with the villain that opens it up for a sequel, which upon looking it up, I found that there is one called 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious which I plan to read when I can get my hands on it. It was nice to have a change from some of the other superheroes to something a little lighter. And I think it also helps that this one is only 14 and has things to worry about like making friends, homework, and getting grounded.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Utah Beehive Book Nominees 2019

The Utah Beehive Book Award winners are chosen by children. A list of nominees is provided, and children are encouraged in school and libraries throughout Utah to read the books on the list and vote on them. This year, there are 6 categories of books on the list. These categories include Children's Fiction, Picture Books, Informational, Young Adult, Graphic Novels, and Poetry.

After seeing the display at our local library for the Beehive Book nominees for 2019, I decided I was going to try to read the books on the list. As I read them, I'll write a review of the book and add the links on this post.

Here are the Beehive Book nominees for this year:

Children's Fiction:

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Overboard! (Survivor Diaries) by Terry Lynn Johnson

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Restart by Gordon Korman

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale

Wedgie & Gizmo by Suzanne Selfors

Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan

Word of Mouse by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

Picture Books:

Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth by Jarvis

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt

Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

Penguin Problems by Jory John

A Perfect Day by Lane Smith

Toad on the Road: A Cautionary Tale by Stephen Shaskan

What to Do with a Box by Jane Yolen

Where Is Bear? by Jonathan Bentley


Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose

Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton

Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick

Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas

Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World by Allan Drummond

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman

Young Adult:

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Ever the Hunted (Class of Kingdoms) by Erin Summerill

Exo by Fonda Lee

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kremmerer

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe) by Neal Shusterman

Starflight by Melissa Landers

A Taste for Monsters by Matthew Kirby

Warcross by Marie Lu

Wingsnatchers (Carmer and Grit) by Sarah Jean Horwitz

Graphic Novels:

Drawing Lesson: A Graphic Novel that Teaches You How to Draw by Mark Crilley

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds) by Mark Siegel

Soccer Switch by Jack Maddox & Brandon Terrell

Ugly Dino Hatchling (Far Out Fables) by Stephanie True Peters


Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre

Catching a Storyfish by Janice Harrington

My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Dads by Hope Anita Smith

One Minute Till Bedtime: 60 Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep edited by Kenn Nesbitt

Rolling Thunder by Kate Messner

Feel free to add your own recommendations, comments, and reviews on any of the books on the list you've read.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Watsons Go to Birmingham

In the light of Black History month, I read The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. It is a Newbery Award Winner and a winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.

I remembered kind of liking this book when my teacher read it to the class when I was in third grade, but I couldn't remember anything about it so I thought I'd reread it for Black History Month.

The first thing that stuck out to me and surprised me was the language in this book. There was an awful lot of swearing that I did not enjoy. I'm pretty sure my teacher must've censored that out when she read this book to my class. I know I, for one, would've been horrified at that age to hear words like that in a book.

The narrative style of the book was a little choppy. The narrator is a ten-year-old boy named Kenny. This is not clear through much of the book. At first, I wasn't sure if the narrator was a boy or a girl or how old he was because those details weren't explicitly said at the beginning of the book. Kenny tells anecdotes about different members of his family, I guess as a way to introduce us to all the characters and get to know them and the family dynamics.

There's his older brother Byron, who is a teenage narcissistic bully. He picks on his brother and doesn't like to do things with the family. He hangs out all day with his best friend Buphead, where they go around terrorizing all the other kids at school who are all younger than them. He gets in trouble for various things throughout the book, some of which include lighting matches in the bathroom and getting a perm to straighten his hair.

Their little sister, Joetta (Joey), is portrayed to be somewhat of a goody-goody. She's the only child who regularly attends Sunday School, and she always cries when their mother threatens to punish Byron for all his misdeeds and begs her not to.

The father is somewhat of a joker. He's always cracking jokes and laughing, which is a nice contrast to their mother who just seems to be constantly talking about how much she misses home and worrying about what to do with Byron.

The mom worries a lot about how to keep her oldest boy from doing all the stupid things he does. She shakes her head at her husband's antics and obviously misses her family and her old home.

Kenny gets picked on at school quite a bit until a new student comes, who Kenny at first thinks will get picked on more than him, so he'll get a break. But they end up becoming best friends.

The family doesn't start heading to Birmingham until over halfway through the book. The go to visit their mom's mother and plan to leave Byron there over the summer and perhaps longer, so he can learn how to grow up and become more responsible for his actions and learn how to be respectful.

After they arrive at Birmingham, the book gets weirder. It already was a bit disjointed with the anecdote style, but in Birmingham, Byron is suddenly acting like the responsible one, and Kenny starts making poor decisions. He decides to go to this swimming area that he's told not to go to because of a whirlpool that has drowned a few people in the past. He mishears and has no idea what a whirlpool is. His brother tells him it's Winnie the Pooh's evil twin brother the Wool Pooh. When Kenny starts drowning, he sees this shadow, the Wool Pooh, who's pulling him down. While struggling to get free of its evil grasp, he sees his sister telling him to swim up. He does, just in time for his older brother to save him from drowning.

After this, Kenny acts differently. His brush with death has left him rattled, and he thinks he sees this Wool Pool a few more times. When a bomb is set off in the church during Joey's Sunday School class, Kenny thinks he sees the Wool Pool again trying to take his sister away. After this incident, the family quickly heads back to Birmingham. Byron and Kenny both act differently. For once, Byron acts like the responsible older brother. He's the only one who knows about Kenny almost drowning and is the one who finally figures out what's going on with Kenny.

I thought the ending between Kenny and Byron was really sweet. I even cried. But the whole book seemed really disjointed and the sudden change with Byron as soon as they get to Birmingham seems really unrealistic. The whole Wool Pooh thing is just weird as well as all the seeing people that weren't really there thing. Kenny sees Joetta at the swimming hole, and she sees him waving at him near the church when he was actually still at the house. That part's just strange.

I thought this book was going to be a really good historical fiction book, but there's only the one event that takes up such a minor part of the book that was even part of history. I wasn't too impressed with this book.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Libraries are Awesome!

My local library had an event on the schedule that I thought sounded really fun for my boys. They were going to be doing a STEAM Storytime this morning.

I'd been planning to take my boys to it ever since I found out about it and was glad that I got them all to bed a little bit earlier last night than I have been lately.

I woke up early this morning with my youngest and played with him for a bit, and then he wanted to just snuggle. The snuggling soon turned into sleeping, and the next thing I knew, it was half an hour before the event was supposed to start!

I was bound and determined to make it on time for the event, so quickly jumped up and got my boys up and ready and out the door. I was impressed with how quickly we all got ready to go this morning. We were just a few minutes late.

They read two stories and sang songs with the kids, and then they had a couple of related math (counting) activities. I wasn't too impressed with the activities, but then I tried to remind myself that this was library after all and all the activities were free, and they would want them to be activities everyone there could do.

I guess I was hoping for a little more STEA instead of just M, but they have one of these activities every two weeks, I think. I plan to take my kids back for the next one, and we'll hopefully see some more from the other areas of STEAM in future activities.

After the activity was over, we went to look for some books. My boys love books, so we grabbed a bunch. Some of their favorites lately are the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems, so we had to pick up one of those. And my oldest is getting really into superheroes, so we picked up one of those as well.

The library had some Take & Make Valentine's crafts, so we picked some of those up, and then the boys saw the coloring pages. So we grabbed some crayons and settled down at the table in the kids' area to color.

After my oldest was done with his picture, (I was so impressed with both of my boys' coloring today. They did such a good job!) he wandered over to the iPads. They have a few set up in the kids' area with a handful of educational games on them. The older two spent some time on there while my youngest brought me books off the shelves and explored the whole area of the library.

Then it was time to go home and have lunch. After lunch, we spent quite some time making Valentines. By this time, it was already pretty late into the afternoon, with not much time left until their dad was coming home from work. What I thought was going to be maybe a one-hour activity for the day ended up providing my boys hours of fun and entertainment.

Aren't libraries just great! What fun things have your libraries done for kids or families?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime

I'd heard a few things about the Junie B. Jones books and was curious about whether or not I agreed with some of the opinions I'd heard about them, so when I saw that there was a Valentine's Day book, I decided I might as well give it a try. Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime was written by Barbara Park and is actually the 14th book in the series. However, it doesn't seem to be a series that necessarily has to be read in order.

The book is narrated by Junie B. Jones, a little girl in a kindergarten class. Because of this, some of the words and grammar are incorrect, such as that in the title "Valentime" instead of "Valentine." Although this may make the narration more accurate as coming from a five or six year old, I feel like this makes the book not a great book for kids of this age to read. Kids this age are learning how to read and learning how to use words correctly. So, reading a book where some of the words and grammar are purposely written incorrectly could be confusing to them. I think if a parent or teacher read the book with a child and pointed out errors in the narration, this wouldn't be so much of a problem. It might even be helpful, because perhaps the child reading the book has some of the same misunderstandings as Junie.

I think the character would definitely be relatable to young children. She has normal, six-year-old problems, such as problems with school, friends, etc. In this book, Junie's teacher tells them they are going to have a class party for Valentine's Day. They decorate boxes for their Valentines, and they are told they have to bring a Valentine for everyone in the class. Junie picks out Valentines for everyone in her class, specifically choosing Valentines for each person in her class. This part was fun for me to read, because she talks about picking really nice ones for her friends and she picks the one with "smelly skunk" on it for the boy in her class that really annoys her. I used to do this same thing when I was little, choosing Valentines for the kids in my class. So that was a fun part to read.

When the Valentine's Day party is finally here, Junie B. Jones gets "a mushy, gushy Valentime." It doesn't have a name on it, and she spends the rest of the book trying to figure out who gave it to her.

Junie B. is not really a model student that I would want my children to strive to be like. She gets in trouble with her teacher several times in the book. The teacher is not really portrayed in the best light in this book. And maybe that's how young children who get in trouble at school really think of their teachers, but I feel like characters like teachers in books should be shown in a better light, so kids will have a better attitude towards them in real life. Junie gets into fights with her two best friends over who's going to get the most Valentines, and then confronts several boys in her class about the Valentine when she's trying to figure out who it's from.

I have kind of mixed feelings about this book. It has a cute ending, and the story's kind of fun and could be really relatable for a young child, but I think if a child was just reading it by themself, it could teach a child some wrong ideas aobut things. If the book is being read by an adult and chld together, I think it could be a good learning experience by looking at some of Junie's bad decisions or examples could be discussed and talked about what she could've done or said instead.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Spontaneous Learning

My husband and I have toyed with the possibility of homeschooling our kids in the future for various reasons. Right now, our kids aren't old enough to go to school yet, so we still have some time to think about it and make a decision. But sometimes I wonder if I would even be able to handle homeschooling.

Some days it seems like I get absolutely nothing done, and the kids spend all day watching T.V. (Hopefully, that's not actually true, but some days it seems like it.) 

Well, I have made a new resolve to be more organized and make some specific goals on what to get done during the day. One area that I wanted to start having a goal for each day is to do some kind of learning activity with my boys. 

This morning started off better than most. I got part of my new planned morning routine in before the boys woke up for breakfast and got a couple things on my to-do list done before lunch, but I didn't have any sort of plan for a learning activity for the boys. 

After lunch, I actually remembered to go out and get the mail. (Most times my husband just grabs it on his way in from work, but then sometimes it doesn't get looked at for a few days because it's dinnertime.) 

There was one of those big advertisement mailers. I glanced through it really quick to see if there was anything useful in there and went to throw it away. I was feeling proud of myself for taking care of the mail right away instead of letting it pile up on my counter.

But as my hand was about to drop the mail into the trash, I stopped. My two-year-old was hanging on my leg, and I knew I should go do something with him since he obviously wanted my attention. I glanced at the mailer in my hand and got an idea. 

"Hey!" I said to him. "Do you want to do a project with me?" 

He did, so I ran to grab some scissors and glue. 

Not too long after starting, my three-year-old stopped what he was doing and came over to see what we were doing. He excitedly joined in. 

We searched through the ads for pictures of food that they liked.

Food Collage - Cutting Practice
This is the only reason I keep our coffee table.
It's the perfect height for the boys to do projects.

 Then they cut them out.

"Take a picture of our scissors, Mommy!"
"I can do it by myself."

And glued them onto a paper.

"And here's the glue!"

To make a fun food collage.

The finished product

I was going to have my three-year-old label his food when he finished, but after he wrote "Food I Lic" at the top and his name, he said he was done. So, I let him off the hook. I don't want to make learning a chore at this age. But I was so proud of him for spelling "Food" right all by himself.

This was such an easy activity to do, and the kids loved it. It allowed them to talk about different kinds of food, including likes and dislikes as well as finding out the names of other foods they weren't familiar with. They also improved their cutting skills and learning how to use a glue stick. And it kept them busy and engaged for at least 30 minutes! 

And there was no planning!

What spontaneous learning activities have you done?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2018 Book #3 - Way to Be

I thought I'd start off the year with an inspirational book. I read Way to Be by Gordon B. Hinckley, a former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This book was written for the youth of the church (boys and girls ages 12 - 18), however, I think much of the advice can be applicable to others as well.

Pres. Hinckley gives nine "Be's" for things that people should be to have successful, happy lives. For each "Be" he uses quotes, tells anecdotes from his own life, as well as his opinions and ideas on how being these nine traits can help people in their lives.

There is an Introduction, a chapter for each of the Be's where he goes in depth on each one, and then a conclusion. The copy of the book I had also had a foreword by Steve Young, a former BYU football player.

I had a hard time getting through the Introduction, but once I got to the "Be" chapters, the read went quickly. It's a pretty quick read - just over a hundred pages, but it's a smaller book with lots of margin space.

Although it's written by a leader of a church, it didn't feel preachy to me in any way; it felt more like someone who was older and wiser giving someone younger his advice. The man was around 90 years old when he wrote the book so I would think he'd had plenty of experiences to know a little something about life.

All of his advice does go follow the teachings of the LDS Church, but it wasn't written in a way that was like, "Do these things to get to heaven." It was just more like, "Hey, if you want to have a good, full life, here are some things that I have learned that will probably work for you."

As I mentioned earlier, it was written for teenagers, but I felt like many of the things he wrote about were still applicable to me as an adult. If I was much older, more of the specific things he mentions in some of the sections or some of the examples he uses to expound on some of the "Be's" wouldn't really apply, but each of the "Be's" would still be things that I think would be beneficial for anyone to try to be, no matter their age.

I thought this was a great book to start out the year, seeing as it's the time for people to make resolutions on how they are going to be better people. I, for one, found a couple of things that I could work on.

What inspirational books have you read?

Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Book #2 - Snow Babies

Snow Babies, by Laura Ellen Anderson, is a board book about animals in the snow. It has simple text like "Roly-poly polar bear cubs play," with each set of pages designated for a different animal.

The animals included are polar bears, reindeer, beavers, arctic foxes, arctic hares, huskies, penguins, snow leopards, snowy owls, wolves, harp seals, and pandas.

I really liked how they used the full names of the animals, such as harp seals instead of just seals. The baby animal names are also used for each animal. I think this is a great book for teaching kids about some different baby animal names in addition to some of the more common ones out there.

The verbs paired with each type of animal is something that animal would typically do in the wild and could lend themselves to more conversation with a child on each page.

The illustrations are cute but somewhat realistic looking.

Arctic fox cubs
I did think the final animal, the panda, didn't seem to fit in with others since they are mainly arctic or tundra animals and pandas are not. It seemed really random.

Overall, though, I thought the book was really cute and simple enough to hold really young children's attention, but I also really appreciated that they didn't completely dumb down the vocabulary in the book.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2018 Book #1 - I Broke My Trunk!

Mo Willems has to be one of my favorite children's author. The Elephant & Piggie book I Broke My Trunk didn't disappoint. I read this book to my son today and had him laughing out loud.

Gerald comes to see Piggie, who asks him about his nose as it's all wrapped up. He says he broke it. When Piggie asks how he broke it, he goes into a "long crazy story."

Even after he tells about holding two hippos, a rhino, and a piano on his trunk, Gerald explains to Piggie that still isn't how he broke his trunk. The ending is funny and surprising.

One of the best parts of this Elephant and Piggie book is the illustrations and seeing the facial expressions of Elephant as he tells his story and Piggie as she listens and asks questions.

Elephant & Piggie stories are told completely through dialogue and the illustrations. The illustrations are usually just the characters and whatever props they may be using. There are typically not any backgrounds for the pictures, so things like facial expressions are very important. This was one of my favorite pages:

These books are very fun to read aloud, especially doing different voices for the different characters. My boys also love when I make sound effects for the characters when they aren't actually saying dialogue. I usually make a face to go along with it. For example, the face Piggie's making in the picture above was one that I made with a face. My son got a kick out of that.

These books are great for kids of all ages. My two youngest, ages 15 months and 2, loved this book today when I read it to them. I've had first graders read them over and over again, and even one of my third-graders a couple years back loved to check these books out from the library. I think they're hilarious and are great books even for adults. And they tell great stories about two friends who really care about each other.
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