Sophie and Scottie’s Adventures of the Monarch Mystery by Cindy C. Murray. Book Review.

51ezdyjsdcl-_sx321_bo1204203200_

Reader’s Favorite 2016 International Book Award, Silver Medal in the Children – Adventure category.

 Click here to buy Sophie and Scottie’s Adventures of the Monarch Mystery

(The Adventures of Sophie and Scottie Book 1)

The premise of this middle grade novel was intriguing. Their adventurous Aunt Jill sends Sophie and Scottie a picture frame. Like the one in the Narnian Chronicles, The Dawn Treader, this one transports them away from home but instead of going to a magical land, they go to Mexico to solve the mystery of the missing Monarch butterflies. 

The two girls, twin Sophie and Scottie are a bit clichéd although it is nice to see female heroines. They demonstrated clever problem solving.

The author created some interesting characters. The villain was cool as was his strategy for capturing the butterflies. The girls were determined and clever. At one point they each develop special powers that were useful and humorous. The girls didn’t spend any time gushing over boys or getting into drama. The gecko monkeys were funny and clever. The book had an upbeat tone throughout.

The missing Monarch butterflies was an intriguing topic to choose. The message about protecting our environment, being kind to animals, being dependable, and being responsible for your choices are important ones. Perhaps an appendix about the real problems Monarchs are facing would have benefited the readers.

I do think, however, that  this book would have benefited from more edits. A number of small problems can accumulate into one large one – pacing.

thumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tiny

To read an interview with the author go to my previous blog on Wednesday, October 19, 2016.

A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.

*****

How another edit could have improved this book:

 I am going to go into detail in the hope that I can help  writers edit these common problems out of their work. These problems are not unusual. The lengthy detail is here to make it clear and helpful to writers. Not all of these problems occurred every time, just enough to make a reader conscious of the text and a little distracted.

The dialogue was unnatural at times. This makes the reading slow down. Here is an example.

“I can feel something very strange in your pack. I know that Diego was just in it to get us some snacks, but let’s open it and see what this object is.”

This site can explain it in more detail. https://marshahubler.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/todays-writers-tip-stilted-or-unnatural-dialogue/

The dialogue tags were sometimes overly explicit or odd and detracted from the reading. For example:

“Youallmustescapenow!” It was Chewy who was commanding them to climb up the ladder.

“Dr. Drake! Dr. Drake!” Both girls were chanting in a loud whisper as his hotel room door opened.

… Jinx said as if he were cheering.

Here’s a good site on that subject. http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/12/04/another-take-on-dialogue-tags/

When something dramatic happened, the prose sometimes dragged. For example:

As the sergeant started yelling at the guards to stay at their assigned post while he unlocked the smaller iron gate to get out of the cave, everyone could hear an ear-deafening roaring sound.

You’ll notice that the writer often used the passive voice. That is a pace killer.

Meanwhile, Scottie was looking up at the top of the iron doors with the two sides close together.

She used began to or started instead of getting to the point

“Ah, ha!” Diego shouted to himself and quickly began to get out of the harness.

Suddenly, Diego turned and began to sprint as fast as he could on the trail.

“Quickly removed the harness” and “sprinted” would have kept the energy high.

Writers must show and not tell.

Sophie began to walk on the weedy trail, she felt as if this wasn’t the right way, but decided to give it a try. Heck, Sophie wasn’t even sure what to look for on the trail anyway. She stopped and unrolled Maptrixter to study it. She could see the trail that she was walking on, but nothing else was showing up on the map. After walking a few more yards, Sophie decided to turn around and head back to camp. I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought. I’m usually the one to stay back and watch everyone else explore or try new things first. As she turned around, Sophie heard a swooping noise and started to duck out of the way when, all of a sudden, she felt something on her shoulder.

As well there are unnecessary details about chores and sheep which do nothing to further the plot. There’s too much set up. I didn’t feel that the story started until almost the middle of the book. Focus on the mystery and build the suspense.

Here’s a great site that addresses a lot of these pacing problems. http://hollylisle.com/pacing-dialogue-and-action-scenes-your-story-at-your-speed/

There is much that is good in this book. It’s too bad it wasn’t given over to a meticulous editor for another look before publishing. It would have been even better.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Top Three Middle Grade Books I Reviewed in 2016

#1 A Tunnel in the Pines by Lucia Greene.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

As the situation unfolds, the reader is reassured that tragedy is on the way but how big and how final isn’t revealed until the end.

Lucia Greene is a polished, skillful writer whose words reel you in and keep you hooked to the very end. You care, deeply, about these kids and about the final outcome. The words flow so professionally that the reader is never conscious of the text but is, instead, completely immersed in the story.

#2 The Curious Cat Spy Club by Linda Joy Singleton.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

The mystery is complex enough to keep a middle grade child turning the pages but not so complicated as to bore or clutter the storyline. Singleton does not overwhelm the story with social drama but still allows us to see the emotional makeup of each character. Along the way, readers learn important information about abandoned and abused animals.

#3 The Scent of Something Sneaky by Gail Hedrick.

 Click on the cover to buy the book.

The suspense and the pace increase steadily throughout this well-written book. The teens are likable, believable, and brave. There are surprises and twists but nothing that doesn’t logically fit in the story. The plot holds together very well and when the mystery is solved, the reader will be satisfied.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Who Would Throw Live Kittens in the Trash? – The Curious Cat Spy Club by Linda Joy Singleton. Book Review.

51tqyp3wbpl

 Click here to buy The Curious Cat Spy Club

Kelsey is a loner, but not because she wants to be one. She would like nothing more than to be best friends with Becca Morales but the Sparkler is kind but distant. That is, until Kelsey rescues her zorse. Yes, I spelled that correctly. This event cascades into the rescue of three kittens and the accumulation of a third friend, the most unlikely one of all. Leo Polanski has been labeled a loser but his brilliance comes in handy and his social awkwardness isn’t deliberate. This unlikely team forms the Curious Cat Spy Club and set out to discover who abandoned three kittens to die in a dumpster.

Linda Joy Singleton creates three believable, likable characters. There are three plot lines running through this novel. The first is Kelsey’s desire to have friends, especially Becca, even though the girl avoids her at school. The second is to keep the kittens safe until they can find a home for them, preferably their own. The third is to bring the cat abandoner to justice. All three are completed in a believable and satisfying way.

The mystery is complex enough to keep a middle grade child turning the pages but not so complicated as to bore or clutter the storyline. Singleton does not overwhelm the story with social drama but still allows us to see the emotional makeup of each character. Along the way, readers learn important information about abandoned and abused animals.

The only complaint I have about this book is that the title is very difficult to read in that particular font.

This is a book that middle grade students are sure to enjoy and parents will be happy they’re reading.

Want to know more about Linda Joy Singleton and some of her other books? Read the interview here.

A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.

thumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tiny

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Can a Child Bring Peace? – The Wurtherington Diary: The Little Doll Girl by Reynold Jay. Book Review.

51kpmelnlyl-_sx260_

Click here to buy The Little Doll Girl (The Wurtherington Diary Book 1)

On the first page, the writing style was reminiscent of Jonathan Swift. The author wrote a letter explaining that he had found the diary of a child named Tammy Wurtherington. Once we switched to Tammy’s viewpoint, the language relaxed and became much more suited to a younger reader. I think children ages nine and up would enjoy this book.

The title of the book came from the fact that Tammy was a prodigy seamstress. When she was five years old, she was sewing puppets on her aunt’s sewing machine. For her sixth birthday she asked for a sewing machine her own size and then she started to make doll clothes.

A few years later (like Alice and the talking rabbit) a talking mouse named Alfred took Tammy into a magical word called Kira.

alice3

Alice

Tammy1

Tammy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She brought her sewing machine and fabric, which came in handy for making friends. In Kira, like Wonderland, everyone could talk, animals and flowers alike. Tammy was not the right size for her environment in Kira, sometimes too big and sometimes too small. She met a possum named Zeke who was hanging from a tree much like the Cheshire cat.

tammy2

Tammy

alice2

Alice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike Alice in Wonderland, the vocabulary in The Little Doll Girl was easier to understand, the plot made it sense, and there was a satisfying beginning middle and end to the story. There were no-nonsense scenes and things flowed a logical manner. Tammy’s behavior had great positive impact on the world around her.

There was also a little bit of The Wizard of Oz. Tammy was a parentless child lived with her aunt and uncle. Soon after arriving in the magical land, Tammy met the wicked witch who was trying to take over all the kingdoms. However the demise of the witch was not accidental. No house fell on her. No water made her shrink into the floor.

Tammy is a powerful and courageous leader. She makes friends with the Hoarggs who live in the woods and are greatly feared because of their size, strength, and appearance. These become powerful allies in the rebellion against the evil witch. She has a talent for bringing diverse and suspicious people together. Although she arms the rebels and devises war strategy, whenever possible, she uses peaceful methods to solve problems. Her greatest strengths are cleverness, kindness, flexibility, problem-solving, strategy making and friendliness. She is the kind of girl we cheer for.

In the last section of the book, Tammy is portrayed in the illustrations much like Joan of Arc. Like her, she is willing to sacrifice herself for the freedom of the people.

tammy3

Reynold Jay knows how to build suspense and keep the reader engaged. As Tammy solves one problem, another one arises. The author cleverly puts her in a situation where she seems doomed. But Tammy knows people and she has realized something no one else has.

This is the first volume in a series of Wurtherington Diaries. It is complete fantasy. It would be interesting to look at the following ones that have some historical context such as Tammy and the Declaration of Independence and Tammy and the California Gold Rush.

thumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tiny

The author was interviewed on this blog November 9, 2016.

A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

That Curious Cat Causes Chaos Again: Mr Pattacake and the Dog’s Dinner Disaster by Stephanie Baudet. Book Review.

26827304

 Click here to buy Mr Pattacake and the Dogs Dinner Disaster

This is the second book in the Mr Pattacake trilogy. The chef is excited that he has been asked to create new pet treats for a company called Animeals. He invents Dog’s Dinner, Cat’s Casserole, Rabbit’s Rations, Bird’s Breakfast, Fish’s Feast, and Snake’s Supper. Unknown to him, Treacle, his pet cat and assistant, incorrectly labels the new creations. When a dog is fed the Fish’s Feast, it develops scales and swims in the pond. When a cat eats the Bird’s Breakfast it develops feathers, the front legs widen like wings, and it tweets. The bizarre changes occur similarly with other animals. The manager of Animeals is furious. Mr Pattacake adds extra ingredients to his recipes to reverse the process and delivers them to the pet owners. Gradually the pets are restored.

Mr Pattacake is a hard-working, well-meaning man who seems to be rather unlucky.

This is a cute, if somewhat obvious, story for readers just beginning to enjoy chapter books. Children will enjoy the antics of the merged animals .

However, the resolution came too easily. I think the book would have been more interesting if some of the weird creations got into serious trouble that was difficult to resolve. There needed to be bigger conflict.

A free copy of this book was given to me in exchange for an honest review.

As a follow-up, it would be fun to have kids create their own mixed up animals. They can draw them, cut-and-paste parts of animal pictures, or use modelling clay or Legos.

thumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tiny

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

The Ghost with the Green Thumb by Maggie M. Larche. Book Review.

29453821

 Click here to buy The Ghost with the Green Thumb (True Girls)

Twelve-year-old Beth Shepherd goes to spend the summer with her grandfather, a widow who is having difficulty coping with his loss. Her goal is to help her grandfather move on from his grief. She ventures into the Lover’s Garden, a place of romance and memory for her grandparents. Although no one has been caring for it sends her grandmother’s death, the garden is in full bloom. She convinces her grandfather to come to see it but all he can see his weeds and dead plants.

Sweet romance and mystery combine beautifully in this gentle story. I had mixed feelings about the necessity of miracles to enable the grandfather to move on with his life and experience happiness again. It is unlikely that preteens reading this book can count on a similar experience to help them through grief. I would’ve liked to have seen more realistic, practical tips on dealing with the loss of a loved one.

However, taken as a positive ghost story, The Ghost with the Green Thumb, is suspenseful and engaging. As an early romance, we follow with interest Beth’s experiences in her first boy/girl relationship. The writing flows easily and would be enjoyed by most preteens.

thumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tiny

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Sports Illustrated Kids Six Degrees of David Ortiz: connecting baseball stars by Tyler Omoth. Book Review.

Six Degrees of David Ortiz (2)

Click here to buy Six Degrees of David Ortiz: Connecting Baseball Stars

(Six Degrees of Sports)

This book grabs your attention right away beginning with David Oritz up to bat. The writing is tight and exciting. We are part of the audience as he hits a game-winning home run. Omoth then brings us into a wider view.

The writing on each page varies from a paragraph to four paragraphs and every page has at least one photograph to accompany the text. The pictures capture each player in action. Omoth mixes statistics in with qualities of athletics and personality in a highly readable manner.

The thing that makes this book unique is Omoth’s use of six degrees. Each chapter begins with a circle connecting six players, for example, chapter one begins with Mike Trout connecting to Derek Jeter connecting to Cal Ripken Junior connecting to Lou Gehrig and finally connecting tube Babe Ruths. These are all Hall of Fame superstars.

Chapter two is about super sluggers such as Hank Aaron and Reggie Jackson. Chapter three is stealthy speedsters like Rickey Henderson and Ty Cobb. Chapter four is astounding aces, five is glorious glove men, and six is reliable relievers.

At the end of the book there is a 6° double page spread where Omoth connects players from each of the previous circles to players in other circles. There’s  a bit of fun with a match the player with his nickname, a word bank of names to answer trivia questions about baseball, a glossary, and recommended reading as well as suggested links on the Internet. There is also a thorough index.

Baseball fans love to compare players and this book is food for the information hungry. There’s just enough snippets of data and interpretation to keep even a reluctant reader interested. Omoth has not only put in an enormous amount of research but he has thoughtfully examined and analyzed facts and opinions about the players and presented them in an exciting package. The writing has a conversational tone but Omoth does not talk down to the reader.

This book would make a great gift for the young sports enthusiast.

thumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tiny

Click here to read my interview with Tyler Omoth on August 10, 2016.

A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Mr Pattacake and the Big Idea by Stephanie Baudet

 Click here to buy Mr Pattacake and the Big Idea

I won a set of three Mr Pattacake books on a Goodreads giveaway. I’m ashamed to say, they sat on the shelf for a very long time. They are chapter books for early readers with a cartoon sketch every page or two. They turned out to be better than I anticipated.

I do wish, however, that Stephanie Baudet had not named the major character “Pattacake”. It gives the story a babyish connotation that a child graduating to chapter books might find off putting.

It turns out, however, that the stories are delightful. Mr. Pattacake means well but often gets into scrapes reminiscent of I Love Lucy. He is a well-meaning, kind, inventive, talented but accident prone baker. His naughty sidekick cat, Treacle, increases the tension.

In The Big Idea, Mr. Pattacake misreads an order for birthday party food as 100 guests instead of 10. As if this isn’t bad enough, everything seems to go wrong while he is making his delicious snacks and delightful desserts. But, Mr. Pattacake, is no fool. He uses his mistake to create publicity and interest in his business. Children will giggle with envy at the Baker’s creative use of jelly.

This would make a great gift for a child around great three-level who is beginning to read small chapter books. It will appeal to boys as well as girls.

thumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tiny

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Kacer, Kathy. The Magician of Auschwitz. Illustrated by Jillian Newland. Book Review.

Click here to buy The Magician of Auschwitz

The idea of a child in Auschwitz is so horrifying that I approached this book with great trepidation. This true story is told from the point of view of Werner, a ten-year-old boy imprisoned without the support of any family.

Kathy Taser however, has found the perfect balance between the actual horrors of the concentration camp and the humanity of a single individual. Since this is a picture book written for children, she does not go into great detail about the atrocities committed against the Jewish prisoners. Neither does she gloss over them.

“Wooden bunks lined the sides of the timber building. No pillows, no blankets, no mattresses – not even start – cushioned the bed.”

“As many as six men were crammed into each bunk.”

“The days were filled with endless hours of standing in lines outside, waiting to be counted. If the count was off the even one person, the guards would start all over again, and the prisoners would have to stand even longer. Many fainted it from exhaustion as the hours passed. When Werner and the others weren’t waiting to be counted, the guards ordered them to do push-ups – again for hours on end. Often Werner crawled back to his bunk, wondering if he would survive another day.”

Kacer shows that the prisoners will do anything to survive, even steal bread from a hungry child. But Levin, the magician, doesn’t judge. Neither does he give up his humanity. His talent is both a gift and a curse. The guards wake him up during the night and force him to entertain them with tricks, thereby depriving him of the few hours of sleep he is allowed. Levin realizes that the day he runs out of tricks is the day he will be killed. As long as he can keep entertaining, he has a chance.

Levin shares his bunk with Werner and offers the child hope and compassion. He breaks his biggest rule, “A magician never reveals his secrets” and teaches Werner a card trick. Werner survives the war and never forgets his friend Levin. In turn, he passes this affection and magic onto his sons. It is an inspiring story of how a gentle, good man showed kindness in the worst circumstances. It is a testament to humanity.

Jillian Newland’s illustrations are done in shades of gray similar to the photography of the time period. However, in one illustration of the prisoners being counted, the bright red band with the swastika on the arm of a guard stands out vividly. The next red we see is the deck of cards in Levin’s hands as he performs for those same guards. They are the only spot of color throughout the rest of the book until we reach the last page. Here Werner is shown with his two grandchildren in soft shades of green, blue, and warm brown.

The book ends with the historical facts on the lives of Werner Reich and Herbert Levin. It also summarizes<a the Holocaust.

Although it is a picture book, even older students would find this story interesting. When children begin to ask about the Second World War, this story of a ten-year-old boy can make it relatable and real.

thumb-up-smile-tiny thumb-up-smile-tiny thumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tinythumb-up-smile-tiny

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Goldman, William. The Princess Bride. Book Review.

Since I loved the movie so much, I was excited to read this 25th Anniversary Edition. I didn’t. As in, I didn’t read the book because I was so turned off by the disgusting introduction.

Sure, there were some interesting tidbits about the movie and about the actors. There was a lovely little back story about Goldman’s father reading him the book when he was ill as a child, just like in the movie. But the author included disturbing and off putting tidbits about his personal life that ruined my interest in the story.

For example Goldman narrated an incident when he was planning on cheating on his wife, Helen, with Sandy Sterling, “top heavy but golden… I like them that way.” This opportunity was ruined by his wife’s repeated phone calls.

Here’s his introduction to his ten-year-old son. “Jason has inherited his mother’s total lack of humor. I don’t know; maybe he’s funny and I’m not. We just don’t laugh much together is all I can say for sure. My son Jason is this incredible looking kid – painted yellow, he’d mop up for the school sumo team. A blimp. All the time stuffing his face.”

And, to his wife, “you’re making a poof out of that kid.”

There’s more. “Our kid can roll faster than he can walk.” Twice he refers to his child’s walk as a waddle. In great detail, he relates an incident where he tried to get his son to stop eating more mashed potatoes. I assume he thinks he’s funny. It’s pretty clear why his son doesn’t laugh with him.

What is this doing in an introduction to a child’s book? Don’t buy this copy for a child, no matter what their weight.

thumb-up-smile-tiny

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages