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Review – Christmas Makes Me Think

Posted by shelburns on 30th December 2008

I should have reviewed this one before the holidays, but time just got away from me.  Sorry about that, but here you go, while Christmas is still on your mind.

Thank you to Lee & Low Books for sending this to me.

Title:  Christmas Makes Me Think

Author: Tony Medina

Illustrator:  Chandra Cox

Review Copy Provided by:  Lee & Low Books

Summary of Book:  A young boy, narrator, is excited about Christmas, his favorite time of year.  He is looking forward to more fun, watching cartoons at night, no school, baking a cake with his grandmother, a beautiful tree, and lots of presents.  But, he starts to wonder about things.  What happens to the trees that don’t make it to Christmas?  What about all the people that don’t have a home, food to eat and presents at Christmas?  All this thinking sets the boy into action about giving his old toys to kids that don’t have any and hats, gloves, and scarves to homeless people.  He learns that Christmas is not about getting, but about giving.  It is best said with this quote, “Christmas makes me think about  others and not just me!”

My Review:  This is a sweet story.  It is told from the point of view of a young boy, which I love because boys will be able to relate to the character.  It is also an African American themed book, which is why I enjoy Lee & Low’s books because of the multicultural diversity that they are not afraid to put into books.  Kids need to have books with characters who look like them, and Lee & Low does that.  If I had had this book prior to the holidays, I would have shared it with my students because of the message.  Christmas isn’t just about the gifts you get, but what you can give to others.  I think children need to hear that as many of them are so “me” centered when it comes to the holidays.  This book would make a great springboard to writing in the classroom.  Many times throughout the book, these words are used:  “Christmas makes me think…”  After reading the story, I would give students those four words and see what they could come up with.  They could pattern it after the book, or just finish the sentence.  It would make a great class book to make during the holidays when students are excited and not real into working.  This would be fun for them I think.  I recommend this for young children, teachers, and parents.  It is a quick read for a read aloud, easy for children to read alone, and a story with a great message for kids and adults alike.

Free Teacher’s Guide available at leeandlow.com

Other info about the book:

   paperback $8.95
   hardback $16.95
Interest Level
Grades K – 4
Reading Level
Grades 1 – 2
African/African American Interest, Environment/Nature, Family Traditions, Holidays & Celebrations, Home, Religion/Spiritual, Sharing & Giving
Accelerated Reader
Level: 2.8
Points: .5

Posted in Book Reviews, Christmas, Lee & Low Reviews, Picture Books | 6 Comments »

Review – The World that Loved Books

Posted by shelburns on 30th December 2008

Thank you to the author, Stephen Parlato, who sent me an autographed copy of this book, and thank you to The Picnic Basket for the chance to review this.

Title:  The World that Loved Books

Author:  Stephen Parlato

Illustrator:  Stephen Parlato

Review Copy Provided by:  author via The Picnic Basket blog

Summary of book (from back of book):  There once was a world where everyone loved books, even the animals.  Everyone loved to read so much that when they read their books, they became what they read.  When they closed their books they became themselves again…only smarter.

My Review:  This is an absolutely beautiful book!  I could sit for hours just looking at the pictures as each big picture is a collage of smaller pictures that take time to pick out and enjoy.  Imagine a horse made up of fish, or a cat made up of mice, rats, and hamsters.  It is truly unbelievable!  When I got this book, I was impressed with the cover art, much more so than the picture online did it justice.   I can’t wait to give this book to my students and see how they react!  Not only are the pictures amazing, but it has a great message.  There is not a “plot” to this story, just instances of how people and animals change with each book that they read.  I am always telling my students that with books you can go anywhere, become anything or anyone, and learn whatever you want to know.  This book solidifies the premise that we become what we read.  From each book we read, we take a piece of it with us and carry it around forever.  What a great message for kids and adults alike.  I will definitely be using this one with my reluctant readers because it is an easy read with a good message.  Some children may have a hard time reading it by themselves as the text is not always linear.  I like how the author manipulates the text into curves to accent the illustrations.  I know that there are a few of my boys that will fall in love with this book strictly because of the illustrations, and if that’s how I hook them, then I’ve got them!  I will recommend this to teachers and my librarian for the same reasons:  beautiful illustrations, easy read, great message.

I don’t usually give ratings to my book reviews, but since I am reviewing this book for The Picnic Basket, I was asked to rate the book on a scale of 1-5.  Here is how the scale works out:  5-Strongly Recommend, 4-Recommend without Reservation, 3-Neutral, 2-Recommend under Certain Reading Situations, & 1-Unlikely to Recommend.  When I review books for The Picnic Basket, I will be using these ratings and giving you my reasoning behind the rating.  So, without further adieu, I rate The World that Loved Books a 4 – Recommend without Reservation (This book should be in every picnic basket, it is as good as the perfect potato salad and would be welcome at a coastal or park picnic.  You would rummage through the picnic basket to read it.) based on the illustrations.  I think that children will ask to read it often because of it is short and so that they can see the pictures.

Stephen Parlato has another book, Dragons Love, that I can’t wait to get my hands on!

Other info about the book:

2003, Simply Read Books
36 pp, full color, 8 3/4″ X 12″, cloth with die-cut cover
Ages 6-11
US $16.95, CDN $22.95, UK £9.95, AU $24.95

Posted in Book Reviews, fiction, Picture Books, The Picnic Basket Book | No Comments »

Review – The Gift of the Christmas Cookie

Posted by shelburns on 19th December 2008

Although I’ve read some Christmas titles during the season this year, I haven’t reviewed any here due to other review obligations.  Imagine my surprise when I opened up a package in the mail yesterday to find this wonderful picture book!

Title:  The Gift of the Christmas Cookie - Sharing the True Meaning of Jesus’ Birth

Author:  Dandi Daley Mackall

Illustrator:  Deborah Chabrian

Review Copy Provided by:  Phenix & Phenix

Summary of the Book:  It’s the Christmas season during a time when people had little money to spend.  Cookie jars held pennies, not Christmas cookies.

So when Jack smells something delicious coming from the kitchen, can’t believe his nose.  Cookies!

But his excitement turns to disappointment when he learns the cookies aren’t for him.  Instead, Mother is baking them for the needy people at their church.  While Jack helps roll out the dough, his mother tells him the story of the Christmas cookie.

My Review:  My first impression of this book, without opening it, was beautiful!  The cover is nostalgic, with the scene of an old timey table spread out and messy with sugar cookie ingredients.  I fell in love with the cover and the fact that it was about my favorite holiday, Christmas.  One thing that I love to do during the holidays is bake, and I usually bake a few batches of cookies.  I knew that I had to read this book immediately.

I was not disappointed with this one.  Mackall takes a small action, making cookies with your mom, and turns it into such a large action, sharing the love of Christ with a stranger.  What a sweet story!  It is short, beautifully illustrated, and well written.  A must have for the Christmas collection! 

Sugar Cookie Recipe

(included in book)

4 cups sifted flour

4 cups powdered sugar

4 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp anise extract

Stir all the ingredients.  Let the dough stand for two hours.  Then roll out the dough.  Imprint with cookie cutters, or use a designed rolling pin, or press into molds.  Let them sit while the oven preheats to 325 degrees.  Bake on greased baking sheets for about 15 minutes.


Posted in Book Reviews, Christmas, fiction, Picture Books | 5 Comments »

Review – Double-Dare Clare

Posted by shelburns on 18th December 2008

This is the 3rd book in the Clare Series.

Title:  Double-Dare Clare

Author:  Yvonne Prinz

Review Copy Provided by:  Chronicle Books

Summary of the Book:  Eighth grade has been pretty awesome for Clare, especially with her new BFF Allison around.  And now it’s going to get even better!  Winter break is coming up and Clare nad Allison have got big plans to spend some quality time together.

That’s of course, until Paul, Clare’s old friend, rolls back into town.  Paul’s all right, but only in a dorky, totally un-dateable kind of way.

Or at least that’s what Clare thinks.  Apparently Allison has some sort of weird X-ray vision thing that sees through Paul’s other dorkiness right to his tender, loving heart.  Paul and allison together?  Gross.

It’s a good thing Clare has Elso to rescue her – imaginary or not, she’s Clare’s oldest friend.   And friends always stick together…Don’t they?

My Review:  Another well written story for young girls, by Yvonne Prinz.  Each book in this series just gets better.  I continue to fall in love with Clare as she grows and changes, just like teenage girls do.  I love this series for pre-teen and teenage girls.  If you love other girl characters like Junie B. or Ramona, then you will love Clare.  In this story, Prinz brings back Clare’s friend Paul, who has been away at school.  Her new best friend, Allison ends up falling for Paul, which is not in the Winter break plans.  Clare gets pushed to the side while Paul and Allison get to know each other.  How many times does this happen to teenage girls and their BFFs?  Prinz really has a finger on the pulse of teenage girls, their issues, and what they have to deal with.  She continues to write from Clare’s point of view, which makes the story so much more real and believable.  Again, Clare does more growing up in this story.  She has gone from having just an imaginary friend, to a “real” best friend, and now, a boyfriend!

“Dear Elsa,

So, you were right.  Joshua became more than a friend tonight.  I think I may have finally done something right in the boy department.”

“Who could have guessed that Christmas vacation would be such a life-changing experience for me?  I would have been happy with presents and chocolate.”

Clare still has Elsa, when she really needs her, but she is learning how to be self-sufficient and believe in herself.  I’m sure that most pre-teen and teenage girls will fall in love with the Clare Series just as I have.  This series would make a great gift for girls on your list this year. 

I hope that this is not all that Prinz has in store for Clare. 

Thank you, Yvonne Prinz for the great interview post prior to these reviews, and thank you to Caroline from Chronicle Books for sending this series my way.

Posted in Book Reviews, fiction | 5 Comments »

Review – Not Fair, Clare

Posted by shelburns on 18th December 2008

This is the 2nd book in the Clare Series.

Title:  Not Fair, Clare

Author:  Yvonne Prinz

Review Copy Provided by:  Chronicle Books

Summary of Book:  It’s the first day of eighth, but Clare isn’t nervous.  Who cares if all the other girls look like they just got back from Camp Total Makeover?  With her new BFF Allison by her side, Clare’s ready for just about anything.

But Clare’s rival, so-popular-it-hurts Ginny Germain, wants Allison in her clique – and Allison doesn’t seem to mind.  In fact, she fits right in.  Soon, Allison’s eating lunch at Ginny’s table and getting invited to all the parties.  And Clare’s not.

Now Clare feels so invisible, she might as well go back to hanging out with her friend Elsa (who’s used to the whole “invisible” thing, ’cause she’s imaginary).  But these days, even Elsa’s too busy for her!

Without Allison and Elsa around, Clare is beginning to realize that having a best friend – real or imaginary – is the most important thing of all…

My Review:  Clare is now in the 8th grade and doesn’t need Elsa as much as she did before.  One reason is because she has Allison.  In this, the 2nd book in the series, Clare has grown up, with breasts and all.  Once again, Prinz takes us into Clare’s world and the world of many teenage girls growing up today.  With Elsa, Clare never had to deal with jealousy, losing a friend to the “in” crowd, or boys.  Now she does, and Prinz writes the story so well.  Real world issues are brought to light in this book: lying to your parents to go to a party, sticking up for your friend so she won’t get in trouble, pesky young neighbor kids, and boys.  In this story, Prinz brings in a young girl, Patience, who adds such humor to the story, but yet, causes the reader to see another side of Clare.  A caring, empathetic, loving Clare. 

“On the fifth day I’m curled up in my chair, watching Patience sleep with her arm wrapped around a stuffed penguin, when Simon walks through the door of her hospital room.  I’ve missed three Macbeth rehearsals, which is bad.”

Clare learns more about herself in this story, as Prinz brings to light one of Clare’s talents: acting.  Again, Prinz has built on a great character that pre-teen and teenage girls can grow with. 

Posted in Book Reviews | 3 Comments »

Review – Still There, Clare

Posted by shelburns on 18th December 2008

Thank you to Caroline at Chronicle Books for sending me all three books in the Clare Series!

Title:  Still There, Clare

Author:  Yvonne Prinz

Review Copy Provided by:  Publisher

Summary of Book:  Clare and Elsa have been best friends for as long as they can remember.  some might say that they’re really diffetent; some might even call them opposties.  But something keeps them very close.  Unfortunately, there is one differnece between the two that is starting to worry Clare.  A lot.  You see, Clare is a real, live human being.

Elsa? Not so much.

Now that Clare is almost thirteen, she’s pretty sure that the kids at school are going to think she’s a tiny bit C-R-A-Z-Y for having an imaginary friend, which is never a great way to start the school year.  And it certainly isn’t the best way to make new, non-imaginary friends.  Oh, and Elsa’s not too thrilled about the whole “poof!-you’re-gone” scenario, either.

Clare knows she has an important decision to make, but how do you say goodbye to your very best friend?

My Review:  This book is the first in a, so far, 3 book series.  I had never heard of Yvonne Prinz before being asked to read this book, but I will be sure to read other works she does.  I enjoyed reading this.  What girl hasn’t had an imaginary friend?  What girl doesn’t worry about what others will think of her, especially when she turns 13?  Clare is one of those characters that I see many pre-teen girls relating too.  Prinz writes honestly about issues that pre-teen girls deal with.  I love the way she uses Clare’s imaginary friend, Elsa, as a sort of alter-ego.  Elsa is and does all the things that Clare wishes she could be and do.  When Elsa goes away, Clare writes to her, as a young girl would write in a journal or diary. 

“Dear Elsa,

Hope you had a good flight.  How is Paris so far?  My life has been a disaster since you left.  I seem determined to destroy what’s left of my pathetic friendships by embarking on a self-destructive rampage…Hope you’re having a good time in Paris.  Come back if you’re not.



Clare’s story is one that girls and possibly boys won’t be able to put down.  It is a fun read and had me laughing out loud in some places.  Prinz writes in the first person, so you really get into Clare’s character and can empathize with her and live through her as you read.  I recommend this to pre-teen girls who grew up with Junie B. Jones, but are ready to read about a character closer to their age. 



















Posted in Book Reviews, fiction | No Comments »

Review – Five Steps to C.A.L.M.

Posted by shelburns on 12th December 2008

This is a virtual blog tour stop for Robert Patterson, Sr., courtesy of Pump Up Your Book Promotions.  Thank you to Mr. Patterson for sending me an autographed copy of this book!

TitleFive Steps To C.A.L.M.

AuthorRobert Patterson, Sr.

Review Copy Provided by:  author

Summary of Book:  A father once told his young son, who was going out into the world on his own, “Son, whatever you want to become, be The Best.” This course teaches you how to be “The Best.”

It begins with instructions on how to put “The Best” of you on paper  Writing Your Resume. Then, later presenting “The Best” of you in person  Preparing for an Interview.

You’ll begin with the basic Resume Content, noting what should and should not be included in your Resume. After mastering the content, then begins the formatting of the Resume.
The next section of the book takes you into “Interviewing Techniques.” What other book walks you through an all-inclusive “Pre-Interview” session? Well, C.A.L.M. does, and once you have completed this lesson, you will indeed be CALM during your interview, no matter how many people may be on the panel of interviewers.

Included in the “Interviewing Techniques” section are Fashion Recommendations, which takes you step by step through the protocol for the business interview dress code, how both men and women should dress when going to an interview. Remember, your Resume may have “opened” the door, now your personal appearance may get a “foot” in that door. Here is where you put the lessons you have learned from C.A.L.M. into practice. Here’s where you sell The Product – Yourself! Don’t worry. C.A.L.M. has fully prepared you for any of the possible questions that you may be asked during the interview. You are ready for them, and you will remain CALM.

C.A.L.M. guides you step-by-step through the entire interview: from the Beginning of the Interview, during the Interview, and through the Closure of the Interview. After completing this course of study, you will glide through your interview with confidence and a sense of achievement. You will have left a favorable impression with the employer, and all because you put into practice your C.A.L.M. course of study.

While the employer is checking you out, C.A.L.M. also instructs you on how to compile a checklist of pertinent company information. Information that is important to you in helping you decide whether or not you would want to work for this firm or company.

The author has thought of everything in preparing you for the job search. He has included a web-site listing for those of you who want to do your job-hunting via the Internet.

C.A.L.M. answers all the questions you may have ever had in your previous job search. The “Who,” the “What,” the “Where,” and the “How.”

My Review:  This is not a book that I would typically read, but I chose it strictly based on the title.  Didn’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.  Not that I am upset at all.  This is a great little “handbook.”  In our time of economic disparity, when many are losing their jobs due to cut backs and bankruptcies, this book could not be more timely.  It is an easy read loaded with helpful hints and tips to get your resume updated, get through an interview, and land the job.  The five chapters, or five steps, are:

  • Career Crusade Getting Started
  • Resume Writing Clinic
  • Interviewing Techniques
  • Salary Negotiation
  • Federal Employment

I just love how this book is laid out.  It gives such great checklists as you proceed through the obtaining a job process.  for example, there are 2 that I love: Resume Checklist and Cover Letter Checklist.

Although I have a job, I do have my Masters and wish to advance my career, so I will definitely refer to this book as I do.  I feel it is a must-have for anyone who is looking for a job or career change.  The step by step resume writing is fabulous.  It will help make anyone’s resume impressive and memorable.  After your resume is written, you need a cover letter to go with it and Mr. Patterson explains each part:

Resume Cover Letters

May set initial negative expectations if done poorly.  Important in telling which job is of interest to you, how you learned of the opening, and what you can do for the organization?  Human Resource professionals expect a cover letter and are keenly interested in its contents.

Basic Components

  • Introduction
  • Sales Presentation
  • Request and Close
  • Length
  • Paper
  • Guiding Principles

I’m amazed at just how simple and easy to follow it all is!  Mr. Patterson has basically created a “Getting a Job for Dummies” book.  It is that well laid out.  Thank you Mr. Patterson for giving us a handbook that is sure to help many.

Posted in Book Reviews | 7 Comments »

Review – A Day with My Dad

Posted by shelburns on 6th December 2008

A big thank you to Paula from Author Marketing Experts for sending me this book. 

Title:  A Day with My Dad

Author:  Lance Waite

Illustrator:  Manuela Pentangelo

About the Book:  Singing and talking, and simply enjoying their time together, father and daughter take a break from the hectic daily routine to reconnect with each other, and nature.

My Review:  Told from the viewpoint of the child, a little girl recalls a day spent with her dad.  This is a sweet little picture book.  I enjoyed the rythm of the story as the little girl tells about her day with her dad.  What a great gift for a daughter to give to her dad this Christmas, or for Father’s Day.  The print in the book is not your typical block print, instead it is soft script that fits in well with the girls’ perspective of the story.  Manuela Pentangelo has great illustrations that use bright, vivid colors.   I would recommend this story to teachers who want to teach rhyming to their students as it is full of rhymes, hence the great rhythm that happens when you read it aloud.  I also recommend it to parents of girls because there is a great bond between fathers and daughters and this book describes it so well. 

More About the Book: 

Price:  $17.99

ISBN:  978-1-60131-015-6

Pages:  24

Posted in Book Reviews, fiction, Picture Books | 2 Comments »

Review – Honda The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars

Posted by shelburns on 1st December 2008

Another Lee & Low book; thank you Hannah!

Title:  Honda The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars

Author:  Mark Weston

Illustrator: Katie Yamasaki

Review copy provided by: publisher – Lee & Low Books

About the Book:  One day in 1914 when Soichiro Honda was seven years old, an astonishing, moving dust cloud appeared in his small Japanese town. The cause was a leaky, noisy automobile—the first the boy had ever seen. At that moment Honda fell in love with cars, and a dream took hold. He would one day make them himself.

It took Honda many years to reach his goal. Along the way he became an expert mechanic and manufacturer of car parts. After World War II he developed a motorized bicycle, the forerunner of his innovative motorcycles. Eventually Honda began manufacturing cars, first race cars and then consumer cars. Constantly seeking ways to make his products better than his competitors’, Honda grew into a global industry leader.

Soichiro Honda had an inventive mind and a passion for new ideas, and he never gave up on his dream. A legendary figure in the world of manufacturing, Honda is a dynamic symbol of lifelong determination, creativity, and the power of a dream.

My Review:  Another great biography about someone I didn’t know.  I can see young boys picking this book up and just being enthralled because of the cars, motorcycles, motors, etc.  I love how the author, Mark Weston, not only told the story of Soichiro Honda, but also did some teaching through this book.  He took the time to explain car parts to the reader.  For example:

“He learned how to fix every part of a car.  He rebuilt carburetors, which mix air with gasoline, and he replaced the spark plugs that ignite this combustible mixture to power the engine and get a car going.  He adjusted brakes, patched tires, and put in new water pumps.  He even fixed transmissions, the gears that turn cars’ wheels and allow cars to speed up and slow down.”

Honda had to work hard to reach his goals, and this book does a great job of showing that.  It is a great message for children.  Even though he was not a good student, he worked hard and even almost quit his job because all he wanted to do was know how a car works and make one himself.  It’s a good thing he stuck it out with that job, because that is where he got his start.  The garage owner saw Honda’s dedication and began to teach him basic repairs.  This is a great book to share with students about starting at the bottom, persevering, and working your way up to where you want to be through hard work and dedication.  I could see teachers and students using this book to study inventors.  Again, Lee & Low gives readers another good multi-cultural title about a man that many have probably heard of, but know little about.

More info about the book:


ISBN 98-1-60060-246-7

32 pages

Ages 6-11

Published: September 2008

Click here for a booktalk with the creators of Honda.


Posted in Biography, Book Reviews, Non-Fiction Monday | 5 Comments »

Review – Bird

Posted by shelburns on 30th November 2008

Thank you to Hannah at Lee & Low books for providing me with a copy of this book!

Title:  Bird

AuthorZetta Elliott

IllustratorShadra Strickland

Publisher:  Lee & Low Books


About the Book:  Young Mehkai, better known as Bird, loves to draw.  With drawings, he can erase the things that don’t turn out right.  In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.

As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brogher’s durg addiction, he escapes into his art.  Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world.  In time, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly.

My Review:  This is a book for young children that deals with heavy issues.  We don’t usually find books like this that so openly deal with issues like drug use and death, even though they are issues that today’s young children face.  I am glad that Lee & Low chose to take a risk and publish this one.  It carries the seal of the New Voices Award *Honor* from Lee & Low.  I shared this book with a group of 4th graders.  They enjoyed the story.  I’m not sure that they fully got the message, but we did discuss the fact that the older brother was “sick” because of the drugs.  The students that I shared this with could not relate to Bird in any other way than that he is African American, like they are.  However, I do know many students that would be able to relate in other ways.  I am glad to have found a publisher that chooses to publis books with multi-cultural characters because there are not enough of them being used in schools.  Children need to see characters like themselves, and I applaud Lee & Low for finding these books.  I love how this story is told from a child’s perspective, with real feelings.  I also enjoyed the fact that Bird used art as an outlet for what he was going through.  There are many children who do this, and they need to see that it is okay and be able to share that with others.  I think that parents and teachers should share this title with their children.  Drug abuse and death is something that we all have to deal with; we should not hide it from even our young readers.

More info about the book:


ISBN 978-1-60060-241-2

48 pages

Ages: 8-12

Published: October 2008

Read an interview with the author.

Click here to see a book trailer for Bird.

Check out this great podcast review of Bird by Just One More Book!


Posted in Book Reviews, fiction, Picture Books | 2 Comments »