Stanley the Mailman

Stanley the Mailman by William Bee

hamster on motor bike

BIBLIO: 2016, Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 3 to 6, $14.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book
ISBN: 978-1-56145-867-7.

Bee has produced another charming installation about Stanley the Hamster. Stanley acts as the town’s postman and delivers mail to all of his friends. Stanley’s day starts before dawn as he rides his scooter. Each friend opens up their mail which come as whimsical fun gifts or unfortunate truths like Hattie’s ticket. The book shows a lot of movement through the pages and actively engages the reader. The sentences flow and are very simple grammatically ideal for young readers. The digitally designed pictures are well thought out. The drawings are colorful, cute, and clean lines, along with a lot of sweet details. The cover of my particular book is pillow-y and perfect for tiny hands. I would recommend this book as a read-a-long book and for very beginning readers. This book is great as part of a career-themed Storytime and Stanley the Hamster as a series works perfectly as a quick grab for toddlers.

More titles in the Series:
hamster on a tow truckhamster on bakery vanhamster on bulldozerhamster on a tractorhamster on food truck
And many more!

Some Kind of Magic

Some Kind of Magic by Adrian Fogelin

shadows, book cover

BIBLIO: 2015,Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 10 to 14, $15.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 978-1-56145-820-2

Part crime-solving part coming of age, this novel features the four friends Justin, Cass, Jemmie, and Ben along with Ben’s kid brother Cody on their adventures as their last summer before high school kicks off to a boring start. Set in Tallahassee within a week countdown to Cody’s birthday, the story centers around the “magic hat” Cody finds that leads them to an abandoned shed on the site of a house fire that serves as their new secret hangout. A subplot of the novel is finding out what happened to the brothers’ Uncle Paul. It doesn’t take long for them to find out how the house fire, Uncle Paul, and the hat all connect. In the end Ben has an accident and Justin proves to be a hero as everything resolves. Teenage drama runs throughout the story with romance, family troubles, obesity, interracial friendships, and the uncertainty of a new school all being relatable to the reader. The novel does become very unrelatable when the “magic” is brought in. As this novel is designed for middle schoolers, the youngest will say they’ve outgrown it and the oldest really have. While the hat’s magical powers are symbolic of imagination and confidence, the characters’ expressed belief and the title can be deterring to potential readers. This is great for teachers to use to reassure students going to high school or for the kid sibling always tagging along. Some real issues and learning lessons are presented and can be effectively used for discussions in the classroom. For more adventures with these characters look for Fogelin’s novels, Crossing Jordan, The Big Nothing, and My Brother’s Hero.

More titles in the Series:
legs running book coversneakers book coversunset book cover

The Hero Two Doors Down

The Hero Two Doors Down
Based on the True Story of Friendship
between a Boy and a Baseball Legend
by Sharon Robinson

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BIBLIO: 2016, New York: Scholastic Press; Scholastic Inc, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 978-0-545-80451-6

Written in the first person narrative Steve reflects on his childhood baseball relics set aside for him by his recently deceased father and remembers when as an eight-year old, the famous Jackie Robinson moves into his neighborhood and his life. 1948 Brooklyn is an amazing time for Steve. Bonding over baseball with his father Archie, is what he lives for, listening endlessly to the radio-casted games and reading the paper for news about their beloved Dogers. Steve itches to see the opening game for the season and to meet Jackie Robinson. Amazingly his dad surprises him with both on the same day! The two families become close friends and begin to have dinners, attend games, give gifts, and share their differences happily. Jackie’s influence on Steven doesn’t stop there as the man encourages Steven to focus on school and behave better, and teaches Steven valuable lessons when he falls short. The baseball legend successfully sways most of Steven’s schoolmates into his favor and the fear and prejudice of the Jewish neighborhood melts quickly away after encountering Jackie’s charming and gentle personality. Sharon Robinson briefly addresses the readers in the afterword with the changes she makes to the true tale, pictures, and her accounts of the very real Stephen Satlow. A feel-good story perfect for sports fans and novices alike, this book has some great perspective on maturity, religion, race, and relationships, ideal for conversations amongst families and classmates.

Watch Out for Flying Kids

Watch out for Flying Kids!:
How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and
Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community.

by Cynthia Levinson

book cover, circus kids

BIBLIO: 2015, Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 12 to 18, $22.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN:978-1-56145-821-9

Reaching for the impossible is easy for these remarkable kids. A form of entertainment that doesn’t come up often, the circus arts, focuses on skilled physical and mental talents. But what about talents of peace and unity? Levinson writes about children performers from St. Louis, USA and Galilee, Israel that challenge the norms of society about typical hobbies and typical relations. The unprecedented novel follows the stories of nine main troupers through seven years of international friendships and performances. The book observes each circus, flipping back and forth over a specified course of time, explaining tricks and routines, the nine trouper’s thoughts and personal lives, and the directors’ engagements, as well as general experiences that feed into the circuses developments. Each circus is enthralling, the St. Louis Arches with their professional performances and highly demanding practices show how advanced this hobby can go, to the point of attending a circus college! The Galilee Circus sections speak out about the difficulties of mixing Arab and Jewish children together because of their religions, languages, and moving past their shared yet volatile history as a country and community. Not to mention, their struggles of developing as a circus without the proper training space and supportive staff to train them. Together, is when the circuses have the most impact on the people around them and the reader as they recount performing as the cohesive Galilee Arches, learning from each other and gaining valuable life experience. Switching the trips between Israel and America gives all of the troupers a chance to experience a different culture while setting a social example. The book is equipped beautifully with a pronunciation guide, index, pictures, and side bars. Easy to use to inspire many conversations about diversity, barriers, strength of character, and more.

Poems in the Attic

Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes

girl reading poem, book cover

BIBLIO: 2015 New York: Lee & Low Books, Ages 4 to 7, $19.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book
ISBN:978-1-62014-027-7

This richly illustrated children’s book focuses on a seven year old girl visiting her grandmother for three days. She finds a box of poems her mother wrote about the places she lived as a young girl in a military family. Each poem the mother wrote is accompanied by the daughter’s reflection about the poem and her time with her grandmother. All of the poems are very reflective and show the fun each experiences, culminating in the daughter’s surprise book of poems for her mother. The mother’s poems are written in the Japanese style Tanka, and the daughter’s in free verse, both forms are explained in the back of the book. Each set of poems is set up with an oval cut-out illustration of the girl on the right and the mother’s memory and poem fill up the remaining one and a half pages of the two page spread. Zunon uses a combination of deeply colorful acrylics, oils, and collaging for each picture adding a sensory level to the stories the poems portray. This book can be used well as an introduction to poetry and the help children cope with moving, friends, family, and armed forces.

War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus

War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert

book cover war dogs

BIBLIO: 2013,Watertown: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc.
Ages 5 to 9, $8.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book; History
ISBN: 978-1-58089-415-9

Taking the main perspective of Rufus, Churchill’s dog, the Second World War is looked at through an innocent’s eyes. Selbert expresses Rufus observations about his important owner working hard to keep his country together. Repeatedly, Rufus is being shown as a comfort and constant companion to the prime minister. The war is described in vague terms including bombings of London, interactions between the big three ( USA, England, and Russia), D-day, and the announcement of victory. This story expresses the difficulties of war through the quotes taken from the gifted orator Churchill and the descriptive, short paragraphs. The stylistic choices of acrylic and collaging add a charming effect to the rather solemn content. The art adds emotion and warmth to the story making it more child friendly and showing a softer side to the “English Bulldog” Churchill. Included in the back is a war timeline and brief biographical entries. Great way to introduce the serious topic of war and create interest in WWII.

The Boy and the Book

The Boy and the Book by David Michael Slater, illustrated by Bob Kolar

Book Cover

BIBLIO: Watertown: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc, 2015. Ages 3 to 7, $16.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book
ISBN: 978-1580895620

Learning proper book care and etiquette can be tough for young overexcited little kids. This simplistic Adobe Illustrator built book focuses on a boy and his treatment of the blue book. On the first page it becomes apparent that the little boy has a reputation for mistreating book and all of the books are alarmed at his arrival in the library. The next several pages show the boy tearing, bending, throwing, folding, and dragging the book around and the book looks scared and in pain. The mom collects her son and the book is tossed on the ground to be rescued and repaired by his book friends. When the boy returns the blue book hides in terror but he gets caught, the other books rescue the book. The boy is really sad, not understanding why the blue book was so unhappy and the book feels bad and returns to the boy, who figures out how to treat the book nicely, ending with the two reading at bedtime. Throughout the book in the background it is obvious that other library users know how respect the books, reading quietly at the tables holding the books correctly. There is very little thought put into the resolution of the book, frustratingly the boy seems to magically learn his lesson making it hard to explain the correct ways of caring for books because there is never a clear demonstration. While it has its flaws this book is functional as a gateway to proper library use, book care and repair, and how to get excited about books.