Staff Picks for Children

 Recommended books for kids. Comment on a review by clicking on its title. You can also write your thoughts about any book on our Facebook Wall.

You can still access reviews from pre-September 2012 for Adults and Children.

Christmas Chaos

(2013)
Christmas Chaos
Zoo Hideout

Are you looking for a fun gift idea?  Something new for “Where’s Waldo” fans?  Or just a way to keep the kiddos busy while they wait for Christmas?  Then bring a little “Christmas Chaos” into your life!  It’s one of several books in the “Seek It Out” series by Picture Window Books, a division of Capstone Press.  The book features 14 scenes, laid out in two-page spreads, which feature a different winter holiday experience: the center of a busy shopping mall, Santa’s workshop, ski slope, skating rink, a gingerbread village, a Kwanzaa celebration, among others.  Many objects from penguins and peppermint sticks, snowflakes and stockings, to fishing poles and backpacks are cleverly hidden among the other objects, animals and people in the scene, sometimes in the least expected places.  The unexpectedness, along with expressive character faces and actions, will provide giggles and engage imaginations while readers seek and find the objects.  The puzzles become more challenging from first to last, with between 6 and 12 objects to find on each page.  The objects pictured on the list are in the same relative size, and in grayscale, so part of the challenge is to find each object by shape and tone rather than size and hue.  The final puzzle invites readers to search through the whole book for the answers.

Another book in the series, Zoo Hideout, includes many scenes from a busy zoo complex, including a reptile room, a petting zoo, a butterfly garden, a veterinary hospital, a whale and dolphin show, even a gift shop.  I found it even more engaging than the holiday offering; the illustrations by Simon Smith and Moreno Chiacchiera are more goofily charming, and the unexpected locations of some of the objects are funnier.  But Christmas Chaos hits the spot in this season of the year. There are more books in the series to choose from, and they're all fun—take a look!

Christmas Chaos and Zoo Hideout are recommended for ages 5 and up.

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The Elephant From Baghdad

(2012)
The Elephant From Baghdad

 

A monk, Notker the Stammerer, tells the story of Charlemagne and his elephant Abu who had come all the way from Baghdad.  How in the world did Charlemagne come to be in the possession of an elephant from the Middle East?  Charlemagne, who ruled most of Europe, had heard of Harun al-Rashid, who was caliph of Baghdad.  He sent ambassadors to visit the caliph in Baghdad to learn about the Middle East and come back and report.  Harun also wanted to know all about Charlemagne.  In the end, Harun wanted to send the ambassadors back with gifts.  The most stupendous gift was the elephant Abu.  The elephant began to be seen in tapestries and coins, and Abu lived with Charlemagne until his death in 810.

A note from the author tells us while Notker the Stammerer was truly the historian for the abbey of St. Gall in the Swiss Alps, they have imagined that Notker was the historian telling this story.  The other source of information was by a historian named Einhard who was a courtier and secretary to Charlemagne. 

The illustrations are in watercolor and ink, but there are photographs of antiques such as a silk cloth interspersed throughout the book.  I did not know this story, and found it to be a gem.

 

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Bot Wars

(2013)
Cover for Bot Wars


The story takes place in a futuristic world where the United States has been divided into 13 districts after the war with robots. In this society the “Bots’ are banned and are forced to live in the district known as Bot Territory.  The hero is a young twelve-year-old boy named Trout, who wants to find his father who is reported missing after the war.  He hasn’t given up hope and plans to get his story out on the Net with the help of a classmate, Tellie Rix.  They make a video-message that brings about a variety of unintended consequences. 

Trout is now thrown into a number of adventures.  He meets a robot, named LT, who rescues him and takes him to Bot territory, he meets his father, and his brother, Po is captured by the District’s government.  Trout learns the truth about his father, and must save his brother.  Trout’s father was involved with the Meta-Rise, a union of people and bots who want equal rights for all, especially the robots.

The story and characters were very good.  The gadgets used in rescuing Po were clever, and the slang seemed somewhat appropriate.  Examples of the slang words included “notched” or “cracked” or “go nuclear’ and people can “gear out” or be a “drain clogger” or “totally wrenched”.  The sentences were written in such a way that the reader would know what a word meant.

This Science Fiction story is fast-paced and engaging.  It is appropriate for grades 5th through 7th grade.

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Daisy Gets Lost

(2013)

 

Daisy and her ball are back! The day begins with Daisy and her owner playing ball near a forest. As Daisy’s ball rolls into the woods, Daisy discovers something new to chase...A SQUIRREL! Quickly, Daisy dashes deeper into the forest after the squirrel and finds herself lost. Will she ever find her way home?

Raschka’s vibrant and playful illustrations draw the reader into the story. With a few simple lines and colors, Raschka communicates Daisy’s excitement of seeing a squirrel, fear of being lost and the frantic nature of searching for her owner. Another plus - Daisy Gets Lost is a nearly wordless picture book! This will allow young children to gain visual literacy skills by creating their own story about Daisy based on the pictures.

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The Birchbark House

(1999)
The Birchbark House

November has been designated National Native American Heritage Month.  Even if it weren’t, I would still sing the praises of this wonderful book and its sequels.  The Birchbark House introduces the reader to Omakayas (“Little Frog”), a young Ojibwa girl living on what is now known as Madeline Island, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior in the 1840’s.  Omakayas is a strong, sympathetic character; readers will relate to her feelings about her family, her chores, her friends, and will be drawn into her adventures, including an unexpected encounter with a family of bears, and a rescue of a baby crow who becomes her pet.  Through a cycle of seasons, the family lives in harmony with nature with all its beauty and hardship: hunting, fishing, and gathering food; making meals, tools, clothing, toys, learning about life and death.  As autumn winds grow sharper, they move from their summer birchbark house to their snug log cabin built by Omakayas’ Deydey (Daddy) on the edge of the town of La Pointe, that the Ojibwa share with an ever-growing population of chimookomanug (white and non-Indians).  Living so close with the chimookoman settlers, the Ojibwa are unprepared for the diseases they carry. Through the year, including the trials of winter and sickness, Omakayas begins the discovery of her unique past, as well as her talents and nature as a healer.

The Birchbark House and sequels The Game of Silence (2005) and The Porcupine Year (2008) feature Omakayas’ adventures from age 7 to 12.  The fourth,  Chickadee (2012), focuses on the next generation, particularly Omakayas’ sons, Chickadee and  Makoons.  I hope this latest book is not the last!

Unlike most 19th century historic fiction featuring Indian characters, the stories of are told from the Indian point of view, based on the author’s own Ojibwa family history.  Erdrich masterfully weaves tribal culture and language, as well as actual events in history into her story, just as Omakayas, her family and others in her tribe weave games, music, spirituality and rituals into their daily work.  A helpful glossary and pronunciation guide is included in back of the book.

The setting and time frame parallel those in some of  Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series books; the illustrations by the author are reminiscent of those by Garth Williams for the Wilder series, but are charming and beautiful in their own right.  A fine audio book version of The Birchbark House is available on disc, and on a download through the Wisconsin Digital Library powered by Overdrive.

 The Birchbark House is recommended for ages 9 and up.  The sequels are recommended for ages 10 and up.

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50 Fantastic Things to Do with Preschoolers

(2013)
50 Fantastic Things to Do With Preschoolers

 

As days in the outside world become shorter and colder, the inside world undergoes a transformation as well. It is amazing how the sounds, colors and textures in our world can change during the winter.  Have you just finished a delicious box of chocolates? Pull out those crinkly papers and keep that shiny gold box.  Just finished wrapping some presents? Don’t throw away the scraps. Keeping away the cold with some hot chocolate? Don’t throw away the marshmallows that fall on the floor. Encourage your preschoolers to explore these materials.  Put out some scissors and glue and see what they can create.  Learning how to manipulate different kinds of materials will help them enormously as they later tackle school projects and, right now, these scraps can provide hours of inside fun!

Are your children too young for scissors and glue? Would they simply put all those tiny scraps right into their mouths?  No worries. For toddlers and babies, try out some ideas found in 50 Fantastic Things to Do With Toddlers and 50 Fantastic Things to Do With Babies.  

For example, pull out some mittens/gloves in different sizes and with different textures. Help your child explore how the different mittens/gloves feel.  Do they have a favorite? Clap out a rhyme with the gloves and without them. Listen together to how the sound changes.  Not only are they learning an enormous amount by interacting with the different sounds and textures, but this game might make bundling up to go outside a little easier.

Find these ideas and more in Sally and Phill Featherstone’s series. Each book is filled with easy one page activities suitable for children at various developmental levels. You might be surprised by how many of these games you can play using everyday items you have at home.  By the time you are ready to return these books to the library, you will have enough ideas to last you all the way to next winter!

                  

 

 

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Flying Solo

How Ruth Elder Soared into America's Heart (2013)
Flying Solo

 

Almost everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart, but Ruth Elder is a new name to many.  Ruth wanted to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo in 1927, just like Charles Lindbergh.  Unfortunately, after 36 hours in the air, Ruth had serious trouble with an oil line rupture and had to abandon her plane in the ocean.  Fortunately, there was a ship nearby to rescue her.  Ruth charmed her way into the public's eyes, and by 1929 forty women met to begin a cross country race. 

Ruth believed that women would become fighter pilots someday, and it did come true, but not for decades.  In World War II female pilots flew only in noncombat positions.  They were called WASPs, Women's Airforce Service Pilots.  An author's note ends the book along with sources and books, magazines, and web sites for further reading. 

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Bowling Alley Bandit

(2013)
Bowling Alley Bandit

 

Arnie the Doughnut was first introduced in 2003 by Laurie Keller as a picture book.  Now he's back in a chapter book for early readers, in what is to be a planned series.  Readers may remember that Mr. Bing decided not to eat Arnie for breakfast, but instead make him into a doughnut dog.  Arnie accompanies Mr. Bing everywhere, including to his bowling league, where he is competing in the 62nd Annual Lemon Lanes Bowling Championship.   Mr. Bing is doing a great job bowling, and his team is in first place, until Mr. Bing starts throwing gutter balls.  Arnie solves the mystery of the gutter balls and is off to save the day.  The book is filled with fun illustrations, dialogue bubbles, and regular text.  The next Arnie the Doughnut chapter book is due out February of 2014.  Until then, if you haven't read the original picture book, check that out too!

 

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Double Vision

(2012)
Bookcover for Double Vision

This story is about a boy named Linc, who becomes a spy because his look-alike was a missing agent from a top secret operation team named “Pandora”.  Lincoln Baker, a 12-year-old, is one of those kids who means well but is constantly in trouble.  On a field trip to a chicken farm, Linc feels bad for the chickens all cooped up so he decides to let them loose.  Now the school wants to expel him, the farmer wants to sue his family for damages, and his best friend puts his picture with bird poop on his head on YouTube.  This is how he is noticed by the Pandora team.

Agents Stark and Fullerton arrive at Linc’s home and persuade him to help them.  In return they will clean up the mess with the chicken farmer and his school.  They have this missing agent, Benjamin Green, who must meet someone in Paris to retrieve a package and they want Linc to take over for this agent.

Linc is trained and sent to Paris where the one assignment turns into a race around Paris, a search for a stolen evil Mona Lisa painting, dealing with a French family, dodging bad guys, and solving puzzles and ciphers.  Linc has no idea what is in store for him and how dangerous things can really become.

The story is filled with action and suspense, and realistic characters.  Henry is a perfect geek with his knack for inventing spy gadgets.  Francoise becomes involved with Linc in the hunt for the evil Mona Lisa painting.  Together they follow the clues and decipher the codes left by Francoise’s father concerning the painting.

Boys and girls will enjoy this book and love the action, the mystery, the code breaking and the edge-of-your-seat adventures.  The story is similar to the movies of Agent Cody Banks and the Spy Kids series. The ending leads you to believe that a sequel is in the makes because Agent Stark appears at Linc’s door several weeks later.

I would recommend this story for ages 9 – 12 and grades 5 – 7.

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Ling & Ting Share a Birthday

(2013)
Ling & Ting Share a Birthday

 

Ling & Ting now star in a second book, Ling and Ting Share a Birthday.  These six year old twins may be twins, but they are not exactly the same.  The reader is challenged to look for the differences between them at the very beginning.  Through six short stories the girls receive new shoes, go shopping, bake cakes, make wishes, open gifts, and read a story.  Ling and Ting are delightful characters and I was so happy to see that there was a sequel to Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same.  According to an artist's note, the gouache illustrations were "inspired by 1950s children's textbook illustrations". 

Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly gave Ling & Ting starred reviews, and I do too!

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Zombie Makers

True Stories of Nature's Undead (2013)
Zombie Makers

If you believe that zombies are only in scary stories or movies…think again.  If you are grossed out at the thought of creatures that take over the bodies and brains of other creatures, this review--let alone this book--is not for you.  Just walk away.

Are you still here?  Read on if you dare. Although the zombies in Johnson’s book are not of the “people” kind you might see in a movie, they are creepy enough for even the bravest reader—and they are real, as are the parasitic life forms that invade them.  Featured are various victims, such as a hapless housefly infected with a certain fungus which causes it to stare dazedly and walk with slow, jerky movements as if forced, while the fungus digests the fly from the inside out; or, the unwitting cricket who, paralyzed by the sting of a female jewel wasp, becomes both babysitter and dinner for her young. Each chapter focuses on a zombie trait as exhibited by a host creature, as well as the nature of each zombie maker, and the science behind the story. There are plenty of gruesome photos showing zombie makers—animal, vegetable and even viral--and their prey, accented with oozy, blotchy graphics.  Is there a zombie maker that can change a human brain?  Take a look: you may find that zombies are closer than you think!

Recommended for ages 10-14, perhaps the brave 9-year-old.  Not recommended for the squeamish.

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