Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Horse For Kate

A horse of her own would be awesome. But Kate figures that might be a long way away, especially since she had to give up riding lessons and move to her late grandfather's farm. Besides, it would be a lot more fun to have a best friend to ride with. When Kate discovers a barn on their new farm that's perfect for a horse, and a dusty bridle too, she starts to think that her dream might come true. Then she meets Tori at school, who is totally the best. So when they discover a thoroughbred that appears to be all alone, could it be the answer to her prayers? Maybe. If she can convince her dad ... and figure out what's going on with that horse.

What I Like: In the span of a short chapter book, the story covered many issues that kids ages 8-12 would surely face at school and at a home like being the new kid in a new school, making friends, mean kids, doing chores and parental rules. I think middle grade readers can truly relate to the language and character traits of both Kate and Tori.

The author skillfully blended in the dynamics of a household with an autistic child into the plot while not making it overpower her main storyline. Both of the girls in the story already have a faith based background and occasionally turn to prayer without being prompted to do so. They are good realistic role models for young readers.

What I Dislike: Non-horse enthusiasts may find some of the jargon a little confusing.

Overall Rating: Good

Age Appeal: 8-12 years old

Publisher Info: David C. Cook; 2015; ISBN: 9780781411141; ePub & Paperback, $7.99

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Special Info: The book includes a scene where a character encounters racism.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Candle Bible for Kids Board Book

Candle Bible for Kids Board Book, by Juliet David and Jo Perry, contains 10 stories from the Bible, including the story of creation, Noah, Moses, Jesus’ birth and that of the feeding of the multitudes with just five loaves and two fishes.

With the exception of two of them, each story is four pages long. The others are two pages and six pages in length, respectively.

The illustrations are bright, colorful and expressive for a younger audience.

What I Like: The stories are short and simple

What I Dislike: Although the stories are short and simple, I question the use of some of the words in the text, such as “astonished,” “wicked,” and “forever.” This book is intended for toddlers, but these words seem above their age level.

Overall Rating: Good.

Age Appeal: 3-5 years.

Publisher Info: Candle Books, 2014; ISBN: 9781781281017; Boardbook, $9.99.

Special Info: Read our reviews of other books illustrated by Jo Perry.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jesus Detective

If your kids love I Spy books or Where's Waldo, they're sure to love Jesus Detective by Peter Martin and Peter Kent, too.

Each two page spread in Jesus Detective offers a scene from the Bible. There's a one paragraph bit-of-a-Bible story, a detailed illustration, and a border of things to find in the picture. For example, one spread features the home of Zaccheaus. The paragraph explains who Zaccheaus was, that Jesus wanted to visit with him in his home, and that when Jesus left, Zaccheaus gave back all he'd stolen from tax payers - and then some. The border around the spread asks readers to search for specific things: "Zaccheaus' ill-gotten weath meant he had a luxury lifestyle. Spot 3 house servants;" "Those with riches had to lock them away. Find a wall safe;" "A luxury feast might include veal - from a 'fatted calf.' Spot 2 plates of roast meat."

Jesus Detective stories cover lots of bits of Jesus' life, from his birth to the Pentecost. The back of the book has an answer key.

What I Like: This is a fun way to learn a bit about the Bible and what life was like during Bible times.

What I Dislike: Nothing.

Overall Rating: Excellent.

Age Appeal: The publisher says 7 - 9, but my 6 year old loves it, too.

Publishing Info: Lion, 2014; ISBN 978-0745964447; hardback, 48 pgs., $14.99

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Friday, March 13, 2015

The Berenstain Bears' Country Cookbook

Do your kids love the Berenstain Bears? Do you want to get them into the kitchen? Teach them how to cook? Help them become a little more independent? Then The Berenstain Bears' Country Cookbook may be just what you're looking for.

Mike Berenstain's latest addition to the legacy his parents built is a welcomed one. The bright, colorful cookbook is packed with all the Berenstain Bear characters children love, has 40 kid-friendly recipes with colorful photos, has an interesting section on honey, and offers brief, less-than-a-page vignettes of the Bear family in each section. (For example, the cookbook begins with an illustration of the Bear family, and Mama Bear telling Brother and Sister how important breakfast is. She encourages them to come into the kitchen with her and help make the meal...then the section on breakfast recipes begins.)

In the "Breakfast" section, there are recipes for scones shaped like bear heads, biscuits shaped like bunny heads, berry crepes, and "tasty toboggans" (French toast with two pieces of bacon, placed on the plate to look like a sled). In the lunch section, there are lettuce wraps, mini pizzas made with French bread, and shepherd's pie. In the "Main Dishes" section, there are recipes for corn on the cob, enchiladas, quesadillas, and kebobs. For "Desserts & Snacks," there are applesauce, banana pops, blueberry pie, and race car cookies. Some recipes are very simple (fruit salad, spinach salad, banana and peanut butter sandwiches), while others are for older children - or children who have more help from an adult (green noodle lasagna, grilled chicken with carrots).

You may ask why this is considered a "Christian" book. I wondered, too. Turns out, at the back of the book there is a little mealtime prayer, and on the very last page, there is a Bible quote.

What I Like: This cookbook has lots of visual appeal, especially for children. It's colorful, bright, and all the food looks delish. I also like the variety of recipes offered. Not all are uber healthy. There's a nice blend of healthy recipes (oatmeal, tuna sandwiches) and recipes that are a little less so (sausage and tater tot wraps, mac and cheese). In other words, something to please everybody. My kids can't wait to take it into the kitchen!

What I Dislike: Nothing.

Overall Rating: Excellent.

Age Appeal: About 4 and up. (Obviously, adult supervision is needed!)

Publishing Info: Zonderkidz, 2015; ISBN 978-0310747208; hardback, 96 pgs., $12.99

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Copper Map: A Skye Belle Adventure

The Copper Map, by H.A. Jones, is a well-written, fast-paced adventure story. This second book in the Skye Belle series brings twelve-year-old Skye and her ten-year-old brother Brandon right into the heart of Egypt on a treasure hunt. Together with Doctor Peter Niven, the trio follows the scantest of clues on a copper map discovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The only problem is, Skye and her crew aren’t the only ones looking for the treasure… and Peter, being somewhat out of his comfort zone, unwittingly leads them into danger. Only through sharp thinking and determination can Skye hope to escape not only with the treasure, but with her life.

In the story, Peter is an agnostic, interested only in fortune and glory. This fact gives Skye opportunity to point out the historical accuracy of the Bible. It also gives the tale a gentle Christian perspective.

Jones’ descriptions of this area of the world paints a clear image of the landscape for readers, which adds depth and credibility to the story. Through Skye’s eyes, readers see and hear the modern day culture and experience a few important holy land sites.

What I Like:I reviewed the first book in the series too. I gave it an excellent rating… and I like this story even better than the first. I felt the author made the adventure more believable by having Peter along to supervise the youngsters while they explored while at the same time giving the power and creative thinking to the children to solve the problems that ensued.

And, this is neither a like or dislike, but a note. I felt like the vocabulary was a step up from book one. For instance, I thought The Lost Treasure of Persia ($2.99 Kindle link) ($4.49 Paperback link) would be well suited for a first and second grade audience. However, I feel like this book would appeal best to a second through fourth grade audience because to me it had more depth in story, plot, vocabulary, and description. Click here to read the CCBR review of The Lost Treasure of Persia.

What I Dislike: Nothing. 
I found the idea of the Copper Map fascinating though, and immediately looked up information about it on the internet. I would have loved if Jones had included some of the reference material he used when researching for this book. He could probably publish a non-fiction companion book with such information included.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: None is listed. I recommend second grade on up.

Publisher Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015; ISBN: 978-1508468080; Paperback or Kindle, 160 pgs., $6.99

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Friday, February 13, 2015

The Cottage in the Woods

Before I started reading The Cottage in the Woods, I thought it would just be a fluffed up story about what happened to Goldilocks after she was found in Baby Bear’s bed. Of course, that topic was covered, but according to author Katherine Coville, there was more to the story. It is the back story for a fairy tale, but it’s so much more than that, much more than you would expect.

Not only does the reader learn the “real” story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (in this version they are called the Vaughns and Goldilocks is not the little blond-headed girl’s name), the reader is taught lessons about love, jealousy, prejudice, justice and faith. I was quite surprised by this story as though I believe it was written for a mainstream audience, there is a definite Christian storyline as well.

Every once in a while you read a book that leaves a lasting impression on you for one reason or another. This is one such book. Coville tells a familiar tale with a lot of unexpected twists. She includes characters from other well-known fairy tales and nursery rhymes, all who live in the Enchanted Forest with the Vaughns. She writes with witty humor and a healthy dose of truth. As the blurb on the book says, “Filled with bold twists and turns, this is a beautiful coming-of-age story wrapped in a tale both well-loved and wholly unexpected.”

What I Like: Everything.

What I Dislike: Nothing.

Overall Rating: Excellent.

Age Appeal: 8-12, although I think almost everyone would enjoy it.

Publisher Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers; ISBN: 9780385755733; Hardcover, 400 pages, $12.74.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Lost Treasure of Persia

In Australian author Heath Jones’ book The Lost Treasure of Persia: A Skye Belle Adventure, twelve-year old Skye Bell and her younger brother Brandon go on an adventure in Paris that turns into a danger-fraught mystery.

Their mission starts out simple enough: visit the Louvre museum to see some recently uncovered ancient Persian artifacts the kids think might be linked to Queen Esther. They hope that examining these items first-hand will help them discover the secret to the Biblical queen’s courage to come before her husband, the King of Persia. However, on their first meeting with their museum contact, the kids discover the jewelry has been stolen. From there on out, the children try to find clues, capture the thief, and restore the treasure to the museum. As the story unfolds, Skye discovers it’s not just the secret of Queen Esther’s courage she is trying to find; it is her own.

What I Like: The story brings in Christian elements and lessons in a way that feels natural, kids can relate to, and works with the personalities of the characters. Also, in many ways, The Lost Treasure of Persia reminds me of the simplicity of adventure found in the popular Magic Tree House stories, only without the time travel. In both, you have a brother and sister on a mission where they learn history, solve a mystery, and confront danger. In much the same way, the story also moves quickly from plot point to plot point—steady action but without the more complex character development found in books geared toward an older audience. The cover art also appeals to that 1st-2nd grade age group. The main character looks much like Kim in the cartoon Kim Possible. That’s why I believe that if your child likes the Magic Tree House books, he will likely enjoy this series as well.

What I Dislike: Kids might not have an issue with this, but I was bothered by the fact that, all on their own, the young characters simply fly off to Paris, travel around the country, and stay in a hotel. When they need to relocate to another part of Europe, they simply purchase tickets and take off… again, on their own. Nowhere in the story does it indicate the family is wealthy enough to have such a large travel income at their disposal. Neither is it believable kids this age would travel without any adult supervision. A family vacation, a visit to a distant relative, a special international camp, a friend who works at the museum in Paris, rich parents who send kids on a trip with a butler, or even a magic tree house... any of these ideas would solve that issue and make the story feel a little more authentic.

Overall Rating: I debated between excellent and very good, and when that happens, I usually go with the benefit of the doubt. So... EXCELLENT.

Age Appeal: The publisher does not list an age group, but I believe it fits kids in grades 1,2, and 3--- about, as I said, the level of a Magic Tree House adventure.

Publisher Info: Amazon Digital Services, 2014; ISBN: 978-1501061899; kindle or paperback, 116 pgs., $4.99

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