Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nonna Tell Me a Story

Illustrated by Renée Graef
(Running Press Kids, 2014), hb., 60 pp.

Although I like to tell puns, I must admit, the title of this book made me skeptical about it. I was afraid poor humor would ruin it. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this light hearted story. The author draws from her childhood experiences in her grandparents’ courtyard in Istria (near Italy) to present a grandmother having a fun visit with her grandkids, taking them to a farm and helping them understand where we get our food. The author recognizes that many children today will never have seen live some of the animals we eat or realized where eggs come from.

I also really appreciated the strong, healthy family portrayed here as the grandmother loves and has fun with her grandkids. The story closes with the parents returning and all the family enjoying a nice meal together. This intergenerational picture is also very good.

The last almost half of the book contains recipes that tie back to the story in one way or another. This was a surprise to me and I would not have expected it to be of interest to my children. However, they loved it and we ended up reading through the recipes like we did the story. We may try some of the recipes soon, just for fun. 

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Kareem Abdul-Jabar's book for middle school kids

Stealing the Game, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld 
(Disney-Hyperion, 2015), hb. 305 pp.

This book is scheduled for release next week but the publisher sent me an advance copy to review. I thought it would be useful to get a review from a young reader. So, I enlisted the help of Nate Barnard, 12 year old son of my colleague Justin Barnard, and voracious reader.

Below is his review. I hope you find it helpful, as I did.

This is a story about a boy who notices something is wrong with his brother and is determined to find out whatʼs going on.....before itʼs too late. The main character, Chris, is your average middle-schooler who loves playing basketball. When his brother Jax comes home from Stanford law school, Chris senses something is amiss. With the help of his friend Theo, Chris uncovers a mystery bigger than he ever imagined. Soon, he finds a way to save his brother: gather a team and play a game against an elite travel team. When that plan backfires, Jax decides to rob a pawn shop in order to pay off his gambling debt...and enlists Chrisʼs help. After a successful raid, all Jax has to do is pay off his debtor and heʼs free. But thereʼs more to Jax than meets the eye and this is what enables him to bust a ring of house burglars that have been terrorizing the town. Overall, I enjoyed this book. The plot is well-defined and every character has secrets that no one else knows. For example, Chris loves to draw comics but hasnʼt told anyone except Jax. Heʼs also a designer baby, born so Jax could live. Because Jax was the Golden Boy of the family, Chris feels overshadowed by his accomplishments. But he still loves his older brother and looks out for him. There is nothing inappropriate in this book. Chris and Jax both steal things; but, in the end “Itʼs all part of the job”. Chris hints that he approves of gay marriage, but it was something barely noticeable and only appeared once. Even the bad guys arenʼt truly evil, theyʼre just misled teens who feel driven to crime. This book kept my attention the whole way through. I would highly recommend it to anymiddle-schooler wanting something to do on a rainy day.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Real Story of the Exodus

Paul Maier, The Real Story of the Exodus
Illustrated by Gerad Taylor
Concordia Publishing House, 2009), hb. 32 pp.
Ages 8+

I have previously commented on two books by Maier which we have appreciated.  This one is more similar to his book on Christmas in that it seeks to tell the real story, providing a faithful, historical retelling of the biblical account. He succeeds well in this aim, and the illustrations by Gerad Taylor are nicely done. I particularly like the illustration of the Red Sea crossing (which also appears on the book cover) because it captures the dramatic reality with water stacked up on the sides, a dry path and the people pouring through.

The downside is that the text is pitched at a higher level than one might expect given the pictures and look of the book. It was harder to hold my children’s attention. So, it could work well as a lesson but not so much as simply a story to read together with younger children. 

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