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book reviews

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Turning Pages: My Life Story (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Turning Pages: My Life Story by by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

    Publisher: Philomel Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    As the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor has inspired young people around the world to reach for their dreams. But what inspired her? For young Sonia, the answer was books! They were her mirrors, her maps, her friends, and her teachers. They helped her to connect with her family in New York and in Puerto Rico, to deal with her diabetes diagnosis, to cope with her father’s death, to uncover the secrets of the world, and to dream of a future for herself in which anything was possible.

    In Turning Pages, Justice Sotomayor shares that love of books with a new generation of readers, and inspires them to read and puzzle and dream for themselves.

    From the very first sentence right to the very end, this story captured my full attention.  Not only did I learn so much about Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her background, but I also read some of the most poetic and beautiful phrases about books and reading.  It was such a treat to learn how much books played such an important part in her life.

    My story is a story about books – of poems and comics, of law and mystery, of science and science fiction.

    Reading was like lighting candles, each book a flame that lit up the world around me.

    Written words, I discovered, were electrical currents that jolted feelings to life.

    Books, it seemed, were magic potions that could fuel me with the bravery of superheroes.

    Books were my loyal friends.  They made it so I never felt lonely.

    Books were mirrors of my very own universe.

    Throughout Sonia’s life, books brought her comfort in the darkest periods. She talks about being diagnosed with diabetes when she was seven years old and how she found courage by reading comic books.  The illustrations showing her injecting herself with needles are powerful.  Instead of insulin, she imagines injecting herself with a “magic potion” and being a brave superhero.  When she was nine years old her father passed away.  At the time, Sonia found comfort and escape at the nearby Parkchester Library.  Books helped her escape her reality and allowed her precious opportunities to experience wonder.

    Almost every illustration in the book features books or reading in some way.  Sonia is seen reading at home, at the library and in college.  The back matter has a timeline of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s life and there are actual photographs in the end papers.  The thing I love most about this book is that Sonia wrote it on her own and she’s still alive to tell her own story – her own truth.  A delightful and informative book that is sure to inspire a new generation of readers, leaders, aspiring lawyers and social justice activists.

    Your turn: Which book(s) from your childhood played an important part in your life?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    adult books, book reviews, STEM, technology

    Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Coding Homework

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

    Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework by Frazer Wilson

    Publisher: Sterling Publishing
    Pages: 208
    Format: Paperback

    Facing the daunting prospect of helping your children with their coding homework?  Coding for Parents teaches you what you need to know . . . so you can teach your kids!

    Unlock the mysteries of coding with this easy-to-follow and well-illustrated guide—and help your kids ace their coding homework! Organized by age and grade, It takes you by the hand and leads you through the basics, building your knowledge of key concepts, terminology, and techniques, and giving you the language you’ll need to explain it all to your child. Instructional diagrams and compelling illustrations appear throughout to enhance your understanding, and the book covers the most popular software, including Scratch, Python, and Java.

    The introduction of the computer has changed the world forever, for better or for worse.  The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science.  President Barack Obama said it best when he said, “In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill.”

    In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill – it’s a basic skill.” – Barack Obama

    And yet, computer science is not part of the required curriculum in many US public schools.  That means it’s up to adults to help their children get more familiar with computers, technology and coding when it’s not offered to them in their school.  With the help of great books like Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework adults can cultivate a child’s interest in computing, even if they’ve never written a line of code on their own a day in their life.

    I like that this book is organized by age and grade level for different software like: Java, Scratch and Python.  It’s a compact and comprehensive introduction to all things coding broken down into digestible bites that are easy to comprehend.  There are also helpful diagrams with some added humor to help take a bit of the edge off if you’re new to the world of coding.  The book also contains a helpful glossary and index making it easy to find and reference information throughout.

    Coding is all about learning by doing.  And the more kids feel like they can “do” computers, the more likely they are to pursue technical careers.  An added bonus is having a parent or adult who understands coding and can help a child easily understand it too.  That’s where  Coding for Parents: Everything You Need to Know to Confidently Help With Homework comes into play.  Check it out if you want to be able to confidently help the special kiddo in your life with their coding homework.  Makes a great back to school gift idea for parents!

    Your turn: Is Computer Science a part of the curriculum at your child’s school?  What other books would you recommend for adults to help children with coding homework?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, children's books

    Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse: Book Review

    Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken

    Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse–the best and most beautiful horse anywhere.  But Chloe does NOT believe him. Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house. Where would he keep a horse? He has holes in his shoes. How would he pay for a horse?

    The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school and even complains about him to her mom, Chloe doesn’t get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.

    Written with tenderness and poignancy and gorgeously illustrated, this book will show readers that kindness is always rewarding, understanding is sweeter than judgment, and friendship is the best gift one can give.

    At first glance, one might think this is just a book about a boy and his horse.  But once you open it up and start reading, you are introduced to so much more!

    First, little readers are introduced to Adrian Simcox sitting all by himself (probably daydreaming again) at the lunch table in the school cafeteria.  Off to the side you see a crowd of other diverse kids all sitting together having their own group conversations.  Right off the bat, you can tell Adrian is a loner who probably doesn’t have many friends.

    Next, you find out Adrian has a horse that he loves dearly and will tell just about anyone who will listen how beautiful his horse is.  “It has a white coat and golden mane and the biggest, brownest eyes of any horse, anywhere…”

    Everyone at school is convinced Adrian has a horse EXCEPT for Chloe.  She’s not buying Adrian’s story for one minute.  She know’s her friend Kelsey’s cousin has a horse and that horses are super expensive to take care of.  Besides, Adrian lives in small house, he gets free lunch at school and he has holes in his shoes so there’s NO WAY he could possibly have a horse, right?

    After being sick and tired of hearing Adrian brag about his horse, Chloe can’t take it anymore.  One day at recess she yells out loud so everyone can hear, “He’s lying! Adrian Simcox does NOT have a horse!”

    Shortly after, little readers meet the real star of this book, Chloe’s mother.  It’s through her subtle, yet powerful action of showing her daughter Chloe to stop being so judgmental that finally makes Chloe start to see Adrian in a different light.  Chloe’s mothers’ simple action at the end of the book tie in beautifully with a quote from Chloe’s teacher mentioned earlier in the book:

    We must try to be understanding.  We have to be patient.

    I love this book for so many reasons:

    • The gorgeous illustrations by illustrator Corinna Luyken will take your breath away!  (Look closely so you won’t miss the sightings of Adrian’s horse!)
    • The contrasts between Chloe and Adrian (Adrian’s messy desk, his run down neighborhood, holey shoes)
    • It has some wonderful messages of kindness, empathy, feelings, and friendship woven into it
    • It teaches children not to judge others based on things they have or don’t have
    • Adrian’s vivid imagination and his creative ability to see things in a different way
    • The way Chloe’s mom subtly shows her daughter about true kindness, respect and acceptance without saying a word.  It’s so beautiful to see how Chloe figured everything out on her own and realized her mistakes.

    I think this is such a great book to read during the back to school season (or anytime of the year).  Messages of kindness ring out loud and clear.  Don’t miss this one!

    About the Author

    Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book. You can visit her at

    About the Illustrator
    Corinna Luyken grew up in different cities along the West Coast, and after studying at Middlebury College, she settled in Washington State, where she draws inspiration from nature, her family, and the human form. Her debut picture book, The Book of Mistakes, received four starred reviews and has been praised by Entertainment WeeklyThe Wall Street Journal, Nerdy Book Club, and more.

    book reviews, children's books, giveaways

    Fiona the Hippo Review+ A Giveaway!

    Disclaimer: We’re thrilled to partner with Zonderkidz for this adorable giveaway based on the true life story of internet sensation Fiona the Hippo from the Cincinnati Zoo!  Enter for your chance to win a copy of the picture book Fiona the Hippo, a Team Fiona plush and sippy cup.

    About Fiona the Hippo
    Fiona the Hippo, by New York Times bestselling artist Richard Cowdrey of Bad Dog, Marley fame, tells the story of Fiona, the adorable internet sensation from the Cincinnati Zoo who captured hearts around the world with her inspiring story and plucky personality.

    Born prematurely, at 29 pounds, Fiona was not expected to live. But her spunk and determination helped her thrive and become a happy, healthy hippopotamus. With every challenge she faced, Fiona let out a snort, wiggled her ears, and said “I’ve \got this.” And she did! In this delightful story, inspired by the real adventure of this heroic hippo, join Fiona and her lovable animal friends at the zoo as she is introduced to the world in this whimsical and inspiring tale of perseverance and friendship.

    I remember hearing about Fiona the Hippo last year and seeing her photo all over the Internet.  She’s the lovable little hippo who made her grand entrance to the world at the Cincinnati Zoo.  Born prematurely, and cared for with the assistance of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Fiona is the first Nile hippo born at the zoo in 75 years!  No wonder why she’s so irresistible to people of all ages.

    I was surprised at how valuable lessons of determination, grit, overcoming challenges and family came through in this book.  I was expecting to just read about Fiona’s background and journey, so the lessons sprinkled throughout the book was an added bonus!  It definitely helped me come up with a few discussion questions to talk to the kids about after the story ended which was great!


    About the Author

    Richard Cowdrey’s favorite things to draw and paint are the common things seen everywhere in nature. He especially enjoys capturing the expressions, eyes, and gestures of both humans and animals. Drawing and painting Fiona was challenging as the hippopotamus is a very unique yet beautiful creature! Richard’s bestselling children’s books include Legend of the Candy CaneBad DogMarley, and A Very Marley Christmas.

    The Giveaway!

    One (1) US-based resident (age 18 and over) winner will receive:

    Fiona the Hippo Prize Pack Sponsored by ZonderKidz

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Grandad Mandela (A Book Review)

    Grandad Mandela by Ambassador Zindzi Mandela, Zazi and Ziwelene Mandela, illustrated by Sean Qualls

    Publisher: Quarto Kids
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 and up
    Publication Date: June 28, 2018

    Nelson Mandela’s two great-grandchildren ask their grandmother, Mandela’s youngest daughter, 15 questions about their grandad – the global icon of peace and forgiveness who spent 27 years in prison. They learn that he was a freedom fighter who put down his weapons for the sake of peace, and who then became the President of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize-winner, and realise that they can continue his legacy in the world today. Seen through a child’s perspective, and authored jointly by Nelson Mandela’s great-grandchildren and daughter, this amazing story is told as never before to celebrate what would have been Nelson’s Mandela 100th birthday.

    Born on July 18, 1918 Nelson Mandela is best known for promoting messages of forgiveness, peace and equality.  He spent 27 long years in prison, but when he was released he became the first Black President of South Africa and eventually won the Nobel Prize for Peace.  In 1994, Mandela successfully brought down the Apartheid government abolishing the original ruling of separating White people from Black people.

    Grandad Mandela is a beautiful and important story told from the perspective of Mandela’s two youngest great-grandchildren and daughter.  The story begins with little Zazi and Ziwelene approaching their grandmother (Mandela’s youngest daughter, Zindzi) to tell them about their great-grandfather after finding a photograph of him around the house.  Mandela’s daughter goes on to her grandchildren the story of why Mandela went to jail when she was just eighteen months old.

    In true childlike fashion, the kids continue to probe asking a series of 15 different questions about their great-grandfather.  They are curious and want to know more like:

    Why did grandad go to jail?
    Why did the white people start making everybody’s lives sad?

    I love how Mandela’s daughter carefully responds to each question in a way that’s easy for smaller children to understand.

    He went to jail because he was fighting against apartheid.  Apartheid was a law in South Africa that separated black people and white people, and said that white people were better.  Grandad was fighting for us all to be equal.

    It’s because white people were taught under colonization and apartheid to hate.  They were taught that they were better than black people.

    I think each question and answer response is well thought out and easily digestible for little readers.  The illustrations beautifully capture each memory and the time period so well.  You’ll see pictures of Winnie Mandela silently celebrating Mandela’s birthday each year he was in prison.  She kept the wedding cake they never had a chance to cut when they got married.  Every year on Mandela’s birthday, she would bring it out, light a candle, and say a prayer for him.  Be still my heart!

    In the end, Mandela is finally released after spending nearly three decades of his life behind bars.  Everyone in South Africa is seen rejoicing, White and Black people.  What an amazing day that must have been for the people in South Africa who spent so many years living under apartheid!

    I remember seeing some of the television coverage on that glorious day back on February 11, 1990.  It seemed like the whole world was rejoicing and celebrating.  It was as if Nelson Mandela’s release set us all free in a way.  His release helped set people free from anything they may have been  struggling with at the time.  His release gave me a renewed sense of hope and optimism.  From that day on, I held Nelson Mandela in such high regard often looking to his words for guidance in coming to grips with the ways—the sometimes brutal ways—in which the world works.

    To say that I am grateful for Nelson Mandela’s example doesn’t suffice.  That’s why I’m so glad this picture book exists so I can keep his legacy alive by reading it with my children and for new generations to come.  His legacy lives on and we can all learn valuable lessons from him and his humanity.  Grandad Mandela is sure to inspire readers to achieve anything they want in life.  It inspires me to keep showing up daily, to keep writing, to keep fighting, to keep forgiving, and to keep loving.

    Your turn: Are you planning to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s upcoming centenary (100th birthday)?  If so, how will you be celebrating?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    For more information about Nelson Mandela’s forthcoming 100th birthday celebration visit The Nelson Mandela Foundation website.

    book reviews, children's books, children's literacy, read aloud

    Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams (A Book Review)

    Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Howard Bryant, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

    Everyone knows the names Venus & Serena Williams. They’ve become synonymous with championships, hard work, and with shaking up the tennis world. This inspirational true story, written by award-winning sports journalist, Howard Bryant, and brought to beautiful life by Coretta Scott Kind Award and Honor winner, Floyd Cooper, details the sisters’ journey from a barely-there tennis court in Compton, CA, to Olympic gold medals and becoming the #1 ranked women in the sport of tennis. Here is a worthy ode to Venus and Serena Williams, the incredible sister duo who will go down in history as two of the greatest athletes of all time.


    Every time I read this book it moves me to tears. Not because it’s a sad story, because it fills my heart with so much joy and inspires me to keep on pushing and grinding despite any odds, haters or obstacles I may face.

    Venus and Serena’s tennis careers began before they could even hold a racquet properly at the tender age of 3. Their father, Richard Williams a former sharecropper from Louisiana, knew from the day he put tennis racquets in their hands they would be known as the greatest tennis duo in the world. Others laughed whenever Richard would talk about it.

    Sisters and Champions gives you an inside glimpse into the lives of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. You learn about some challenges they overcame (like racism and health issues) and their many impressive victories.  Floyd Cooper’s vivid and gorgeous illustrations really complement the story so well.

    I love how the girls’ parents took a gamble by putting everything they had on making tennis stars out of their daughters. All of their hard work and dedication eventually paid off…big time! In February 2002, Venus was ranked number one in the world. Six months later, it was Serena’s turn to be number one. It is the only time in history two siblings were ranked first and second in the world.

    Check this one out if you want to read about Venus and Serena’s story, if you need a dose of inspiration, or if you have any aspiring little tennis players in your life. Makes a nice addition to any home or school library. Now available wherever books are sold. Recommended for ages 4-8 and up.

    “It’s not about winning today, it’s about winning tomorrow. You’re building your game.” -Richard Williams

    book reviews, children's books

    Llama Llama Loves to Read (A Book Review)

    I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher as part of the Llama Llama blog tour.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Llama Llama Loves to Read
    by Anna Dewdney, illustrated by Reed Duncan

    Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 3 – 5
    Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten

    Anna Dewdney’s Bestselling Llama Llama series continues with Llama learning to read!

    Llama Llama learns at school. 
    Counting, writing, reading, rules. 
    Friends and school — there’s nothing better. 
    Llama learning all the letters!

    Anna Dewdney’s beloved Llama Llama is growing up and learning to read! Throughout the school day,the teacher helps Llama Llama and the other children practice their letters, shows word cards, reads stories, and brings them to the library where they can all choose a favorite book. By the end of the day, Llama Llama is recognizing words and can’t wait to show Mama Llama that he’s becoming a reader!

    Llama Llama Loves to Read Blog Tour

    It was a sad day for book lovers of all ages when the inspiring author of the beloved Llama Llama series, Anna Dewdney, passed away nearly two years ago from brain cancer. Anna was a champion of children’s literacy and learning who was probably best known for her Llama Llama series.  Llama Llama books are centered around a precocious young Llama navigating his way through childhood.  Undoubtedly, that series has touched many lives and helped put countless kids to sleep over the years. Thankfully Llama Llama’s story is not quite over yet.

    Of course it goes without saying, I love the overall concept behind this book – literacy and reading.  Just like all of the of the other Llama Llama books we’ve read, Llama Llama Loves to Read has a relevant theme, lilting rhythms, and great illustrations.  This book is sure to inspire a love of reading in every preschool and kindergarten mind that is blessed to hear/read the rhythmic story about Llama’s reading adventure.

    In true Anna Dewdney style, this book is written in fun, catchy rhymes.  It starts with a simple life problem and proceeds to solve it, with lessons learned along the way.  In this book, Llama Llama is faced with the problem of not being able to read some harder words.  He learns to do his best and take his time to sound words out.  In the end, he’s so proud of his newfound reading skills and can’t wait to tell his mother all about it.

    My kids and I are so happy Anna Dewdney and Llama Llama will continue to live on through this book and the remaining ones yet to be released. Check out Llama Llama Loves to Read if you want to inspire little people to love reading and conversing about literature.

    Llama Llama Loves to Read blog tour

    Anna Dewdney passed away in September, 2016, at the age of fifty from cancer. A teacher, mother, and enthusiastic proponent of reading aloud to children, she continually honed her skills as an artist and writer and published her first Llama Llama book in 2005. Her passion for creating extended to home and garden and she lovingly restored an 18th century farmhouse in southern Vermont. She wrote, painted, gardened, and lived there with her partner, Reed, her two daughters, two wirehaired pointing griffons, and one bulldog. Anna was a warm-hearted, wonderful, wise soul who will be forever missed, but whose spirit lives on in her books.

    Your turn: What is your favorite Llama Llama book?  Have you read this book with your little readers yet?  Feel free to share in the comments.