Book review: The Hummingbird Dagger, by Cindy Anstey

Anstey, Cindy. The Hummingbird Dagger. Swoon Reads, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781250174895. 340 pgs. Ages 13+p. P7Q7

This dark novel, with a major flavor of Jane Austen (but with a more violent and seedy storyline) is set in the 1830s. It begins with a carriage accident that leaves an injured young woman in the care of Lord James Ellerby and his sister Caroline. The mysterious woman, called Beth, has no memory of what has happened to her or who she is, though by the end we learn about the exciting events and what prompted them. I found the story to be slow moving at the beginning, but it picked up speed around half-way. It has richly described, sinister settings, both in the countryside and in London, dastardly villains, and a sweet romance.

VERDICT: Teens with a taste for historical fiction or maybe steampunk will enjoy this book.

December 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: All Thirteen. The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, by Christina Soontornvat

Soontornvat, Christina. All Thirteen. The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team. Candlewick Press, 2020. $24.99. ISBN 9781536209457. 280 pgs. Ages 9-13. P8Q9

This engrossing book tells the story of the rescue of the twelve Thai soccer players and their coach who were trapped by flooding in a cave in 2018. It goes back and forth between the hair raising account of how they got trapped and how they were rescued, and short sections on a variety of subjects: Thai geology and geography; cultural topics including Thai religion, nick-naming traditions and meditation; the situation of stateless people in Thailand; intercultural communication challenges between Thais and westerners; rules of cave diving; etc. Each of these topics is placed in an appropriate section of the narrative in order to more deeply explain the chain of events. I remember this situation well- I was glued to the tv for a lot of the 17 or so days watching the story unfold. I was amazed by the details I learned in this book- I didn’t know about the unique geography of the cave structure that soaks up water like a sponge, then when more rain arrives, it floods the chambers. I didn’t know about all of the people who were involved in the rescue- cave divers from Britain, groundwater engineers, oil workers, farmers with homemade pumping equipment, seismic experts, Thai Navy Seals, American Air Force personnel, park rangers, and so many others.

VERDICT: This book is a must have for public and school libraries. It’s inspirational- those young boys and their coach were strong, resourceful, and clear-headed, and the many people involved in the rescue gave everything they had to get them all out alive. It’s educational- I learned a lot about Thailand and its people, about caves in general and cave diving too. It’s also very, very exciting- the author found a structure and a pace that engages the reader fully. I think this will be a popular book, especially during this time when families are homeschooling and looking for ways to keep their kids interested in learning.

December 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Great Escape, by Kate Biberdorf, with Hillary Homzie

Biberdorf, Kate, with Hillary Homzie. The Great Escape. (Kate the Chemist series, book 2). Philomel Books, 2020. 133 pages. $12.99. ISBN 9780593116586. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8 

For the fall science challenge, Kate’s class is in a competition to create ghosts. Of course, Kate is determined to win. The teams read directions on note cards to create the ghost. While working in the group, they face differing opinions, trial and error, and problem solving. However, things do not go as planned with her team. When their teacher notices the division, she creates a challenge that forces them to get along. Hint..the challenge may involve an escape room! Kate emphasizes safety first as her team works. Includes a table of contents, twenty short chapters and a magnetic slime experiment. Each chapter provides the definition of a scientific word that is a noun, such as beaker, compound, temperature, dry ice, etc. The author, Dr. Kate Biberdorf, “Kate the Chemist” is a science professor at UT-Austin and teaches chemistry classes. She also performs explosive science experiments on national television. She wrote, Kate the Chemist: The Big Book of Experiments, and Kate the Chemist: Dragons VS Unicorns.

Verdict: I enjoyed Kate’s first two books and this one did not disappoint! Youth learn about science and friendship. Kate’s approach to teaching science is hands on as she focuses on students’ emotional responses rather than rote memorization of facts. Kate models that women scientists can be successful. The experiment for magnetic slime is a bonus and youth will have fun making it. I recommend this book along with Kate’s book about experiments. This is the second book in the series.

October 2020 review by Harris.

Book review: The Last Kids on Earth and the Skeleton Road, by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Holgate

Brallier, Max. The Last Kids on Earth and the Skeleton Road. Illustrated by Douglas Holgate. (Last Kids on Earth series, book 6). Viking, 2020. 311 pages. $13.99. ISBN 9781984835345. Ages 7-12. P7 Q7

If you like creatures and action, you will enjoy this action-packed adventure. The adventure starts off with urgency as Jack Sullivan and his crew are furiously searching for the villainous Thrull and his skeleton army and ends with a suspenseful cliffhanger. Even though this is book 6, it centers around a road trip which is different from the first five books. The reader is introduced to new creative creatures and places. To catch the readers up to date, the author includes a recap called “recap action.” This sequel includes familiar gadgets, intellect and the trademark humor as the first five books. Heavily illustrated, the black and white illustrations take up a large amount of some of the page. This book is from A Netflix Original Series. It can stand alone, but it would be more enjoyable as part of the series. Book 6 of 7.

Verdict: If you have been following the series, you will want to read this book. With this epic adventure, there is never a dull moment. My favorite illustration is of a monster with curvy horns and a beak. Her huge sword is engraved with the words “I mean business.” If you like the Netflix Original Series, you will want to read the book.

October 2020 review by Harris.

Book review: 2 Curious George stories

Langeland, Deirde. Curious George Votes. (Margaret and H.A. Rey’s Curious George series). Illustrated by Mary O’Keffee Young, in the style of H.A. Rey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. $14.99. ISBN 9780358248347. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

With familiar Curious George characters, children will learn that their voice is important. While waiting for the man in the yellow hat to finish talking to Ms. Wolfe, George’s curiosity gets the best of him. Students are getting ready to vote for a school mascot and of course he wants to be a part of it. Curious George sees posters of various mascots on the wall and the tiger’s fur looks so soft, he has to touch it. That starts a chain of events that are typical for Curious George. The glossy pages include illustrations in the style of H.A. Rey. Readers will learn about ballot boxes and write in votes in a way that they will understand.

Verdict: Children who like Curious George will enjoy his adventure and learn about the process of voting. Teachers who vote for things in their class may want to use this book to show the process. Well timed, coming out in an election year.


Perez, Monica. Curious George and the Summer Games. (Margaret and H.A. Rey’s Curious George series). Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young, in the style of H.A. Rey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. $14.99. ISBN 9780358164104. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

Curious George is at it again. The recreation staff is setting up for their summer field event and Curious George wants to earn a medal! Curious George tries the hurdles, long jump, badminton, and other track events. He learns that playing sports is about being fit, healthy and having fun, not just winning. While practicing until the Summer games arrives, he realizes that making new friends and learning a new sport best part of Summer Games. Glossy pages include illustrations in the style of H.A. Rey.

Verdict: The timing seems intentional since the 2020 competitors are practicing now for the Summer Games in 2021. Children who like Curious George will enjoy his adventure and learn that it is important to have fun, not just win.

October 2020 reviesw by Harris.

Book review: 5-Minute Really True Stories for Bedtime, various authors

5-Minute Really True Stories for Bedtime. Britannica Books, 2020. $12.99. ISBN 9781912920655. 192 pages. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

Why do we need to sleep? What are dreams? Written in first person, listeners are encouraged to think about a question and then they are told the answer. Thirty 5-minutes world records and facts revolving around sleep include: why we need to sleep, beds, dreams, interesting facts about beds found in King Tut’s tomb, beds around the world, asleep in space, road construction happening at night, markets/bakers wholesale markets in the morning, night hunters, northern lights, midnight sun, life cycle of a star, stargazing, and lullaby’s around the world. The oversized dark colored matte illustrations give off a calm effect. Includes an index, glossary, sources, websites, and Meet the authors & illustrators’ section.  The painted illustrations, bright hues and simple cartoon style are inviting. The characters are diverse in dress and racial presentation.

Verdict: If you want a book about facts about everything revolving around sleep, this is a perfect book for you. However, if you want a story book to put your child to sleep, this book is too interesting and engaging. I learned a lot and it stimulated my brain instead of lulling me to sleep. Perfect for 5-minute burst of facts that are easily digestible for children. Highly recommend, but not for bedtime.

October 2020 review by Harris.

Book review: Curious Comparisons: A Life-Size Look at the World Around You, by Jorge Doneiger, illustrated by Guido Chouela, Cristina Reche, Marcelo Setton, and David Sisso, translated by Iraida Iturralde

Doneiger, Jorge. Curious Comparisons: A Life-Size Look at the World Around You. Illustrated by Guido Chouela, Cristina Reche, Marcelo Setton, and David Sisso. Translated from the Spanish by Iraida Iturralde. Candlewick Press, 2020. “First U.S. Edition.” $17.99. ISBN 9781536200218. 63 pages. Ages 4-8. P8 Q8

How many ants does it take to carry a piece of cake? What happens if you unravel a child’s tee shirt? Curious Comparisons shows life-sized facts for the curious. Two-page spreads feature bright life-sized photographs, short sentences and primary colors on glossy paper. The wide variety of topics includes facts children may not have thought about before in a new and exciting way. Items range from elephant feet, a cacao pod from Brazil, grains of sand, to unraveling a child’s sweater. The end of the book includes Life-Sized Facts for the curious, which provides additional facts for every item featured on the pages.The photographs incorporate numerical facts providing a real-life connection to math. The book was originally written in Spanish and this edition was translated into English. The translation was done very well. On the page that features sand, the amount of sand is compared to the population of countries in South America.

Verdict: Enlightening, entertaining and engaging! I read this book to my students and they were engaged and eager to see what was on the next page. The ordinary items are presented in a way that they seem magical. Children will gravitate towards the bright photographs and interesting facts. I can see them reading this book multiple times. Students gave the book two thumbs way up!

October 2020 review by Harris.

Book review: She Persisted in Sports, by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Clinton, Chelsea. She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians Who Changed the Game. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. (She Persisted series). Philomel Books, 2020. $17.99. ISBN 9780593114544. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P6 Q7

It is not easy to be a girl athlete. How do women athletes make their dreams come true? They persisted. Many women athletes are featured, starting with Margaret Ives Abbott from the late 1800’s, who was the first American woman to become an Olympic champion, to current day Simone Biles. Biles was adopted by her grandparents. She is the first American gymnast to win a medal in every event and now has many difficult gymnastic skills named after her. She is widely recognized as the greatest gymnast of all times. Each two-page spread has a pastel color theme and features a variety of women, many of whom have had to overcome disabilities or other struggles. Each spread has a quote. Readers are left with the encouragement “They persisted and so should you!” The illustrations show the athletes, sport featured and accompany the text nicely.

Verdict: Not only do children learn about the accomplishments of the athletes, they also learn about persistence, problem solving, and overcoming adversity. Girl empowerment and role models presented in a way that is inspiring.

October 2020 review by Harris.

Book review: Speak Up, Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrol

Lovell, Patty. Speak Up, Molly Lou Melon. Illustrated by David Catrow. (Molly Lou Melon series). G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. $17.99. ISBN 9780399260025. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

If you like the Molly Lou Mellon series, you will like this book! In the first half of the book, Molly Lou Mellon shares her mother’s advice and models it with her cartoonish pets. The advice includes: take responsibility for actions, accepting friends of all shapes, sizes opinions and ideas, and accept others for who they are, even if their ideas are different than yours. In the last half of the book, she is with her classmates and shows how she lives the advice her mother gives her. She befriends a new student and stands up for him. She says, “Friends stand up for each other.” “If you want to be a friend, it is all up to you.”  Her friends’ names are alliterations, Garvin Grape and Bettina Bonklehead. which is fun. Full of busy colorful artistic watercolor caricatures and her signature large black hair, Molly Lou Mellon uses her strong voice to speak up for others.

Verdict: Successful book on teaching students how to be true to themselves, be an upstander and a friend. Working at an elementary school, I see children who are not kind and they would benefit from Molly Lou Mellon’s mother’s advice. Children will love the color, animals and friendships and be challenged to be a good friend. The theme of using a strong voice to speak up for others is emphasized. There are many lessons in the book and all the lesson go together nicely. A must have for classroom libraries.

October 2020 review by Harris.