Book review: Frankie Sparks and The Talent Show Trick, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell

Blakemore, Megan Frazer. Frankie Sparks and The Talent Show Trick. Illustrated by Nadja Sarell. (Frankie Sparks, Third-Grade Inventor series, book 2). Aladdin, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781534430471. 116 pages. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7  

When Frankie meets Tatiana, a magician who has brown skin and curls, just like Frankie, she is mesmerized! Frankie decides that in addition to be the best third-grade inventor, she wants to be the best magician as well. She studies and practices with Maya, her best friend, as her assistant. They perform their first magic show in Maya’s living room. Frankie dreams of being a star in the upcoming school talent show. However, Maya has stage fright and it appears that she will not be able to be Frankie’s assistant. Will Frankie find a new assistant, drop out of the talent show or will Maya gain the courage to be Frankie’s assistant? The author includes how the characters are feeling and the struggles they go through revolving around Frankie’s goal of becoming a star and Maya’s fear of the audience. The text is printed in a larger font which is spaced out, which make it easier for children to read. This short chapter book includes a table of contents with ten short chapters. The end of the book explains “the design process” when one makes an invention, how to turn ”something old into something new,” and “your turn to be the inventor.” The author is a school librarian who has a BA from Columbia University. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in library science. Even though this is book 2 in the series, it can stand alone.

Verdict:  I think readers will be engaged with this book and be able to relate to the characters. It teaches readers about friendships and how to encourage others. Maya’s dilemma will show readers how to have courage and to take chances. I recommend this book for elementary aged readers.

February 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Hale, Shannon and Dean Hale. The Princess in Black and the Bathtime Battle. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. (Princess in Black series, book 7.) Candlewick Press, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 9781536202212. 89 pages. Ages 5-8. P8 Q8

Princess Magnolia smells a stinky smell! Princess Black comes to the rescue to get rid of the smell. Princess Black saves the day..or does she? Princess Snapdragon is trimming bushes when the stink blew into her garden. Princess Black appears and both of the princesses battle the smell. This goes on, with many more princesses getting involved until they come to the source of the stink. You will have to read the story to find out what is causing the smell and how they find a solution. The ending of the book is adorable!! Thick glossy pages, colorful illustrations with exaggerated facial expressions make this short chapter book engaging.

Verdict: With the theme of teamwork, girl power, perseverance and kindness, readers will be captivated from the beginning to the end of the book. Even though this is book 7 in the series, it is the first of the Princess in Black book that I have read. I will definitely read more in the series. I highly recommend this book for libraries for elementary aged readers.

December 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: If You Love Fashion You Could Be…, by May Nakamura, illustrated by Natalie Kwee

Nakamura, May. If You Love Fashion You Could Be… Illustrated by Natalie Kwee. (Ready to Read, level 2, Superstar reader series). Simon Spotlight, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781534448773. 32 pages. Ages 5-7. P6 Q7

Children dream of what they want to be when they grow up. If they want to be a fashion designer, how would they go about it? This level 2 nonfiction Ready to Read book allows the reader to explore the world of fashion while feeling accomplished in their reading skills. Large words have a pronunciation guide which will help emerging readers. There is a glossary, table of contents and introduction. Three chapters explore fashion designers, costume designers and fashion buyers with a final chapter on more fashion jobs. Each chapter asks the reader a question which sets the chapter in motion. Content includes how designers come up with ideas for garments, clothes and shoes. Equal spacing for text and bright colorful illustrations make this book engaging. In the If You Love series.

Verdict: Readers interested in fashion will be intrigued and learn a lot about fashion, while actually being able to read the book themselves. Great book on careers. Fashion design is not a common topic for a children’s book and this one is written and illustrated very well. I highly recommend it.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Scary Sleepover, by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Mike Malbrough

Bernstein, Ariel. Scary Sleepover. Illustrated by Mike Malbrough. (Warren & Dragon series, book 4). Viking, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 9780451481054. 90 Pages. Ages 6-10. P8 Q8 

What do you do when you have a fear and you are too embarrassed to tell your friend? Seven-year-old Warren has been invited to his friend Michael’s house for a sleep over. He fears that the scary stories will make him afraid and he will want to go home. Warren has a Dragon for a pet, but in reality, Dragon is a stuffed animal. With the help of his friend, Alison, he finds the courage to tell Michael how he feels. Will Michael make fun of him or understand? You will have to read the book to find out. The book has 12 short chapters, written from Warren’s point of view and is a quick read. Warren has a running outrageous word contest with Dragon throughout their adventures, which encourages readers to read nonsense words. When Warren refers to Dragon as his friend, the illustrations show Dragon larger than Warren. When other characters refer to Dragon, he is the size of a stuffed animal. Throughout the book , Michael refers to “one of his moms” which normalizes all types of families.

Verdict: Readers with fears or imaginary friends can relate to Warren. The theme of friendship, courage, imagination and respect come through clearly. LGBTQA+ inclusive with Michael having two moms. Readers will stay engaged and realize others have fears too. This is book 4 in the Warren & Dragon series, but it can easily stand alone. I highly recommend this book.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Tree and Me, by Deborah Zemke

Zemke, Deborah. The Tree and Me. (Bea Garcia series, book 4). Dial Books for Young Readers. 2019 $16.99. ISBN 9780735229419. 154 pages. Ages 6-9. P7Q8

Bea Garcia is on a mission to save the beloved tree, which she has names Emily, that sits right outside her classroom window. Problem is, a particularly annoying classmate has turned the tree into a potential hazard and Bea is determined to show everyone how valuable Emily is. Bea takes on the role of activist and enlists her classmates in the cause, and in the end must find a way to reach out to the obnoxious boy who started the whole mess. Together, they show the reader that you are never to young to make a difference. Each page contains both text and pencil sketch pictures illustrating the story, with lots of bubble dialogue between Bea and her classmates.

Verdict: A perfect beginner chapter book with eleven short chapters and illustrated pages. Young elementary classrooms can benefit from the message that working together, even with kids who get on your nerves, results in great outcomes. A wonderful book for the library too.

September 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Picture Books reviewed by ECEL (Special Needs) Students

MacLachlan, Patricia. Chicken Talk. Illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.  Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 978-0062398642. 32p. PK-2. ECEL popularity: 9.  Chickens are writing messages?  Read this book and find out for sure; it’s really funny and we all enjoyed reading it aloud.  The pictures are GREAT!


Bernstein, Ariel. Where Is My Balloon?  Illustrated by Scott Magoon. Paula Wiseman Books, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 978-1534414518. 40p. PK-2 ECEL Popularity: 4.  Owl trusts his friend Monkey to take care of his balloon.  Monkey accidentally pops it and tries to get Owl to take other things, instead.  It was a funny story, and it shows how important it is to tell the truth.


Heos, Bridget. Stegothesaurus.  Illustrated by T.L. McBeth. Henry Holt & Co., 2018. $17.09. ISBN 978-1250134882. 40p. PK-2. ECEL popularity: 10.  The dinosaur knows a lot of words and shares them with his friends.  Funny book and easy to understand, even with the bigger words.


Burningham, John. Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers. Candlewick, 2018 $16.99. ISBN 978-1536200409. 32p. PK-2. ECEL popularity: 10.  A boat trip to London was the most exciting part of the book. Borka was a delightful character and he was nice to everyone he met in the story.  Borka had to overcome the obstacle of having no feathers.


Lucas, David. I Was Made For You. Anderson Press USA, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 978-1541535596. 32p. PK-3. ECEL Popularity: 5.  Mommy knitted a cat for Daisy that comes alive.  Cat wonders why he was made, and what his purpose is.  It was an easy read, but a bit boring.


Willis, Jeanne. Don’t Go There! Illustrated by Hrefna Bragadottir. Anderson Press USA, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 978-1541555082. 32p. PK-2. ECEL Popularity: 5. This book is one that could be used to help kids learn how to use the potty. It is told by a little kid who has a baby alien for a friend.  The alien doesn’t know how to use the potty and pees and poos everywhere he shouldn’t.  The pictures are hilarious!


Donaldson, Julia. What the Ladybug Heard Next.  Illustrated by Lydia Monks. Henry Holt and Co., 2018. $17.99. ISBN 978-1250156525.  32p. PK-3. ECEL Popularity: 6.  Colorful pictures, clear visuals and animal characters allowed my SPED student to enjoy this fabulous book.  She was drawn to it right away by the colorful illustrations and she loved the rhymes.



Wiley, Jesse.  The Oregon Trail – Alone in the Wild.  HMH Books for Young Readers, 2019.  $14.99. ISBN: 978-1328627162.  160p. Gr. 1-3.  ECEL Popularity: 6.  This book is set up kind of like the old computer game, Oregon Trail.  The book tells a story and you decide on one of two outcomes, it could turn out good or bad.  It’s an interesting story setting and the reader is the main character, which makes this great for a group read.



Dockrill, Laura.  Angry Cookie.  Illustrated by Maria Karipidou.  Walker Books US, 2019.  $16.99.  ISBN:  978-1536205442.  40p. PK-2.  ECEL Popularity: 7.  This story is about an angry cookie who hates everything.  He gets annoyed easily.  Then he starts to realize that having friends is good and he starts to be happy.  It was very easy to read and cute.


Lendler, Ian.  Little Sid: The Tiny Prince Who Became Buddha. Illustrated by Xanthe Bouma.  First Second, 2018.  $17.99 ISBN: 978-1626726369.  40p. PK-2.  ECEL Popularity: 5.  Sid runs away from his palace, looking for real happiness.  He doesn’t want “things,” he wants time with his parents.  It’s sort of a weird story but I liked it and the pictures.


Thompson, Veronica.  Earth-Friendly Tech Crafts.  LernerClassroom, 2018.  $9.99.  ISBN: 978-1541527836.  32p. Gr. 1-4.  ECEL Popularity: 10.  This is a book about crafts that you can easily make with old tech junk you might be throwing away.  It’s easy to follow the instructions and there are some really creative ideas in here.



Cordell, Matthew.  King Alice. Feiwel & Friends, 2018.  $17.99.  ISBN: 978-1250047496. 40p. PK-1.  ECEL Popularity: 8.  The story is about Alice, who likes to play make-believe: being King was one of her favorites.  Alice and her dad decide they should make a book about King Alice and the book tells crazy adventures.  It was easy to read and so much fun!



Button, Joshua.  Steve Goes to Carnival.  Illustrated by Robyn Wells. Candlewick, 2019. $17.99.  ISBN: 978-1536200348.  56p. K-3.  ECEL Popularity: 9.  Steve and Antonio are the main characters in this funny story.  Steve is a gorilla and Antonio is his human zookeeper and they both like jazz music.  One night Steve decides to leave the zoo and go looking for Antonio, but it’s during carnival time and it’s crazy with fireworks, dancers, and music.  Will Steve find Antonio?  Read the book and find out!

Cornwall, Gaia.  Jabari Jumps.  Candlewick, 2017.  $15.99.  ISBN: 978-0763678388. 32p. PK-2.  ECEL Popularity: 5.  The book was about Jabari and his dad.  Jabari wants to jump off the diving board, but he was scared.  His dad helps him with his anxiety.   I liked this book, it was easy to read and encouraging.


Kerley, Barbara and Rhoda Knight Kalt.  Tigers & Tea with Toppy. Illustrated by Matte Stephens. Scholastic Press, 2018.  $18.99.  ISBN: 978-1338134278.  48p. PK-3.  ECEL Popularity: 5.  Toppy is Rhoda’s grandpa, mostly blind, and also a wildlife artist.  When they go on outings together it’s always an adventure.



Rutten, Melanie.  The Rabbit and the Shadow. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2018.   $18.00.  ISBN: 978-0802854858. 54p. K-3.  ECEL Popularity: 5.  This is a weird book, not sure I really liked it because at times it was so sad and scary.  In the end, everything is ok, but it made me anxious.  Each character in the book has their own journey of self-discovery that they complete.  It has wonderful pictures, but isn’t easy to read or understand.

Surrisi, C.M.  The Best Mother. Illustrated by Diane Goode.  Harry N. Abrams, 2018.  $16.99.  ISBN: 978-1419725340.  32p.  PK-1.  ECEL Popularity: 5.  A girl thought she needed a new mother, but then she realized she loved the one she had.



Higgins, Carter.  Bikes for Sale. Illustrated by Zachariah OHora.  Chronicle Books, 2019.  $16.99. ISBN: 978-1452159324. 40p. K-2.  ECEL Popularity: 5.  Maurice and Lotta both crash their bikes and end up in a bike store at the same time, where they become friends and go on adventures together.


Primavera, Elise.  I’m a Baked Potato!  Illustrated by Juana Medina.  Chronicle Books, 2019.  $16.99 ISBN: 978-1452155920.  32p. PK-1.  ECEL Popularity: 5.  A dog named Baked Potato gets lost and is confused about who/what he is.  Several woodland creatures try to give him advice (some bad) and one tries to eat him.  The illustrations were cute and colorful and the story is fun.


Clickard, Carrie.  Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt: the True Story of the Quest for America’s Biggest Bones. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.  Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2019.  $17.99. ISBN:  40p. PK-2.  ECEL Popularity: 5.  Thomas Jefferson wanted to change French Count Buffon’s mind about America being a swampy place filled with tiny creatures.  Jefferson goes on a hunt to find bones to ship to France to prove that there are big animals in his country.  Some of the book didn’t make sense to me, but it was still fun to read.

Book review: A Squirrelly Situation, by Jacqueline Kelly, illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer

Kelly, Jacqueline. A Squirrelly Situation. (Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet series, book 5). Illus. by Jennifer L. Meyer. Holt, 2019. 100p. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-62779-877-8. Ages 8-11. P8Q8

Characters from Kelly’s Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and the setting of early 20th century Texas have evolved into an easy series of chapter books in which Callie Vee, who wants to become a veterinarian, typically encounters wounded animals. In this book, her brother brings home an abandoned baby squirrel which is adopted by the family cat. The injury comes when Fluffy the squirrel breaks his tale in a slamming screen door. The book culminates in Emily’s discovery of why a small, lumpy squirrel weighs so much in the community contest to produce the heaviest squirrel.

Verdict: Fluffy’s escapade in the kitchen and the different reactions of family members to the new addition provide the humor in the book, and the black and white drawings enhance the delight of the book. A simple read with some adventure but not a lot of fright.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.