July 31, 2016

Who is POTUS? A Timely Book for the Election

Title: When Penny Met POTUS
Author: Rachel Ruiz
Illustrations: Melissa Manwill

Penny has heard the term POTUS over and over but doesn't know what it means and her imagination runs wild! When she spends a day at the office with her mother, she asks a few questions, looks around, and tries to discover just who or what POTUS is.

I'll be honest at first I questioned the premise of the book.  How could a child not know that her mom works for the President of the Unit States.  But then I thought about the term POTUS.  If a parent always used that term, a child might not understand what it means!  After I thought about that I found myself really liking the story.  

Instead of a person Penny thinks POTUS might be a creature of some sort.  She has no clue what to picture so her imagination really does run wild.  And then when she finally gets to the White House (or her mother's place of work as she knows it), she sets out to find this POTUS with each person adding to her imagination and confusion.  

I could see this being used with kindergartners or 1st graders and having them guess what POTUS is!  It would lead to a great learning opportunity about how POTUS stands for President of the United States.  

July 13, 2016

Blog Tour: The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Today I'm very excited to welcome Laura Marx Fitzgerald to The O.W.L.! 

She is celebrating the release of her new novel The Gallery by doing a blog tour. 

About the Book

It's 1929, and twelve-year-old Martha has no choice but to work as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. But, despite the Gatsby-like parties and trimmings of success, she suspects something might be deeply wrong in the household—specifically with Rose Sewell, the formerly vivacious lady of the house who now refuses to leave her room. The other servants say Rose is crazy, but scrappy, strong-willed Martha thinks there’s more to the story—and that the paintings in the Sewell’s gallery contain a hidden message detailing the truth. But in a house filled with secrets, nothing is quite what it seems, and no one is who they say. Can Martha follow the clues, decipher the code, and solve the mystery of what’s really going on with Rose Sewell?

Inspired by true events described in a fascinating author’s note,The Gallery is a 1920s caper told with humor and spunk that readers today will love.

When I was first offered this book by the publisher to be part of the blog tour I thought it sounded pretty good and different from what else was out there that I had been reading.  
As I started it I found myself pulled in over and over by the story.  I loved the setting both 1929 but also the mansion Martha works in with her mother.  It's a time period I don't read about much, and it always fascinates me because it's right before everything changes.  To go with the setting I LOVED Martha.  Boy is that girl the definition of spunky! I loved it! I think I giggled the most when she talked about the presidential race! Opinionated and spunky girl in the 1920's!

But beyond all that I loved the plot.  I'm a sucker for a good intriguing mystery, and I found it in The Gallery.  I kept reading and getting sucked in because I wanted to know more! I wanted to figure out what was happening.  Was Rose really crazy?  What was she doing? Could I trust her husband?  Could I trust anyone in the house?  It just really hooked me! I won't tell much more because if you read it you need to experience the whole thing, but just know I loved it! 

Oh and to add I love that bits and pieces are inspired by true events of the time.  That just made it even more intriguing! 

Laura was kind enough to write a guest post for this stop on the blog tour for The Gallery.  

The prompt was: Please describe your 1-2 biggest inspirations as a writer and how this contributed to the book.

I don’t think of myself as a writer so much as an archaeologist of ideas. 

I don’t claim to have any visions of fantastical worlds or great insight into the interior world of children or even—let’s be honest—any original ideas. What I do have is an insatiable desire to excavate the stories that have been lost to the passage of time. 

What I have is a love of history. 

The inspiration for my writing has been consistent throughout all my books (both finished and not yet . . .). Whenever I run out of ideas, I dip back into the bottomless well of history—to the people, the secrets, the scandals. Because there is no fiction I can dream up that can outdo the stories I find in the past.

Would you believe a crack team of nerdy art historians saved Europe’s greatest works of art from Htiler’s destruction? Or an invaluable painting hidden under another painting for four centuries? Or a scandal involving the greatest Italian master proven by x-ray technology? All these things really happened, and became the inspiration for my first art mystery, Under the Egg.

For my latest art mystery, The Gallery, I started with new stories from the 1920’s. Sure, there were stock market crashes, Charleston contests, and gangster shootouts. But other headlines jumped out as well:

A quite-possibly-mad heiress held captive by her mother and stepfather (a dodgy Italian “count”) for her inheritance.
Terrorist bombings of Wall Street, the New York subway, and famous judges.
The mysterious “disappearance” of America’s first celebrity lady evangelist.
The mass poisoning at a party in Chicago’s tony University Club by an undercover anarchist.

As far as I was concerned, events like these were ripe for the taking. And they pop up throughout The Gallery’s plot, where a young girl uncovers similar dark secrets by messages in a Gilded Age mansion’s art gallery.

Every plot twist took me on a new historical adventure. Question about immigration documents? Off to Ellis Island. How many servants would you find in a Fifth Avenue mansion? Census records are surprisingly easy to find online. What did these in-home galleries look like anyway? I was happy for the excuse to book tours at the The Frick and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museums.

My search for characters took me back in time, too, looking to history books and museums, as well as primary sources like old newspapers, speeches, and photographs. Biographies and autobiographies were a goldmine, leading me to outsized historic figures like Isabella Stewart Gardner, Zelda Fitzgerald, Helen Clay Frick, and “Madcap” Merry Fahrney. (The voice of Martha, my young main character, was born out two such sources: an old diary left by my husband’s great-great-aunt, a turn-of-the-century immigrant from Ireland, and the memoir of a maid to the eccentric Lady Astor.)

As for my next book, I’m following a few different historical leads:

The strange marriage between a twelve-year-old girl and the master of the greatest illuminated manuscript in history. 

The on-set childhood of the daughter of Hollywood’s most audacious director.

The source of mass outbreaks of insanity across Medieval Europe.

All true stories. All waiting to be uncovered. And all inspiring my next round of looting . . . I mean, writing.

That was so cool to hear all about!!! I love to hear how authors are inspired, and with this book I was really curious where it came from.  (OH the book does have some information at the end to address this as well).  Thank you so much Laura for sharing all that! 

Check out the other stops on the tour:

July 11th – The Young Folks  
July 12th – Word Spelunking
 July 14th– The Reading Nook Reviews
July 15th – Margie’s Must Reads
July 16th  Mundie Moms

July 11, 2016

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers Book Review

Title: The Girl in the Well is Me
Author: Karen Rivers

Longing to be one of the popular girls in her new town, Kammie Summers has fallen into a well during a (fake) initiation into their club. Now Kammie’s trapped in the dark, counting the hours, waiting to be rescued. (The Girls have gone for help, haven’t they?)

As hours pass, Kammie’s real-life predicament mixes with memories of the best and worst moments of her life so far, including the awful reasons her family moved to this new town in the first place. And as she begins to feel hungry and thirsty and light-headed, Kammie starts to imagine she has company, including a French-speaking coyote and goats that just might be zombies.

Before reading this book it was on my radar for a while.  About a month ago I finally sat down and read it.  I wish I hadn't waited so long.  First - it is a fairly short book, so I read it quickly.  Don't let that fool you into thinking it's a simple book.  It's not.  It has much much going on! The book opens with Kammie having just fallen into the well and is stuck.  At the start I just wanted to yell at the girls who knew she was down there but were doing nothing to help! They didn't seem to get the seriousness and that was very frustrating to me! They leave with the idea they are getting help.  From there the story grows.  I was fascinated by the way the back-story of Kammie unfolds.  You get little bits and pieces about what has happened to her and her family to land her in this new town and now in this well.  I felt so much for her.  I wanted to hug her so many times.  What I liked was that at points I thought I had the whole story, but then a new piece would come out.  It really wasn't until the end that I had it all. 

I really like Kammie.  The longer she is down there the more her personality comes out.  She is brave, stubborn (my favorite characteristic because I can relate to it!), confused, angry and uncertain of what to do.  We've all had times in our life like that and to watch a young girl struggle with this was hard.  I really cheered for her and felt for her.

There are a few giggles in the story especially when she starts to hallucinate.  It lightens the mood a little when it's needed.  

Final thought:  This is an emotional book.  Some kids may struggle with it finding it too serious so keep that in mind.  But some kids will relate to her emotions completely.  

July 7, 2016

You CAN Write in Books! The Doodle Adventure Series by Mike Lowery

You know you're always told when you're young that you CANNOT write in books?  Not one little scribble! 

Well this series throws that all out the window! 

The Doodle Adventure Series puts a pen in your hand as you read asking you to draw in parts of the story or your own idea of what something might look like.  Perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Creature From My Closet.  Like those books it has hand-drawn illustrations and fast pacing.  

It's not just a drawing book.  I like that it is actually a story, but it just has the reader interact with the text. The first book starts with a duck talking to the reader - a new recruit - and pulling the right into the story making them a character. For kids who struggle visualizing or staying focused it would definitely help! They would be reading a full story, but also having some of that activeness they need.  BTW - I really like that duck.  He made me giggle! 

About the Books

The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs
Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slim!y Space Slugs! is a lighthearted fantasy where the reader first draws him- or herself into the story, and then continues by following prompts and adding more illustrations and doodles. Set in space, the book invites the reader to join Carl, a duck and member of a super-secret international group of explorers, on a journey in search of a very important grail-like object. The book is sturdy paper over board with beautiful cream paper—perfect for defacing! And by the end, the reader will have co-written a tale to return to again and again, and show off to family and friends.

The Pursuit of the Pesky Pizza Pirate!
Doodle Adventures: The Pursuit of the Pesky Pizza Pirate! is a rip-roaring adventure tale starring Carl, the friendly narrator who happens to be a duck, and the reader, who is drawn right into the story—literally. Together, they embark on the very important mission of finding out who has been stealing all of the pizza in town. Could it be the Dread Pirate Slobberts, the meanest, nastiest pirate ever to sail the Seven Seas? And, more important, how are they going to get all that pizza back?

Armed with a well-sharpened pencil and their imaginations, and following Carl’s prompts, readers fill in the blanks on each page until the story is complete. The result is a sturdy, one-of-a-kind book—starring you!—that’s as much a joy to read over and over again as it was to make.

I would recommend these books for elementary kids that need activity and enjoy a laugh.  They'll get both with the Doodle Adventure Books.

July 6, 2016

A Picture Book for Readers! Review of Let Me Finish! by Minh Le

Title: Let Me Finish!
Author: Minh Le
Illustrator: Isabel Roxas

When our young hero settles in to read, the last thing he wants is for some noisy animals to ruin the ending of the story.

But ruin it they do. 

And as it turns out, the boy is quickly approaching a surprise ending of his own! Maybe he should have listened to the animals after all. . . . 

Oh my goodness was a fun book!! And a fantastic book for any reader - especially if you've had a book spoiled for you!  As readers we've all been there.  We settle in to read and book and BAM someone spoils it for you! Frustration rings!! This book illustrates that frustration perfectly.  Actually I felt the frustration for the main character.  I wanted to stop all the animals as well!  You gotta love a book that makes you feel what the main character feels that strongly.

The illustrations are wonderful.  I love how the little boy was drawn! The oversized glass are super cute.  And seeing his expressions throughout the story just add to the reader feeling for him.  Very well done.

Do I think kids will like it?  Yes.  They may not understand spoilers but they'll totally giggle at how it happens again and again.  And they'll like the ending as well.  

Finally - perfect book to make kids giggle and grown ups groan with understanding.  

July 1, 2016

Sharks Can be Friends Too! Picture Book Review: Please Be Nice to Sharks by Matt Weiss

Title: Please Be Nice to Sharks
Author: Matt Weiss

Meet 14 cool sharks (and one manta ray) and see why it's important to BE NICE TO SHARKS! Though they’re often portrayed as vicious man-eaters, sharks actually kill fewer than 10 people per year. Yet those myths cause real harm: many species are being hunted to extinction, with as many as 100-200 million sharks being killed each year. This humorous book humanizes the incredible shark through breathtaking, original, underwater photography along with incredible facts about these amazing creatures in the wild—sending kids a crucial message about conservation in an irresistible format.

We all hear the stories about sharks in the news and of course there is the movie Jaws.  How could we not think that sharks are mean scary creatures.  This book sets out to make you think differently.  When I first saw it I thought of the whole scene in Finding Nemo with the sharks saying "Fish are friends not food."  Those sharks were trying to do the same thing!  I found this book cute and informative.  Each shark tells about himself and then gives reasons why they can't be bad, so you should be nice to him.  Usually they were based on parts of their physical features.  It really did teach facts about sharks, and each one was kind of silly so I did think that yes there was no reason to be scared of that type of shark.  

I can see kids really getting a kick out of this book because it is factual but funny at the same time.  My 9 year old son liked it finding it full of new information.  He also thought it was silly that each shark was telling why you should be nice to it.  

I also need to comment on the photography of the sharks.  Very well done! I loved that they gave good clear real pictures of each shark.  So not only was the reader learning about each, they were also given a nice visual.  Really added to the book.  

Over-all a fun factual book that I would definitely include in my media center.