Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues by Becky Villareal

Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues

Becky Villareal, Author

CreateSpace, Fiction, Dec. 27, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Exploring family roots, Multicultural, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Mystery

Opening: Halito means hello in Choctaw, but I didn’t find that out for a long, long time. At least that’s how it seems when you’re still in school and having to go every single day of the year!

Synopsis: Gianna is a fourth grader who came to America from Mexico. She is very interested in exploring her family’s roots.  Her teacher announces that the class will celebrate Halloween with a Book March and students are encouraged to wear a costume that matches a character in a favorite book. Gianna wants to dress as a Native American girl to honor her favorite book, The Rough-Faced Girl. While she searches her attic for costume possibilities, she discovers an old trunk that is full of old family pictures of Mexico, passports, and memorabilia. She realizes how much she doesn’t know her family history. Her mama tells her that her father was a soldier at Fort Bliss in El Paso and was shipped overseas. He didn’t return and her mother never knew what happened to him. Gianna decides that she’s going to find out. With the help of the social studies teacher, she learns how to search information about her father on veteran’s sites. With her new best friend, Aponi, who is Native American and speaks Choctaw, she begins to learn about her friend’s culture.  Aponi helps Gianna with her search, which takes a very unexpected turn. Will Gianna find her father and solve the mystery for her mother?

Why I like this book:

Becky Villareal has written a captivating chapter book about a girl interested in researching her family roots, finding answers about her father’s disappearance and learning something more about her own identity. Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues is the second book in the Gianna The Great series. It teaches young readers about genealogy, history, solving a mystery and tolerance for different cultures.

Gianna Saldana is a curious, determined and kind-hearted girl. She befriends Aponi, the new girl who is shy and self-conscious. Both characters are from different family backgrounds. Gianna’s mother is a single parent raising her daughter alone. Aponi is from a very large family, many living in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

The story is original and well-crafted, the plot is realistic and the ending will surprise and satisfy readers. It is an adventure story with a fun mystery to solve. Villareal incorporates both Spanish and Choctaw words throughout the story. The illustrations are colorful and cartoon-like. Verdict: This 37-page book will engage readers and is an excellent recommendation for reluctant readers.

Becky Enriquez Villareal is the author of Gianna the Great series. She was born in Dallas, Texas in 1954 to missionary parents. She grew up in several different Texas towns including McKinney. For twenty years she has taught early childhood in Dallas Independent School District. For the past ten years she has completed family research. The grandmother of three she enjoys writing and spending time with her family.

Resources: This is a wonderful discussion book for children and parents to explore their own family history. Answer your kids’ questions about your childhood and family life. Encourage them to interview their grandparents and great grandparents about their memories of family history so they have a sense of their roots.  They may be surprised about what they learn.  Visit Villareal‘s website, where kids can print out a variety of family trees and fill in their own family information.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Case of the Poached Egg by Robin Newman

The Case of the Poached Egg

Robin Newman, Author

Deborah Zemke, Illustrator

Illustrator, Creston Books, Apr. 2, 2017

Suitable for Ages:4-8

Themes: Mystery, Detectives, Thieves, Stolen Egg, Farm Animals

Opening: “Boys and girls, this case is about a poached egg on Ed’s farm. Over 100 animals live on this farm. Most work. Some horse around.. Others steal. That’s where I come in. My name is Detective Wilcox. I’m a policemouse.”

Publisher Synopsis: When Penny goes missing from Henrietta Hen’s nest, Wilcox and Griswold are called in to track her down. Was the egg stolen by a rival for The Most Round in the Spring Egg-stravaganza? Was she used in a carrot cake or scrambled by a hungry porker? Or was she held for a hefty corn ransom? Who took Penny and can the detectives find her before trouble hatches?

Why I like this book:

Fans of Wilcox and Griswold will cheer at the return of the their favorite no-nonsense mice detectives in Robin Newman’s latest crime caper, The Case of the Poached Egg.  Spirited and comical, readers will dive into the police work and help find the Henrietta’s stolen egg.

Newman is a master at writing highly entertaining food-based wordplay which will tickle every child’s gander. Newman creates the right amount of suspense that will keep kids engaged and turning pages to figure out who poached Penny. Her pacing is exceptional and readers will like the clever ending.

The characters are quirky, dramatic and memorable. Henrietta Hen is ready to fly the coop when she discovers Penny, her precious egg, has been stolen (poached) from her nest. Everyone  is suspect on Ed’s Farm as Wilcox and Griswold try to crack the case. Gabby Goose is the farm gossip and her egg, Gertie, is competing against Penny. Miss Rabbit bakes her famous carrot cakes with eggs. Even Porcini Pig’s slop is examined. Colonel Peck, the farm’s rooster, is missing corn kernels.

Readers will become competent detectives as they learn how to investigate a crime scene, interview suspects, look at a ransom note, set up surveillance and stakeouts, and solve a mystery.

Deborah Zemke’s lively, expressive and colorful illustrations fill each page and contribute to the hilarity and silliness of this perfect mystery. Make sure you check out all the fun details on every page: Gabby’s egg pouch for Gertie, fowl prints, broken egg shells, and the coup boxes with all the hens’ names.  Don’t forget the endpapers for the detective details: case report, evidence folder and wanted posters. There is egg-ceptional collaboration between the author and illustrator. Here’s hoping for more Wilcox and Griswold cases to solve. The Case of the Poached Egg is a winner!

Robin Newman was a practicing attorney and legal editor but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. Her debut book, Wilcox and Griswold’s first mystery, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, earned a starred review from Kirkus and 2015 Best Middle Grade Book.

Resources: Check out Robin Newman’s website. She has a wonderful Teachers Guide to use with students that cover every eggs-pect of this puzzling poached egg mystery. Future detectives will be delighted with the egg-structions that will take them through all of the steps of solving a crime.

Join Robin Newman for a book signing April 20 at 5:30 p.m., Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Ave. at 93rd, New York, NY.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

*I received a review copy of The Case of the Poached Egg.  The opinions in this review are entirely my own.

The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan

the-poets-dog-51gd-tehrml__sx331_bo1204203200_The Poet’s Dog

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-10, Grades 1-5

Pages: 88

Themes: Dog, Lost children, Winter storm, Love, Loss, Friendship

Opening: “I found the boy at dusk. The blizzard was fierce, and it would soon be dark. I could barely see him with the snow blowing sideways. He stood at the edge of the icy pond, shivering.”

Publisher Synopsis: Teddy is a gifted dog. Raised in a cabin by a poet named Sylvan, he grew up listening to sonnets read aloud and the comforting clicking of a keyboard. Although Teddy understands words, Sylvan always told him there are only two kinds of people in the world who can hear Teddy speak: poets and children.

Then one day Teddy learns that Sylvan was right. When Teddy finds Nickel and Flora trapped in a snowstorm, he tells them that he will bring them home—and they understand him. The children are afraid of the howling wind, but not of Teddy’s words. They follow him to a cabin in the woods, where the dog used to live with Sylvan . . . only now his owner is gone.

As they hole up in the cabin for shelter, Teddy is flooded with memories of Sylvan. What will Teddy do when his new friends go home? Can they help one another find what they have lost?

Why I like this book:

Patricia MacLachlan’s book is a magical tale that will warm the hearts of readers from the first page. It is a story about Nickel and Flora, who are rescued during a storm by Teddy, an Irish wolfhound.  It is quiet and cozy story about how they help each other survive loss and find love.

The prose is lyrical and simple for older elementary children. The chapters are short. The beautiful narrative is in Teddy’s voice, as we learn about his great love for his master, Sylvan, who has died. Teddy is in mourning and sleeps in the barn until he finds Nickel and Flora and takes them to Sylvan’s cabin. Nickel is a protective older brother. He takes care of the firewood, shovels snow paths and goes outside with Teddy to the barn.  Nora takes over the food preparation with food is stocked in the cabin. They enjoy being on their own with Teddy in the cabin. It becomes an adventure. And their presence helps Teddy deal with his loss as he shares his beautiful memories of Sylvan and their relationship. The plot and the pacing are perfect for the age group. The message is a bit complex for young children.  The ending is satisfying and uplifting.

This is an endearing read from a wonderful storyteller. Parents will enjoy reading The Poet’s Dog to younger children. However, older children will be able to read it on their own. This is a book worth reading for both young and old alike.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: Into the Lead

Blue Olbrys.ITL.CVR.08-10-15.LRThe Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: Into the Lead

Brooks Olbrys, Author

Kevin Keele, Illustrator

Children’s Success Unlimited LLC, Fiction, Apr. 19, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-10, Early Chapter Book

Themes: Ocean Journey, Marine Life, Environment, Nature, Facing Fears and Challenges, Setting Goals, Making Friends

Award: Academic’s Choice Smart Book Award

Opening: “On a beautiful isle in the Sea of Kerchoo, / there lived a small boy with a big job to do. / Blue Ocean Bob worked for Mary Marine. / He protected the sea life and kept the shore clean.”

Synopsis: One morning while Blue Ocean Bob is tying his boat to the dock, a jolt knocks him off his feet. An earthquake makes a deep crack in the ocean floor and creates an oil spill that endangers the marine life of Kerchoo. With the help of Marine Mary and Doc, the wise sea turtle, Bob faces a big challenge that requires him to temper his fear and dive with Mary to repair the damage. When they return he learns from Wallace Walrus that a great white shark has been beached because of the quake. With the help of his island friends they float the shark back into the sea.

Marine Mary puts Bob in charge while she travels to another island to aid with a problem.  Bob faces another challenge when some dolphins get caught in a net and he relies upon his sea friends to help with the rescue. The Island Council is pleased with Bob’s work, but Bob’s feels overwhelmed and realizes he needs some extra help. He finds an assistant in a Molly, who he meets at the shore.

Blue Ocean Bob photoB17Photo compliments of Brooks Olbrys

Why I like this book:

  • This is the third book in Brooks Olbrys’ The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob series. Olbrys has created a delightful and engaging sea adventure about Bob, a boy on a journey to pursue his dream of becoming a marine biologist and protecting the sea life and the ocean environment. Bob is an excellent role model for children.
  • The book is written in rhyme and is nicely paced. It is clever storytelling that will engage younger children who aren’t able to read alone. The plot is strong and packed with action. Each of the five chapters brings a new challenge for Bob. He learns to face his fear, develop a positive attitude, be courageous, and thoughtfully plan his missions. As he succeeds he becomes more self-confident and takes on more responsibility. Older readers will be drawn to Bob’s passion and enjoy the visit to the Sea of Kerchoo.
  • The characters are endearing, quirky, believable and faithful friends. Bob seeks advice from his mentor, Mary Marine, Doc, the wise sea turtle, Wallace the walrus, and Al the free-spirited dolphin. Xena is Bob’s lovable sidekick, always warning Bob about danger and adding some comic relief.
  • Readers interested in oceanography, marine life and protecting the environment, may want to check out the first two books in the series, The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Journey Begins and The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job.
  • Kevin Keele’s rich and breathtaking illustrations of the marine life and Sea of Kerchoo fill every page and bring each chapter to life. Make sure you check out the end pages to view a map of the Island of Roses. The collaboration is a perfect marriage of art and text.

Resources: Parents and teachers can download a free Activity Guide on the Blue Ocean Bob website. You can also download iPhone and iPad apps. Endangered Species Day was celebrated May 20. Check out the National Marine Life Center where children can learn more about rehabilitation, adoption of rescued sea turtles and seals, and what they should do if they find stranded marine life.

Brooks Olbrys: Inspired by his son, Olbrys created this unique marine life series to share timeless achievement principles with children.  His over-arching theme is that “a positive attitude can help one overcome what at first may appear to be insurmountable obstacles.

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake

The Case of Missing Carrot9781939547170_p0_v2_s260x420The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake

Robin Newman, Author

Deborah Zemke, Illustrator

Creston Books, Fiction, May 12, 2015

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Theme: Mystery, Detectives, Thieves, Stolen Cake, Farm Animals

Synopsis: The carrot cake Miss Rabbit bakes for her party goes missing on Ed’s Farm. With over 100 animals, all are suspect including the owl, dog and pig. Enter Detectives Wilcox, a policemouse and his boss, Captain Griswold. They are Missing Food Investigators (MFLs) and their job is to investigate food crimes. Has the cake been eaten or stolen? Who is the thief? What is the motive?

What I like about this book:

  • Debut author Robin Newman introduces young readers to the world of police work and solving mysteries and crimes in her deliciously entertaining chapter book. Each of the six chapters highlight detective work: investigation of the crime scene, interviewing of suspects, setting up video surveillance and stakeouts.
  • The characters are funny and memorable. Miss Rabbit is in a tizzy donning PJs covered in frosting. Owl offers wise advice. Porcini Pig is the best corn thief in town. Hot Dog is my favorite character, as he shows true doggie friendship when he bakes Miss Rabbit another carrot cake.
  • Wilcox and Griswold are hard-nosed, seasoned professionals keenly focused on the facts and evidence. They take their work seriously, but with no more suspects they are pacing, chewing on cheese donuts and trying to come up with a plan.
  • The text is funny and the vocabulary is rich and jam-packed with food-based puns. Newman creates the right amount of suspense that will keep kids engaged and turning pages to figure out the cake culprit. There is a surprise turn-of-events. If readers are still hungry for more, there is a recipe for a carrot cake at the end.
  • Deborah Zemke’s colorful cartoon-like illustrations fill each page and contribute to the hilarity and silliness of this perfect mystery about “who dunnit.” Great collaborative work between the author and illustrator. Here’s hoping for more Wilcox and Griswold cases to solve. Visit Robin Newman and Deborah Zemke at their websites.

The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Blue Ocean Bob Challenges9780982961353_p0_v1_s260x420The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Brooks Olbrys, Author

Kevin Keele, Illustrator

Children’s Success Unlimited LLC, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Pages: 54

Themes: Oceans, Sea life, Nature, Pursuing dreams, Positive attitude, Friendship, Confidence, Gratitude

Opening: On the Island of Roses, there once lived a lad / who was looking for more than the things that he had. / He discovered his passion to safeguard the sea / and finally knew what he wanted to be. / He adopted the nickname of Blue Ocean Bob / and decided to master this challenging job.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Blue Ocean Bob loves the sea and wants to dedicate his life to protecting it. He begins a new job as assistant to Mary Marine, the Island of Rose’s leading marine biologist, and with his hummingbird guardian, Xena, by his side, works hard to carry out his duties to the sea creatures both on and off the shore. When the challenges mount, Bob seeks advice from Doc the turtle, Earl the clam, and Wallace the walrus, who each help him to develop the positive attitude he needs to succeed.

What I like about this book:

  • Brooks Olbrys has written another dynamic ocean adventure about Bob, a boy on a journey to pursue his dream of becoming a marine biologist and protecting all life in the Sea of Kerchoo. Bob is a great role model for children.
  • Although Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job is a chapter book for emerging readers, it also can be read as a picture book to younger children. There is a special rhythm to the text and there is breathtaking artwork on every page.
  • The plot is strong and packed with adventure as Bob overcomes many hurdles.  Each chapter presents a different challenge for Bob: training a young seal to swim, hunt and survive on her own; clearing garbage floating near the pier and accidentally entangling a pelican in his net; warning the whales and dolphins that a storm is brewing; missing his marine science class and almost giving up; and freeing a stingray from a fishing line in deep waters.
  • The characters are realistic, believable and endearing. Xena is a a great sidekick, warning Bob about dangers (metaphor for Bob’s doubt) and adding some comic relief. Bob learns valuable lessons about forgiveness, confidence, communications and gratitude.
  • Kevin Kelle’s vibrant and rich illustrations of the ocean and sea life fill every page. They are engaging and draw the reader into the story. Make sure you check out the end pages to view a map of the Island of Roses.

Resources: Parents and teachers can download a free activity guide on The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob website. You can preview the first chapter of the book for free and view a trailer for the first book in the series. This is a unique series because Olbrys has used “timeless principles of achievement,” to encourage children to dream big — Think it. See it. Believe it. Achieve it.

The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob

BlueOceanBob9780982961346_p0_v1_s260x420The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob:  A Journey Begins

Brooks Olbrys, Author

Kevin Keele, Illustrator

Children’s Success Unlimited LLC, Fiction, Mar. 12, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-10, Early Chapter Book

Themes:  Ocean Journey, Finding Purpose, Facing Fear and Doubt, Setting Goals, Making Friends, Inspirational

Opening“There once was a boy who lived close to the sea and daydreamed all day about what he might be.  His island was lush and his life wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t content with the things that he had.”

Synopsis:  Bob lives on a beautiful island, but something seems to be missing in his life.  He sets out on a journey with his chatty hummingbird, Xena, to seek guidance from the friendly creatures of the ocean.  He meets Al, a playful dolphin, Doc, a sage turtle, Earl, the clam, and Wallace the walrus.  They all offer Bob wise and sound advice.  Doc helps Bob realize his passion to protect the blue ocean and sea life.   His journey to fulfill his purpose is only beginning as he has to face his doubts and fears.  He meets Mary Marine, the Island of Roses’s leading marine biologist, who gives Bob a series of tests.   She asks Bob to tag a blue whale and document its progress for 30 days.  He encounters his first problem when his boat springs a leak.  He feels hopeless.  Xena, his guardian, is always nearby to warn Bob of danger.   But with the help of his new sea friends, Bob learns to overcome his fears, sets some goals and develop a positive attitude so he can become Mary’s trusted assistant and care for the sea creatures he cherishes.

What I like about this book:  Brooks Olbrys has created an entertaining and engaging early chapter book series for children. The book is beautifully illustrated by Kevin Kelle, whose breathtaking artwork of the ocean and sea life fills every page.  Blue Ocean Bob encourages children to pursue their dreams.  It will spark their imaginations and take them on a journey.  The plot is strong and full of adventure.  The characters are endearing and believable.  Olbrys has written a charming book in lyrical rhyme, which will engage young children who aren’t able to read alone.  Older readers will enjoy the important lessons about finding one’s passion and turning it into his/her purpose.  This is a unique series because Olbrys has used “timeless principles of achievement,” to encourage children to dream big — Think it.  See it.  Believe it.  Achieve it.   Visit Oblrys’s website to learn more about the The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob , preview the first chapter of the book for free, learn about upcoming books in the series and click on the app.

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Father-Son Partnership:   When Brooks Olbrys began writing Blue Ocean Bob, his son, Nicolas, was four years old.  He is now eight.  I want to share a brief interview about their inspiring relationship.

Nicolas has been a great partner on my project.   When I wrote the first five or six stories and was unsure about them, Nicolas was the first one to hear them.  He would give me honest and insightful comments about the characters, action or rhyme.  And we would brainstorm about new characters or storylines.  His most helpful advice was, “Dad, that is pretty good, but it needs to be funnier.”  The messages are important, but won’t get through if they aren’t fun and engaging for kids.  We try to incorporate that humor into the illustrations too.  Nicolas reviews every illustration and I always get his approval before giving the final sign off.  Another comment I love is when he told me “Dad, you are like a really, really good amateur writer.” 

Nicolas also helped with the music that we needed for the trailer and app.  We listened to dozens of samples from the internet and our app developer.  I couldn’t decide.  I told Nicolas if he would help me, I would make him an equity partner in the app project.  That got his attention.  He listened to the four “finalists” and chose one from an internet site.  He said that it was “just too much better” and we went with it.  Later, he asked me “Dad, if I had chosen the other ones, would you have gone with those?  I told him yes, it was his decision.  The music is perfect for the trailer, app and series.  And it is great to have an in-house junior creative director.