The Ones That Got Away Book Review

Even though I love YA and children’s books, every once in a while I like to change things up and read an adult book. This is my third review for BLKDog Publishing, and I have to say the books from this company just get better and better. The Ring  and I Am This Girl were both fantastic reads.

The Ones That Got Away, by Lisa Hill, is a charming adult novel about love, family, secrets, and mental illness.

Tilly lives with her mom, Elaine, and her gran, Lil. After an amazing opportunity is offered to her by her estranged aunt, Ruby, Tilly decides to leave her fiancé and job to live by an aunt she’s never met, with her next door neighbor Archie, who is like a grandfather to her.

As the story follows this family we learn a great deal about Gran’s dementia, and the family’s history of mental illness. Ruby opened a home for those with mental illnesses using money from her divorce settlement. Ruby is an extremely well put together woman, who is blunt, caring and genuine. Ruby became pregnant with Elaine years ago, and since abortions were illegal at the time, Ruby gave Elaine to Lil and her husband Stan to raise. When Elaine became pregnant with Tilly, Ruby came back and told Elaine the truth about being her mother, and Elaine did not believe her. To thicken the plot even more, Archie, the next door neighbor, really is Tilly’s grandfather, but no one knows that except Archie and Ruby.

Can you tell this intricate plot just keeps getting better and better?

Along with a crazy family tree, there’s also a lot of focus on mental illness. Dementia runs in the family, but as the story goes, we also learn of an ADHD diagnosis, depression, and anxiety. Readers also uncover some deep family secrets that are based on mental illness.

While family members do use pills to help cope with their struggles, they also partake in various therapies, especially Tilly. Her determination to not take medication and to try and change her habits really help her become a new woman. She has clarity and a purpose, and even begins her own business.

Along with family secrets and drama, there are also a few little love stories going on. I’m hesitate to discuss these because they are so intertwined with secrets and the past. Just know that they are all brilliant and will fill your heart with joy.

With mental illness being such a big topic right now, I truly love how Hill gave such a realistic portrayal of life with one of these illnesses. Society is so accustomed to believing that a pill can fix anything, when in reality that is not the case. I love how Hill embraced such a difficult topic and made it relatable for all readers. Personally, I really enjoyed seeing how family and friends feel and handle situations caused by mental illness, especially because I don’t have any of my own experiences to connect with.

I recommend this book for anyone with a connection to mental illness, or if you’re looking for a book filled with family secrets and an intricate plot. This is definitely a great mom read.

To purchase the book click here.

Cami Kangaroo Has Too Many Sweets Book Review

I can’t believe this is my first review of 2020! Even though we are only in the first full week of January, there has been quite a lot happening in the world. The fires in Australia are beyond devastating and heart breaking. As a literacy blogger, I wanted to help bring awareness to this tragedy through books.

Author Stacy Bauer has written some fabulous picture books about Cami Kangaroo. She is currently doing a fundraiser where 100% of her royalties will be donated to saving Australian wildlife. This includes her picture books and stuffed animal kangaroos. It is my pleasure to help support this incredible author by sharing a review of one of her books.

Kangaroos

Cami Kangaroo Has Too Many Sweets, by Stacy Bauer, is a charming picture book that shows readers why healthy eating is important.

Cami is an extremely relatable character for young readers (and adults). She thinks about eating sweets and sneaks ice cream, cupcakes, and sprinkles while her mom isn’t looking. Cami locks the door of her playroom to eat ice cream, hides candy wrappers behind her dresser, and finds brownies in the microwave. She is a determined little kangaroo.

While Cami thinks she is getting away with her creative snacking ways, her mom is right behind her. Mom puts locks on the freezer door, puts sweets on the top shelf, and moves the lock from the playroom door to the pantry. She warns Cami that eating too many sweets will result in cavities, especially when she has a dentist appointment soon.

At the dentist it is revealed that Cami has four cavities. She finally realizes the importance of eating healthy and that it is important to listen to her mom.

As a mom, I love how Cami’s mom was characterized. She is always aware what Cami is doing and tries to help Cami curb her sweet tooth. In all honesty, I had a text to self connection when her mom moved the locks. As a little girl, my mom took my doorknob off of my bedroom door because I would always lock my sister out. Cami’s mom did a similar action so that Cami couldn’t lock the playroom door.

I was also a HUGE fan of the illustrations! Rebecca Sinclair, the illustrator, provided great visuals for the text. My personal favorite was the one of Cami eating ice cream in the playhouse in the toy room because as a kid I would have loved to have one of those.

I would recommend this book for readers in preschool through second grade. I see it being used to support health curriculum topics in schools or for homeschool.

Please help save Australian wildlife by purchasing a book or stuffed kangaroo. For more information on this fundraiser please click here.

To purchase this book click here.

To purchase a stuffed kangaroo click here.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I’ve been teaching for ten years, and during that time I have seen/heard about quite a bit of tween/teen girl drama and bullying. Cellphones and social media have completely changed the world for bullies since victims can never escape it like they used to back in the day. When we read about incidents in the news we never get the whole story, until we are introduced into that world by a book.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth, by Samantha Benjamin, is a young adult novel that takes readers on a journey filled with bullying, self discovery, and teenage love.

We follow Tammy, a teenage girl, as she moves from London to Morpington, a small town where everyone is related and knows each other. She instantly struggles with leaving her two best friends, Kristie and Sonia, and tries to fit in at her new school. The girls aren’t very welcoming, and Tammy finds her head in a toilet on her very first day. She also endures physical altercations with girls while trying to navigate her new social environment.

If that isn’t stressful enough, Tammy is also expected to spend time with her dad who clearly is not father of the year. He pushes his daughter to date a boy she is not a fan of, and does not support her emotionally or financially. Readers will like him less and less the more they learn about him.

As we dive deeper into her story, we learn that Tammy was bullied in her old school by a girl named Lorraine. Readers can understand why this character has trust issues and has difficulties making friends.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book based in the U.K., and I realized I don’t think I’ve read any YA book quite like this one.

The story is told in third person omniscient, and the scene changes happen very quickly, which took me a little getting used to because there are no space breaks between switches. My reading was definitely a little choppy in the beginning because of this, since I was trying really hard to figure out what was going on. However, once I got the hang of it my reader brain was able to follow the story line seamlessly. In fact, I don’t think certain pieces of the story would have been as effective without the quick switches.

The characterization of Tammy is raw. Plain, simple, and true. We experience all sides of her, not just the good ones, and she is not meant to come across as cute. It reminded me a little bit of Veronica Roth’s Divergent character Tris, except that while Tris had an inaccurate portrayal of herself, Tammy knows she has issues and expresses them very clearly.

Tammy will admit to readers when she is making a poor decision, but will continue to do so anyway. Why? Because she’s a teenager and that’s what they do. Her realness is incredible. Because of a domino effect, Tammy smokes cigarettes and weed, and even dapples with drinking. She tells readers she needs cigarettes to take the edge off, not because it’s cool. Adults tend to think teens partake in these activities because of peer pressure or whatnot, but Tammy shows readers that sometimes teens do the same things as adults for the same reason, to escape.

She is also going through the process of self discovery with her sexuality. Benjamin leaves little hints here and there, but it’s not until Tammy’s neighbor Alexis discusses the topic with her that Tammy realizes that she is bisexual. Personally, I loved this component of the plot. Being a teenager is challenging enough, as Tammy shows readers, but it’s even more complicated when you have to hide part of yourself.

As adults, we often look down on teenage love as not real. Teenagers are hormonal, emotional and have a flair for the dramatics. However, teenage love is also extremely complex and complicated, as we see with Tammy. When she starts seeing a girl named Lucy we are introduced to the legit crazy world that some teenagers experience. Feelings of guilt, desperation, and obligation are all very much real, and adults sometimes don’t realize their significance.

This novel was truly eye opening about what happens in the life of a teenage girl. Not going to lie, I was petrified a few times while reading it, especially thinking about what the world will be like when my three year old daughter is older. However, if you work with teenagers or you have a daughter, this is a must read.

I would also highly recommend that every teenage girl read this at one point to realize that they are not alone with how they feel or what they experience. The intricacies of friendships, family issues, and surviving high school are extremely complex and delicate. This book holds nothing back and literally touches on every topic imaginable for a teenager.

To purchase the book click here.

The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale Book Review

There are officially 4 days til Christmas. It’s the last Saturday shopping day. In the midst of all the chaos of the next few days, spend some time reading books from The 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas.  Some of my favorites include: Arial the Secret Santa, A Christmas Cookie ExchangeThe Elf Who Couldn’t Read and The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale.

The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Tale, by Bethany Brevard, is an adorable Christmas book about the little acts of kindness.

I was requested to make a list of Christmas books for ELL students to read, so I did a little Google search, clicked on the top Christmas books for kids on Amazon, and found a lovely variety. While looking at this list, I noticed a book that was on The 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas post I did a few weeks ago. Not gonna lie, I got super excited for this author because that is definitely an accomplishment. I mean the book is on an Amazon list with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express.

Ever since I became a parent, I realize exactly how much is involved in Christmas. I mean, the list is pretty much never ending. I have had moments where I wish I had a little helper, just like in this story.

Our main character is a mouse, who makes his appearance once a year during the holiday season. His job is to help his human family with Christmas. This means sewing the hole in a stocking, hanging the mistletoe, and tasting the cookies. All of these little tasks are very important in making sure the family is prepared for Santa’s visit. There are so many tasks for our character, so he spends all day sleeping in his hammock in the Christmas tree.

However, the best day for our little helper is Christmas Eve. He is extremely thoughtful as he readies the living room for Santa’s big visit. The Mouse notices a hot coal in the fireplace and puts it out and he even blows on the hot chocolate so Santa doesn’t burn his mouth. These may seem like such little tasks, but they are definitely acts of kindness that don’t go unnoticed by Santa.

The overall theme of this adorable text is kindness, and the importance of doing little acts to help others. My favorite act the mouse does is to blow on the hot chocolate for Santa. It’s so simple yet one that I wouldn’t think to do.

As always, I LOVE books that offer readers more. This book has a few extra special components to it. The first is a fabulous little poem titled “The Mouse in the Hammock a Christmas Eve Tale”, that’s written to the rhyme of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. It is such a creative way to tie in a little bit of traditional Christmas to the story. I could see it being a great read aloud activity for young readers as they take turns reading every other stanza.

But wait, there’s more! Readers can purchase a mouse sleeping in a hammock ornament! The author even writes a blurb about adding the Mouse to the reader’s Christmas traditions. You can order the ornament right from Amazon!

AND THERE’S MORE! By buying the book, readers are helping the women in the Fair-Trade factory in Nepal who make the ornaments. In exchange for fair wages, healthcare and education for the women and their children, the women create the adorable mouse and hammock ornaments.

I would recommend this book for preschool and early elementary children.

To purchase the book click here.

To purchase the ornanment click here.

Arial the Secret Santa Book Review

This week I shared a blog post about the 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas, which features some incredible indie authors. With Christmas quickly approaching, I wanted to personally dive into some of the books on the list.

I’m drawn to children’s books that I can read with my three year old, Molly, that have incredible quality. Mary Nhin never fails when it comes to crafting a quality text, especially when it comes to Arial. In the past I have reviewed Arial the Chef, and Arial the Youtuber, and today I’m incredibly happy to share Arial the Secret Santa.

Arial the Secret Santa, by Mary Nhin, is a heartwarming picture book that teaches young readers the true spirit of Christmas through acts of kindness.

The story begins with Arial’s mom planning to donate a bag of her daughter’s old toys. Arial proceeds to tell her friends that once she donates her old toys, she will be replacing them with new ones. Her mom teaches her a life lesson about acts of kindness, and that they can be done in many different ways. Right after this, in the drive thru coffee line, someone pays it forward and buys Arial’s mom coffee, which clearly demonstrates the lesson.

The family then decides to change up their secret Santa Christmas tradition, and will instead perform daily acts of kindness. For each deed completed, the family will add an ornament to the tree. Nhin includes some examples of these types of ornaments on the pages before the story begins, which is a fabulous pre-reading point to make with young readers.

Arial then spends time thinking about ways she can be kind to others, and creates a solid list. She can give a sandwich to someone in need, provide a smile to someone who is having a bad day, donate her time to nature by planting trees, and give back to the community by volunteering. I truly love that this list has SOOO many options of ways to give show kindness that individuals of all ages can do.

Arial reminds readers that the true meaning of Christmas is showing kindness, which can be done in so many different ways. It’s not just about giving one another presents, but about making an impact in the lives of others.

And, as always, one of my favorite parts of a Mary Nhin book is the after reading activity. In this book, Nhin provides directions on how to create ornaments to record acts of kindness just like Arial’s family used. Nhin took it a step further and provides instructions on how to download the free printable, making this a super teacher-friendly activity.

I would recommend this book for kids in preschool through second grade.

To purchase this adorable book click here .

15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas

One of my favorite things about connecting with members of the literacy world is being able to share great books. Today I’m super excited to share a blog post written by Jennie Lyon about the 15 Best Children’s Books for Christmas.

Christmas Hot Chocolate

Do you remember what Christmas was like when you were a child?

Sure, as an adult, the winter holidays can be filled with all kinds of stress. You have to worry about family, hosting a big dinner, making sure that all of the presents are under the tree… It’s crazy!

But if you’re a child, it can be pure magic. Santa Claus and snow and reindeer and stockings! They get to be around all of their favorite people for days and be showered with nothing but love and attention. It’s little wonder why kids love Christmas.

And if you really want to build up the Christmas spirit in them, you can work in some fantastic children’s books about Christmas into the evening bedtime story rotation! Here are some of my favorites that I highly recommend you share with them:

Polar Express

The Polar Express: 30th Anniversary Edition by Chris Van Allsburg

Before it was a Tom Hanks movie, The Polar Express was one of the most beloved Christmas books ever written. If you’ve only seen the film, then you should definitely check out the original it’s based on.

On Christmas Eve, a little boy boards a mysterious train bound for the North Pole. Once there, he meets Santa himself, who gives him any gift he desires. His choice isn’t what you might expect and leads to a magical tale filled with beautiful images.

Arial Christmas

Arial the Secret Santa by Mary Nhin

I love Christmas. It’s a time of peace and kindness. And kindness and compassion are the traits I most want to instill in our kids.

In Arial the Secret Santa, children will follow Arial the unicorn through school, in her community and in nature as she models how easy it can be to share kindness. From giving a compliment to smiling at someone who’s having a bad day, Arial shows children that, no matter how small, words and act of kindness MATTER, especially at Christmas! Included in the book is the Kindness Tree Activity to help encourage your child to give praise and spread positivity into the world.

If you’re looking for a book this Christmas to help teach your kids about the power of kindness, then this is the book to have under the tree. I highly recommend this book!

Festive Flamingo

Festive Flamingo by Shaula Maitland

If you would like a moment of calm this Christmas (and a brilliant night’s sleep, shh…) then Festive Flamingo is the book for you!
Flamingo shares a festive selection of breathing exercises and relaxing
visualizations. She joins you for twelve magical meditations, where you explore
positive themes such as perseverance, curiosity and self-belief. Build a magical
camel out of snow, learn to ice-skate with the woodland animals and create an
exciting game for the elves.

Enjoy the benefits of meditation, alongside adventure and festive fun!

Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

I mean, do you really need a summary of How the Grinch Stole Christmas? It’s one of the most celebrated children’s books of all-time, let alone one of the all-time great Christmas books! It’s also a brilliant cartoon, two big-budget movies, and the basis of countless toys. And you know what? It deserves every single bit of praise it gets.

The Grinch that Stole Christmas perfectly communicates the meaning of Christmas and is filled with stunning art, hilarious rhymes, and some truly funny jokes. It’s a true classic that should be on every child’s bookshelf. If you’ve never encountered it before, you owe it to yourself to give it a read (even if you’re an adult)!

Little Squirrel

Little Squirrel Squish Gets His Christmas Wish by Ross Hammond

Do you remember the story of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer? Everyone told him that he couldn’t be a member of Santa’s reindeer team. Well, here is a children’s book that reflects that story, putting a whole new spin on the idea of following your dreams!

Little Squirrel Squish is a tiny squirrel who wants to be part of Santa’s flying crew. But because he’s so small (and because he’s not a reindeer), everyone keeps telling him to forget about his dreams. But one Christmas, he decides to go for it, changing everything! This book will teach your children that their every dream, no matter how seemingly out of reach, is worth exploring!

Santa's Reindeer

Santa’s Reindeer by Brooke Stevens

Getting back to Santa’s reindeer, let’s talk about Santa’s Reindeer, the book! Discovering that everyone is different is one of the most important lessons a child can be taught. In this adorable Christmas book, all of the various personalities of Santa’s reindeer are explored. It’s a perfect read for small children, full of cute illustrations and a lovely Christmas message!

The Mouse

The Mouse in the Hammock, a Christmas Tale by Bethany Brevard

If you think it’s only Santa who does good deeds on Christmas Eve, you need to meet a very special mouse!

Spinning off from the “Not a creature was stirring…” line from Twas the Night Before Christmas, this wonderful book features a mouse who is busy all Christmas night doing small acts of kindness, such a cooling the cocoa for Santa, hanging up the mistletoe, and taste testing the cookies! It’s a fabulous lesson for kids who are looking to drive the meaning of Christmas home: that you’re never too little to make a big difference!

The Elf Who Couldn't Read

The Elf Who Couldn’t Read by Sonica Ellis

Do your children know how to read yet?

Countless children learn how to read their first words while sitting on their parents’ laps. And if you want a book that will help them sound out letters while also embracing the Christmas spirit, then this is it!

In it, Jingles the elf doesn’t know how to read yet, but needs to figure out Santa’s Christmas list. With the help of your child, they read the list together and make sure that Christmas is a huge success!

Secret Santas

Secret Santas And The Twelve Days of Christmas Giving by Courtney Petruzzelli

One of the reasons why I love Secret Santas so much is that it makes giving anonymous. You aren’t giving someone something with the expectation of a “thank you” from them. Instead, their enjoyment is its own reward.

In this wonderful Christmas book, your kids will learn about Secret Santas and why it can be such a wonderful Christmas tradition. Beautiful art and a wonderful message make this a Christmas must!

Christmas Cookie Exchange

A Christmas Cookie Exchange by Sheri Wall

Who doesn’t love Christmas cookies? But have you ever noticed that there tends to be one seemingly plain oatmeal cookie left on the plate after all the other cookies are eaten? Well, this is HIS story!

Meet Phil, an insecure fruit-filled oatmeal cookie who longs to be more fancy and famous. With help from his cookie friends, he learns what’s on the inside is more important than fancy sprinkles. Self-love and acceptance are essential qualities for kids to learn, and this rhyming Christmas tale teaches them that character and self-confidence really do matter.

How to Catch an Elf

How To Catch An Elf by Adam Wallace

Have you kids ever wanted to catch an elf? It turns out that it’s trickier than you might think…

In this fun and silly story, a clever elf manages to elude all of the traps that children set for him on Christmas Eve! There are lots of fun rhymes and some inventive illustrations that your kids are sure to love!

Never Let a Unicorn

Never Let A Unicorn Meet A Reindeer! by Diane Alber

If you’re looking for a Christmas story with a twist, this might be the book for you and your kid!

Instead of it being Christmas in the book, it’s about a birthday wish gone wrong. A little girl (who has a unicorn) sends a letter to Santa to ask if she can borrow one of his reindeer during their “off-season.” He sends one with a note saying that the reindeer should never meet any unicorns. It turns out that unicorns and reindeer get highly competitive around each other, so the little girl soon has a mess on her hands! This is a funny and delightful book that can even be read when it isn’t Christmas!

Adventures of Pookie

The Adventures of Pookie: Mission Fat Hearts by Rebecca Yee

If you want your kids to take lessons of kindness and caring into the real world, this book might be the perfect way to do it. It not only tells a Christmas story about three of Santa’s helpers doing missions of good deeds before Christmas but gives your children some missions of their own!

For example, their Christmas mission might be to give an extra hug to someone they love that day. Or to leave a “thank you” note for the mailman. With these Christmas missions, your kids will be brightening up someone else’s Christmas, a wonderful lesson to learn!

God Gave Us Christmas

God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren

If you worry that presents, tinsel, and trees are distorting the true meaning of Christmas, then this might just be the book for you and your child.

In it, a Mama Bear and her cub explore what Christmas truly means, from what Santa truly represents (the spirit of giving) to the birth of Jesus. It’s filled with beautiful art and a wonderful Christian message.

Construction

Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Have you ever read any books from the Construction Site series? If not, this might be the perfect place to introduce you and your children to some fun and entertaining characters!

In this Christmas tale, all of the vehicles of the construction site get together to build a new home for the fire engines and, after they finish that important job, find Christmas surprises of their very own! A lovely message and some adorable art make for a great Christmas book!

What are some of your favorite Christmas children’s books? Please share them in the comments below!

And Pip Too Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I LOVE when I get to work with authors multiple times. When I started to get back into blogging again in March, I connected with a fabulous author, Colleen Brunetti, who wrote a picture book about food allergies (click here to see the original post). Today, I’m so excited to share her new book with all of you.

And Pip too, by Colleen Brunetti, is an adorable picture book about a little sister and big brother’s sibling love.

Right away one feature that popped out at me was the font. I really like how the font was a little bolder than I usually see in a picture book, and how the author played with it. For instance when Big Guy stretched, the word is literally stretched on the page.

Pip is Big Guy’s little sister who wants to do everything her big brother does. From reading a book to building a tower, Pip is right behind him to trying join in the fun. While readers can infer that Big Guy isn’t always thrilled about this, he never actually says anything negative to Pip, which I really liked. Big Guy shows older siblings that even though younger brothers and sisters can be a lot to handle at times, it’s all part of being siblings.

The more we get to see some of the silly things that Pip does, my favorite is pouring the milk, the more she reminds me of the Cat from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. Pip is just trying to join in with her older brother, and sometimes she doesn’t do something the right way, but she does it all out of love. Pip is only trying to include herself in tower building, and resting underneath the oak tree, just like the Cat was trying to make that rainy day fun.

I think this book would be great to use with preschool and kindergarten kids.

To purchase the book click here.