Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam Stucky- A Review

The Universes Inside the Lighthouse: Balky Point Adventure #1 (Balky Point Adventures) by Pam Stucky.

Pages: 208
Publisher: Wishing Rock Press

*I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

About the Book: 

When Emma and her twin brother Charlie arrive on Dogwinkle Island for summer vacation, they are expecting a long boring summer away "away from it all," as their parents had put it. What they weren't expecting was to meet Eve, a time-traveling alien from another planet that would show them the universes that hid inside of the lighthouse on Balky Point. Their adventures take them to "The Hub" where they meat Dr. Waldo, a scientist examining the possibilities of the Universes. In the Hub, Emma, Charlie, and their friend Ben discover that the possibilities of their adventures are endless, only limited by their imagination. The four teens set out on an adventure looking for Vik, the villain in the story, who is trying to destroy the "elevators" that allow for travel between universes. In his travels, Vik is actually spreading this horrible thing call the "The Void."

My Review

Pam Stucky's book The Universes Inside the Lighthouse was a delightful surprise for me. As a scientist, I usually stray away from science fiction because when it isn't done well, it leaves me screaming at the books; however this book was extremely intelligently written. I actually stayed up late on several nights because I couldn't put the book down. The premise of the book, on the surface, appears to be far fetched, but trust me, read the book and discover an adventure of a lifetime. The characters in the story are well developed and the overall plot lays the foundation for a series of books to come in this Balky Point Adventure series.

In particular, I found myself scribbling notes in the margins of the book because there were so many quotes from the book that spoke to me. The story reminds me of A Wrinkle in Time, but for a much older audience. After reading the book, I think it would be best suited for 10 and older. I tried to read it with my eight-year-old, but the concepts in the book were too abstract for her to understand. I think in a couple years, she will be ready and eager to read this book. I will be sending this book to my niece, who is a couple years older than Miss M, to see what she thinks as a young reader.
Overall, I highly recommend this book for both the adventure and the philosophical pondering. I especially enjoyed the character Dr. Waldo, who provided a welcome contrast to the teenage angst of the main character Emma. I think if I was a teenager reading this I would have related to Emma, but as an adult, I definitely understand the world more from the perspective of Dr. Waldo.  The "Hub" where Dr. Waldo does his work was my favorite setting in the book because of the limitless possibilities of this location. Go, download this book now. It is a great read as an adult and as a middle-grade/ young adult fiction novel. 

For more information about the author, Pam Stucky, please check out her website:

And I hope if my review of this book didn't convince you to read, the book that the quotes from the book enticed you to download it to your Kindle or e-reader.

FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an affiliate, if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Books, Babies, and Bows (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support!
Disclosure:  * I was given this book free-of-charge by the author in exchange for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Never Say A Mean Word Again- Book Review in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

On January 27, 2015, we will be celebrating the second annual Multicultural Children's Book Day. I am honored to be participating in this event as a book reviewer. My passion for bringing diversity to children's books began last year while volunteering at my daughter's school. During a school book fair, I realized quickly that the books that were offered did not represent the student population. When they would look to the bookshelves, did they see a kid that look liked them on the covers? Not likely. This is why I jumped at the chance to put a diverse children's book into the hands of the teachers at my daughter's school. I cannot wait to donate the book that was sent to me to my daughter's second grade classroom on Multicultural Children's Book Day.

Wisdom Tales Press graciously sent me two books: Everyone Prays by Alexis York Lumbard and illustrated by Alireza Sadeghian (which I will be reviewing later this week), and Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain by Jacqueline Jules (Author), Durga Yael Bernhard (Illustrator), which I will be reviewing as part of MCCBD. 

Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain

Overview from the Publisher:

Written by: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrated by: Durga Yael Bernhard

Never Say a Mean Word Again is the compelling tale of two boys, one Jewish and one Muslim, trying to settle their differences. Based on a powerful legend from medieval Spain, its message of a peaceful solution is as appropriate today as ever. This light-hearted look at the very serious issue of conflict resolution amongst children will appeal to children and adults alike. It illustrates how friendship and kindness can help settle some disputes.

About This Book:

  • This multicultural book is the story of a boy who is given permission by his father, the grand vizier (highest royal advisor), to punish an enemy. “Make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again,” he orders Samuel. What will he do?
  • Inspired by the life story of Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid (993-1056), who was the vizier in Muslim Spain.
  • Features 32 pages of colorful illustrations in a striking design, evocative of medieval Spain.
  • Explores the challenges of friendship across cultures and social status.
  • Addresses the question of fair punishment for name-calling.
  • Models behavior for turning an adversary into a friend.

My Review

Learning how to cross cultural and social divides at any age can be a challenge. Making judgements on a person based on the ways they look, dress, or speak is often done on a subconscious level, something most do not want to admit occurs. This book tackles the complex question of how do you make a foe a friend by having the two boys become friends by accident. The two boys behave in a way I could imagine two boys in conflict would behave. The illustrations are vibrant and funny, making light of a complex and difficult subject. The facial expressions in this book, in particular, capture the attention and imagination of young readers. I love the illustration of the Samuel imagining capturing a monkey and training it to sit on Hamza's shoulders to keep his mouth shut. It is such a ridiculous idea! But then, so is stopping someone from saying certain things. 

Conflicts among friends and foes, like the one in the book, will occur frequently in any child's life. It is easy, when someone is different from you to fear that they think they are too good or any variety of judgmental thoughts, however the author skillfully shows that there is much more between us that is the same, such as enjoying playing and swimming in the water, that there will ever be that divides us. 

It is this playful imagery that makes the book a fantastic read for any classroom. I cannot wait to send this into my daughter's school and hear how the book is received by her classmates. 

After reading the book several times, my daughter and I sat down and discussed how Samuel never took the time to imagine why Hamza might have reacted the way he did to Samuel's mistakes in the beginning of the book. When I was a little girl dealing with conflict at school, my dad always asked me to take a moment and imagine walking in that other person's shoes. To be honest, I never really understood what he meant until much later in life, but the message stuck with me. After having this discussion, I gave Miss M this worksheet that I created. (This printable is available as a free,download towards the end of this post.) My daughter, who is eight years old, succinctly pointed out that playing together taught them their similarities outweighed their differences.

My daughter also wanted to write a review of the book, which I am sharing with you all to read. I think it is helpful to see it summarized, unfiltered, by a child. 
(This printable is also available for download here.)

Whenever we read a book that tackles a difficult subject, I always try to find several other books that complement and enhance our discussions. Like fine wine, I believe that great pairings of books make the individual book reading experiences more meaningful. For Never Say A Mean Word Again, I choose three very difference books that all deal with the common themes of dealing with differences and discovering friendship through conflict.  

The books we choose were:  
  1. Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea.
  2. Let's Be Enemies Janice May Udry and Maurice Sendak.
  3. Yoko by Rosemary Wells.

Reading these three books, in particular, along with Never Say a Mean Word Again was extremely helpful for fostering discussion of kindness, friendship, and judgement.

Download a copy of this free printable to use as an extension activity.

All About Multicultural Children's Book Day

Sponsors of Multicultural Children's Book Day 2015

MCCBD’s  2015 Sponsors include Platinum Sponsors: Wisdom Tales Press, Daybreak Press Global Bookshop, Gold SponsorsSatya House,,   Author Stephen Hodges and the Magic Poof, Silver Sponsors: Junior Library GuildCapstone Publishing, Lee and Low Books,  The Omnibus Publishing. Bronze Sponsors:Double Dutch Dolls, Bliss Group Books, Snuggle with Picture Books Publishing,  Rainbow Books,   Author Felicia Capers,   Chronicle Books   Muslim Writers Publishing ,East West Discovery Press.

The Mission of Multicultural Children's Book Day:

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and
favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

The amazing MCCBD team has the following message: " We hope to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag #ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.”

Meet the Co-Founders behind Multicultural Children's Book Day 

Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press are the co-founders of Multicultural Children's Book Day. Read more about their passion for putting great books in kids' hands here.

The 2015 Multicultural Children's Book Day Co-Hosts:

Collaborations and Partnerships

Multicultural Children's Book Day is partnering with First Book to offer a Virtual Book Drive that will help donate multicultural children’s books through their channels during the week of the event. We want to help get diversity books into the hands of kids who most need it and now we have a way to do it! The Virtual Book Drive is LIVE and can be found HERE.

MCCBD is also collaborating with Children’s Book Council to highlight wonderful diversity books and authors on an ongoing basis all year.

FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an affiliate, if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Books, Babies, and Bows (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support!
Disclosure:  * I was given this book free-of-charge by the author in exchange for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

Over the years, I have committed many a children's book to memory, reading them over and over. However, I am hard pressed to find a book that evokes such a thrill of imagination and adventure as the simple, 10 sentence book Where the Wild Things Are .

Each of my children, around 2 1/2 years old, has gone through a phase where they are obsessed with this book. It is probably because around that age most children are Wild Things. The book begs to be read aloud. It invites the child to shout out, "I'll eat you up!" And we always hum a merry tune during the three beautifully illustrated pages of the Wild Rumpus.

The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, Ga is currently running an exhibit dedicated to Where the Wild Things Are and Maurice Sendak. We attended the exhibit with one of my dearest friends and her two boys today, and we all were smitten with the delights of acting out Sendak's masterpieces.

The children made cake on the "set" of The Night Kitchen

I captured this magically perfect image of Little J in Max's boat wearing a paper crown we had made with her white sweater hood up like Max's costume. 

Giggles were had by all in a ginormous version of Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months , which had a slide leading into the bowl.

The exhibits were beautiful and interactive, providing a window into the life and mind of Maurice Sendak. Listening to audio of Sendak being interviewed by Terry Gross for Fresh Air brought me to tears.

In particular, the story behind the finding of Grimm's Dear Mili and the choices of Sedak for the illustrations were particularly moving for me.

 We brought a copy of the book to add to our collection of Senak books.

 And, I also had to purchase this sticker in the gift shop. I am indeed the Queen of All Wild Things in our house.

What I love most about Maurice Sendak's books is the complexity. I can read the books with my two-year-old, and she finds them adventurous and fun. I can read the books with my eight-year-old, and we delve into these deep conversations about what the books mean in her eyes. And yet, as an adult, the books may mean something entirely different. That is what the magic of children's books is all about- life re-imagined.

I think what made it so special was that it felt like living inside his children's books.
 The entire exhibit was magical. If you live within driving distance of Atlanta, I encourage you to go.
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an affiliate, if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Books, Babies, and Bows (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Free Book Review Template for Kids

My oldest, who is currently in second grade, always has a lot to say about the books we read. If she wants to sit down to write a review, however, she tends to struggle with the organization of her thoughts. I searched around for a template for her to use to help her gather her thoughts, but I found that most of the templates were framed around book reviews for fiction. The templates typically helped guide kids to describe the parts of the story and characters, which wouldn't make sense with a non-fiction text. Also, as a scientist, we are also always "wondering" when we read. Wondering, questioning, imagining beyond the written text is how we come up with alternative endings,come up with questions to research, or talk about things we wish the author would have written or described in greater detail.

What do you do when you cannot find what you want? Create it. Here is the book review template I created for my daughter. I am including a link to a PDF version of this document for you to print, use, and share. I also made two formats: one with a blue background and a second with a white background to make it easier for copying.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite template to use for kid book reviews? Please share in the comments.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Finding My Yes

Last year was filled with incredible highs and incredible lows, moments that were stressful beyond comprehension and moments of quiet zen. However, one unexpected, incredible joy I found last year was being invited to participate in a Kohl's Yes2You Rewards Group. As part of this private group, I have had the opportunity to bond with other women over all of life's issues. Towards the end of the year, we did this exercise where we shared moments of Yes! For twelve days, the members of this group checked in to share one moment of Yes! with the group. What was so rewarding about this exercise was being reminded that there are infinite moments of joy peppered throughout the mundane. It is nice to let the light of each day shine on your face instead of focusing on those dark moments (darkness like getting stuck in traffic because a water main bursts and it takes you over an hour and a half to get to work). 

And so as the new year starts fresh, I feel compelled to share a few of my favorite moments of Yes! from last year in no particular order:

10. Having this adorable illustration custom made for me by a friend's dad. Isn't it lovely? I just adore it. This picture has made my book blog feel like a home to me.
9. Receiving these amazing baking supplies in the mail from Kohl's to make Christmas cookies was a total Yes! moment. You have to understand that the spatulas I had were broken, cut, and the tops would always fall off the handle when you mixed anything. I also was thrilled to throw about my endless miss matched measuring cups and spoons and replace them with these lovely Bobby Flay measuring utensils that stack so nicely. 
However, hands down what I loved the most about the package I received was the custom cookbook they printed using the recipes we shared on the Kohl's Facebook page. I felt like I was cooking with newly found friends.

And my children loved using copious amounts of icing to decorate the cookies.

   8. Finding a moment of Yes! also included reconnecting with friends from college. I started this Sisterhood of the Traveling book club with three dear friends of mine. With time and many miles separating us, we have found a way to bond over books. We are each reading a book of our choice and then mailing it along, making notes in the books to share the experience as we go along. I was inspired to do this after reading a blog post from Annie, owner of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA. I have just finished my second book. For my first book, I read The Tilted World: A Novel . See, I do actually read books for grown-ups.

7. My husband and I went to see Jim Gaffigan live and received a signed copy of his book Food: A Love Story. It is still sitting in my to-read pile. However, I have read a few pages, and those few pages had me in stitches.

6. I was brave and learned to knit so I could make a Bad Kitty costume for my oldest. She has read the Bad Kitty's Very Bad Boxed Set (#1) by Nick Bruel until the covers have fallen off. 

5. A librarian friend of mine completely surprised me by sending a signed copy of The Giver (Giver Quartet) by Lois Lowry. This is the kind of book you stay up all night to read. I cannot wait until Miss M is old enough to read it with her. The conversations we will have about this book will be amazing some day.

4. We fell in love with the magnetic personality of Michelle Nelson-Schmidt when we met her at the Decatur Book Festival. Just tonight, Little J came running into my bedroom because she found the Whatif Monster ears Michelle had given her. Check out her website and the fabulous books she has created. She inspires my daughter to write. Seeing her inspired is most certainly a Yes moment for me.

3. I had this amazing moment of Yes when I gathered the courage and purchased the 2015 Writer's Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. Shhhh! Don't tell anyone. I am not sure what to do with this yet, but I am excited to learn more about the publishing industry and how the books I review end up in my mailbox.

2. I can't even. Really. I can't even tell you how all I did was just smile when I met Kate DiCamillo. I had all of these great things that I wanted to tell her inside my head. My mouth didn't work. Instead, I just stood there and smiled. Thankfully, my daughter insisted to take this snapshot. Meeting her really is what prompted my Yes moment number 3. If you ever get the chance, go and listen to her speak. She is inspiring. She is courageous. And she has grit. Right now we are reading The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread. It just begs to be read aloud. 

1. And for my final moment of Yes, I wanted to share this amazingly thoughtful gift a dear friend made for me to celebrate the journey writing this blog has become in self-discovery, in discovery about my relationship with my girls, and in discovery of the world that surrounds us all. Thank-you dear friend. And thank-you dear readers for being here along with me on my journey. I value each and every person who takes the time to read my blog.

FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an affiliate, if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Books, Babies, and Bows (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support!

I received the cooking products as a gift as part of a Kohl's Yes2You Preview Group. All opinions expressed in this post are my own. 

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