Knight Owl

Since the day he hatched, Owl has dreamed of becoming a real knight. He may not be the biggest or the strongest, but he believes that his sharp nocturnal instincts can help protect the castle, especially since many knights have recently gone missing. While holding guard during Knight Night Watch, Owl is faced with the ultimate trial—a frightening intruder. It’s a daunting duel by any measure. But what Owl lacks in size, he makes up for in good ideas.

Owl’s story comes to life in beautifully detailed illustrations that are shades of brown and blue. Owl’s small size is shown when he is working with the other knights, when he needs a ladder to see over the castle wall, and when a dragon towers over him. Despite his size, Owl reminds himself that he is a knight and knights are brave. When the dragon first appears, his face takes up an entire page, which allows his scales, angry eyes, and large teeth to pop off the page. Even though the dragon is frightening, Owl finds a way to connect to the dragon. Soon the two are talking about “how each of them had hatched from eggs [and] how much they liked the night.”

The story incorporates humorous wordplay. It also shows how Owl’s owlish traits help him be a good knight. For example, “the other knights usually fell asleep during the long Knight Night Watch, but Owl didn’t mind.” The illustrations also have fun elements such as the huge dragon reclining on the castle wall while enjoying a pizza.

Even though Knight Owl is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 1 to 4 sentences. The story’s word play and onomatopoeia make Knight Owl a fun book to read aloud.

Young readers who dream of dragons and knights will fall in love with Owl. The relationship between Owl and the dragon is endearing and it teaches the importance of not making assumptions based on how someone looks. Once Owl and the dragon talk, they discover “they really had a lot in common.” Owl doesn’t save the day by using his strength or a sword, but by being brave enough to befriend the dragon. Readers who love dragons should also read When Dragons are Dreaming by James Mayhew & Lindsey Gardiner. Readers ready for chapter books should read Roland Wright: Future Knight by Tony Davis.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • It is implied that the dragon ate some of the knights.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Hollywood

Juniper dreams of slaying dragons and rescuing villages on the back of her trusty horse, Able. She knows that Able has star quality that will make him perfect for television. And the show she’d love to be on more than anything is Castle McAvoy. Though her dad doesn’t think Able is ready, Juniper decides to take matters into her own hands and help Able make it through an audition, even if it gets them both in a lot of trouble.

Juniper loves her horse and wants him to be a star, which is one reason that she is excited when she’s offered a part as a stunt rider in her favorite show. With Able on her side, Juniper is confident that they can impress the casting director. But once on set, Juniper begins to think that she isn’t as good as the other stunt riders. When she overhears a conversation about the show featuring a spectacular trick, Juniper volunteers to do a dangerous stunt, even though she has never done it before.

Many readers will relate to Juniper’s insecurities and her desire to prove herself. Juniper often wonders, “What if my best isn’t good enough?” Unfortunately, along the way, Juniper isn’t always honest. In the end, Juniper is so desperate to prove herself that she unhooks a safety harness and ends up falling and breaking her arm. The accident teaches Juniper that her and Able’s safety are more important than being on television.

While Hollywood has plenty of horse action, the story also explores Juniper’s relationship with her sister, Rose. When Rose finds out that Juniper is going to be on Castle McAvoy, Rose begins spending more time with Juniper. Rose also encourages Juniper to do the dangerous trick. When Juniper is injured, Rose confesses that she told “those girls at school that you were on the show. . . I did it because none of them wanted to be my friends. . . So I kept telling them about your show so they’d keep liking me.” Rose learns that it was wrong to use her sister to try to impress the popular kids.

Hollywood will appeal to many readers because of the relatable conflicts as well as the focus on becoming a Hollywood star. While Juniper has moments when she is sneaky and dishonest, she learns valuable lessons about the importance of protecting her horse and herself. One positive aspect of the story is Juniper’s two parent family that is supportive and encouraging. Plus, both the children stunt riders and the adults directing the television show encourage Juniper and do not get upset when she doesn’t do the stunts correctly. In the end, Juniper learns that no one is perfect and the best part of being a stunt rider isn’t being on television, it’s being able to work with her horse.

Horse-loving readers will enjoy the American Horse Tales Series because of the wide range of topics. Despite being a series, the books do not need to be read in order because each one focuses on a new character. Readers who want more horse action should gallop to the book store and grab a copy of Fear of Falling by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Juniper is planning to sneak into the horse trailer, she is looking to see where her father is. When she thinks he went to get Able, Juniper “prayed that he’d take a long time.”
  • After sneaking into the trailer, Juniper tells her horse, “Pray that Dad isn’t too mad. But even if he is, when he sees you get that part because I’m here, he’ll forgive me.”

Ancient Animals: Terror Bird

It has a sharp beak that cuts flesh and splits bones. It runs fast. It cannot fly. It can be as tall as a basketball hoop. It is the biggest meat-eating bird that lived on earth. What is it? It’s a terror bird.

Terror Bird will appeal to young readers who are interested in dinosaurs and other extinct animals. Readers will learn about top predators and how they helped their environment stay in balance. The book briefly covers the birds’ migration and reasons the species went extinct. Plus, the end of the book compares the terror bird to other large birds such as the emu and ostrich.

The book’s easy-to-read format will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each two-page spread has a one-page picture and one page of text. Each page has 3 to 5 sentences typed in oversized text that is surrounded by white space. The large pictures show the terror birds hunting different types of prey and a few of the pictures show blood. The pictures also show the sheer size of the terror bird by showing it next to other animals that the bird hunted.

The mix of text and illustrations is both appealing and educational. Readers will learn about the only bird that was a top predator and they’ll be amazed by the gigantic size of the bird. The easy-to-read format breaks the text into manageable sections so beginning readers will not get bored. Readers who want to learn more about prehistoric times may also want to read Don’t Disturb the Dinosaurs by Ada Hopper.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The terror birds’ hunting habits are discussed. “A terror bird chased prey on long, strong legs. It could break bones with one kick. . . The heavy head swung down like an ax. The deadly beak cut flesh and split bone.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Mirror Magic

Do you believe in magic? Mia and her friends do! And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventures unfolds in this new chapter book series, accompanied by black and white illustrations throughout.

Mia and her Star Animal, a fox named Bracken, must use their special powers to stop the forces of dark magic. Mia’s older sister has started acting strangely and the Star Animals sense dark magic is at work. Soon Mia discovers that the new compact mirror that her sister, Cleo, has been using must be to blame. Can the girls use their newfound Star Magic to help make things right?

Mirror Magic will appeal to young readers who love animals and magic. The story focuses on Mia, but it also revolves around her two friends, Lexi and Sita. Most of the story centers on the girls meeting the magical animals and learning how to use their own magic. However, Mia’s sister, Cleo, adds suspense and mystery to the story and in the end, the girls discover that a Shade has been manipulating Cleo.

In the story’s climax, the Star Friends and their animals, fight with the Shade. The scene with the Shade is scary and may upset some readers. Despite this, Mirror Magic does an excellent job of introducing the main characters, the magical animals, and the conflict with Violet, who turns out to be a Star Friend too. Mirror Magic sets up a world that is slightly predictable, but also full of mystery and adventure.

Mirror Magic is the first in a chapter book series that focuses on three friends—Mia, Lexi, and Sita—who are illustrated with different skin tones. The cute black and white illustrations appear every two to seven pages. Even though Mirror Magic will appeal to readers who are six and up, younger readers may have a difficult time with the more advanced vocabulary.

Star Friends will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Rescue Princesses Series and The Rainbow Magic Series. The story portrays Mia’s family in a positive manner, and while Mia and her friends are kind, they are not perfect. The girls clearly want to help others and they are even planning a baked food sale with the proceeds going to help an organization that protects endangered animals. The simple plot and sweet characters will appeal to animal loving early elementary readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mia’s sister had a magical compact with a Shade trapped inside. When Mia looks into the mirror, “The handsome face and sympathetic brown eyes melted away under her gaze, becoming a gray skull with glittering red eyes.” Mia throws the compact on the ground and “gray smoke started to seep out through the cracks in the broken glass. . . The smoke swirled together and formed a very tall, thin figure with gray skin, a skull-like face, and ragged clothes. The figure’s slanted eyes glowed red in his bony face.”
  • When the Shade is set free, he steps towards the Star Friends. Bracken (a magical fox) “growled. . . Darting forward, he grabbed the Shade’s leg with his teeth. At the same moment, Willow [a magical deer] charged and butted the Shade.” The Shade swiped “at them with his long nails.”
  • Mia jumps in to help the animals fight the Shade. “She threw herself at the Shade. He stood his ground and, as she hit his chest, he threw her backward as easily as if she weighed no more than a piece of paper.” The Star Friends and the Shade’s fight is described over four pages.
  • Violet captures the Shade in her phone. “The Shade’s face pulled into a grimace as the camera on her phone flashed. With a scream he dissolved into smoke and was sucked into the screen of the phone.” Violet sends the Shade back into the shadows.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • Magical animals from another world come into the human world looking for a Star Friend. Each animal must “find a human child to be your Star Friend—a child who is kindhearted enough to use magic for good and brave enough to defeat someone using dark magic. When you meet a child. . . speak to him or her with your thoughts. If they are open to magic, they will hear you.”
  • The magical animals can appear and disappear. They also each have a unique magical ability.
  • Dark magic also exists in the world. “It comes from the ground, and it is magic that can be used to hurt people and make them unhappy.”
  • Cleo has a mirror that has a Shade in it. “Bad people can conjure Shades—evil spirits who exist in the shadows.” It brings misery and unhappiness. “It can also be trapped inside an object, like a necklace, book, or toy that the person using the dark magic will give to someone they want to harm in some way.”
  • The Shade in Cleo’s mirror pretends “to be that person’s friend, but then they start twisting their minds, making them jealous and angry.”
  • Mia’s magic allows her to “see what’s happening elsewhere really clearly, and you’ll be able to hear what’s being said and look at the details of a scene.” She can also see the past and future.
  • Sita has the ability to “comfort people and heal them.”
  • Lexi’s magical abilities have to do with agility. “She’ll be able to do things a normal human couldn’t.”
  • Violet is a Spirit Speaker who has “the magic ability to command spirits.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Haven’s Secret

Twin sisters, Parker and Ellie McFadden, could not be more different. Parker is a firecracker, always bursting with energy, which she channels into her athletic activities. Ellie is gentle and quiet with a big heart for all types of animals, even spiders. Their mom, who was an environmental scientist, inspired the girls’ love for nature and was always traveling for dangerous research projects until one fateful scuba diving mission that led to her death. Before their mom died or abandoned them as Parker likes to believe, she set aside special gifts for each of her daughters to receive on their birthday. This year, they receive two bracelets and two notes reminding them to “listen carefully,” and “sisterhood comes first,” and “the magic will follow.”

Aside from the bracelets, Parker and Ellie get an even bigger surprise when their father informs them they will be spending the summer with their Great Aunt Mabel and Great Uncle George from their mom’s side of the family. Despite Parker’s protests, Mr. McFadden insists this trip will be good for the girls and that their mother had also spent time with her aunt and uncle as a kid. The next day, George and Mabel, an eccentric pair of twins, arrive to take Parker and Ellie to their mountain home which they call Haven.

Since arriving in Haven, Parker and Ellie find strange things happening. Ellie can hear animals’ thoughts and control plants, while Parker can generate fire and heat from her hands and make the ground move. Determined to find answers, Parker and Ellie explore Haven. In their mom’s old room, Ellie finds a box of pictures and notes from her mom and another girl, Sadie. Meanwhile, Parker uses an astrolabe, a special birthday gift from a previous year, to decipher the coordinates of their mom’s last locations before she went away. After demanding information, George and Mabel explain that Haven is no ordinary farm, but a sanctuary that offers protection from The Danger, a harmful force caused by human greed. Those who possess powers, like Parker and Ellie, George and Mabel, and their mother, have the responsibility to work with the environment to restore balance.

Even with this information, Parker and Ellie become suspicious of Haven and its secrets. George and Mabel are obviously withholding information, and Mabel grows increasingly wary of Parker’s strong powers and her inability to control them. Eventually, Mabel confesses that Sadie was their mom’s twin sister, and her thirst for power led to their mom’s death. Mabel expresses concern that Parker will betray Ellie in the same way if her powers are not controlled.

Suspense increases for Parker and Ellie after their dad warns them over the phone that they are in danger and must leave Haven immediately. Suddenly, everything becomes clear when Parker cracks the last astrolabe coordinate and discovers the last place her mom was before her death was Haven. The girls realize Haven is no longer safe and Mabel can’t be trusted. Parker and Ellie must work together and trust in their powers to stop Mabel from disturbing the earth’s balance and letting The Danger win.

Haven’s Secret is the first book in The Powers Series, and the story ends with a cliffhanger teasing more adventure to come. Although the book is written in third person, the chapters go back and forth between focusing on Parker’s and Ellie’s perspective. Because of their unique personalities, readers will be able to relate to either Parker or Ellie. In addition, the novel has strong themes of sisterhood and teamwork as Parker and Ellie realize they are stronger together. The book also has important environmental themes such as practicing sustainability by utilizing recycled materials. The Danger is also a symbol for climate change and environmental neglect, and Parker and Ellie’s powers are used to support environmental activism.

With its environmental themes, Haven’s Secret is an important and timely book. Overall, it is an exciting read with all the twists and secrets Parker and Ellie uncover at Haven. The ending, especially, is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the pacing is a little slow in the beginning, readers will admire Parker and Ellie’s sisterly bond and get inspired to help the environment. If you’d like to read another magical book that has environmental themes, pick up a copy of Spark by Sarah Beth Durst.

 Sexual content

  • None

Violence

  • While running through the forest, “Parker’s foot skidded on the mud a second time and she pitched forward, right into a stupid tree. Face first . . . Her head flooded with pain, grimy water seeped through the knees of her jeans, and something primal rose up within her, overtaking her body and mind.” Parker is hurt.
  • A wounded cow arrives at Haven. “It’s left hind leg had a giant gash in it, almost as if the animal had gotten in a barn fight.” George and Ellie work together to help heal the cow.
  • As part of her powers, Ellie feels the pain of the wounded animals around her. As she walks closer to them, she feels “pain shimmering through every end of her body, until she was doubled over with it.” Ellie has to focus and stay strong in order for the pain to subside.
  • Ellie helps heal an injured wolf that has “a deep gash between his ribs—his blood pooled beneath him.” The animal is hurt by a growing storm caused by The Danger. We do not see exactly when the wolf was injured.
  • To protect her and her sister, Ellie blows a magical whistle their mother had given them, and “Mabel screeched as if the pain of the entire world was upon her.”
  • As Parker and Mabel fight each other, “glass shards skittered across the floor. Parker focused on the rain outside the window, drawing it into her own private tempest, thrusting it against Mabel’s wintry hailstorm. The two storms crashed together above George’s bed, and he lifted a frail arm to shield his face from the deluge of rain and hail.”
  • When Mabel’s storm falters, “the wolf Ellie had healed chose its moment to spring onto Mabel’s back.” As a result, “Mabel shrieked.” Her cries reveal she is in pain, but neither the pain nor the violence is described in detail.
  • Mabel’s rage destroyed Haven. It is implied that George and Mabel were killed in the destruction.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

  • In the prologue, The Danger, a dark, magical force attacks an unknown character. The Danger “made its presence felt in the swirling wind, the bending trees, the keening animals, the shadows cast by the waning moon . . . It filled her, and she let it. It fused to her body from the inside out, banishing all the parts she’d kept hidden and protected for so long.”
  • In a moment of frustration, Parker slams her foot on the ground and “the ground cracked and jolted Parker out of her rage. For a second her whole body rattled like someone was shaking her . . . There, clearly, beneath her sneaker, was a split in the ground.” Before realizing her powers, Parker assumes the crack was caused by an earthquake.
  • After meeting Arlo the dog, who lives at Haven, Ellie discovers she can communicate with animals. After Ellie asked Arlo if he would like to come in inside, she could feel him say yes. “It wasn’t like he had actually spoken, but a strong feeling of ‘yes’ had come out of nowhere.” Ellie continues to hear the thoughts of animals throughout the book.
  • In the forest, Parker “felt as if a million slender tendrils from the forest were fighting to pull her back and eat her alive.” This is The Danger trying to get her.
  • As Ellie walked around Haven, “she noticed buttercups springing up around her feet, almost as if to mark her path.” Later, Ellie discovers that she has some control over plants.
  • Parker produces light from her hands, and “the skin on her palms was briefly translucent, exposing what had just been jumping underneath—a landscape of sparks, a million bright pinpricks, all of them screaming and clawing to get out out out into the world—”
  • Mabel explains to Parker and Ellie that The Danger “is a malevolent, shape-shifting force created by people’s greed.”
  • After getting frustrated with Mabel for not telling the truth, Parker creates a burst of fire and light. “Parker opened her arms wide as the searing heat coursed through her and enveloped the palms of her hands.” As a result, Parker notices the mountain side of the road “was mostly uniform except for a gaping chunk in the middle, the space for the last missing piece of puzzle.” Parker had caused an explosion and shifted bits of the earth. Parker has “the ability to produce light and manipulate the earth’s surface matter.”
  • Ellie comes to realize that “all her life, she had been able to see how people were feeling, sometimes even before they saw it themselves.”
  • When George grew weak after healing animals, Ellie “stepped in and discovered she could heal animals too.”
  • Parker and Ellie notice a mysterious shadow but “light had nothing to do with it. Nothing was casting it. The shadow simply crept of its own accord. And then it was gone.”
  • When a vine begins to choke Ellie, “she visualized the vine receding, herself taming it with merely a thought,” and, “around her neck and shoulders, the vines loosened.”
  • George explains to Parker “that the powers don’t just run in our This is bigger than just us. Lots of other people have powers.”
  • As Mabel becomes more power-hungry, “showers of sparks danced from her irises and arced down to the floor trailing thin ribbons of black smoke.”

Spiritual content

  • None

by Elena Brown

Hello Goodbye Dog

For Zara’s dog, Moose, nothing is more important than being with his favorite girl. So, when Zara has to go to school, WHOOSH, Moose escapes and rushes to her side. Hello, Moose!

Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed at school and Moose must go back home. Goodbye, Moose.

But Moose can’t be held back for long. Through a series of escalating escapes, this loyal dog finds his way back to Zara, and with a little bit of training and one great idea, the two friends find a way to be together all day long.

Hello Goodbye Dog is a super-cute picture book full of fun illustrations that show Moose repeatedly escaping his house and running to Zara’s classroom. The brightly colored illustrations are often humorous. The characters’ faces are expressive and show a wide range of emotions. Another positive aspect of the illustrations is that the children and staff are a diverse group, including Zara, who uses a wheelchair. Each page has two to four short sentences that use easy-to-understand language.

Young readers will laugh at Moose’s antics as he continually runs to Zara’s school because he enjoys being with Zara and the other children. The conclusion shows a unique solution to the problem when Moose attends therapy dog school. Once Moose graduates from therapy dog school, he is welcomed to Zara’s classroom by everyone, including the adults who once chased him out.

Dog-loving readers will love Hello Goodbye Dog and will want to read it again and again. If you’re looking for another fun dog-related book add Shampoodle by Joan Holub and Marley Firehouse Dog by John Grogan to your reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Save the Sanctuary

Former Army rescue dog, Sgt. Rico, a bomb-sniffing Malinois, is on his first mission in Washington, D.C. to save The Sanctuary animal shelter from the evil Mr. Mocoso. But does Rico have what it takes to lead the Pawtriots to victory and save his fellow canines?

Throughout the story, Army values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage—are demonstrated through the animals’ actions. In addition, the importance of putting the mission first is reinforced when Chaps, a disabled military dog, gives his life so his friends can escape. In the end, it is the military’s values that allow Rico to become a hero by helping him realize that “soldiers don’t give up on themselves and they don’t’ give up on their fellow animals.”

Army sayings and terminology are used throughout the story. For example, when Rico feels like giving up, another military dog says, “I need you to embrace the suck.” Each time an army word or phrase is introduced, Rico explains what it means. For example, Rico explains that north south is “Army-talk for ‘nodding your head when you understand something.’”

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time which makes it easy to follow the timeline. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including the villain, rats and crocodiles.

Even though Pawtroit Dog is an illustrated chapter book, it hits on some difficult topics that may upset readers. For example, the dog catchers, which are called “Snatchers,” chase after the animals with the intent to capture and kill them. However, the animals manage to stay safe because they help each other and work as a team. The overall theme that is reinforced repeatedly is “it doesn’t matter if you’re small, young, weak, or even missing a leg—it’s what’s on the inside that counts. You have to have heart! That’s what makes a true Pawtriot.”

Save the Sanctuary is an action-packed story that revolves around two, three-legged military dogs. Readers will enjoy seeing Rico’s growth from a despondent dog to a true hero with a mission. Readers who want a patriotic story that is told from a dog’s point of view should put this highly entertaining story on their reading list. If readers like Pawtroit Dog, they should check out the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven, which is also told from a dog’s point of view.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While on a mission, Rico accidentally sets off a bomb. “The explosion was so loud that for two weeks all I could hear was ringing in my ears. . . The blast took away my front left leg and my sense of purpose. And worst of all, it took Kris away from me.” The blast is illustrated and shows Rico and Kris being thrown from the impact.
  • Mocoso was angry with his pet monkey, Simon. “He grabbed Simon by the throat and squeezed him so hard that he turned blue. Simon managed to escape and nobody’s heard or seen him since.” Later, Rico finds out that Simon is at the zoo.
  • In order to intimidate Rico, Hans (a dog) approaches Rico and “presses his big wet snout against mine, but I don’t back down. Then he pushes me. I stumble to the ground because I don’t have the balance I used to without a front leg.”
  • The Snatchers “snatch up” the animals from the sanctuary and take them to the pound. Rico watches “as they snatch up each of my fellow animals with pole nets and lock them up in cages, one by one.”
  • While at the pound, “the Snatcher grabs the helpless cat by the scruff of its neck and hauls it away.” Rico realizes that the pound is a “kill shelter. If an animal isn’t adopted in thirty days, then that’s the end of the line.”
  • The animals break out of the pound and run from the Snatchers. The Snatchers finally locate the animals and try to capture them. Rico sees “the Snatchers tear through the woods and start racing towards us. Three of them have hand cannons that shoot nets. A Snatcher fires one at use and I watch it fly through the air.”
  • The animals make mud balls and hurl them at the Snatchers. “Penny quickly sends another one across the field, hitting another Snatcher in the face and sending him tumbling to the ground.” Rico and Sawyer create a diversion. Rico and Sawyer “weave in and out across the field as the Snatchers try to snag us with their nets.” The animals go into the sewers to escape the Snatchers. The scene is described over four pages.
  • While in the sewers, the animals are surrounded by rats until “suddenly a deafening roar breaks the chaos of the chase. . .The ground shakes and the water ripples as a massive reptile, the size of a crocodile, covered in scars and sludge stomps his way towards us.”
  • A dog named Chaps tries to stop the reptile from hurting the others. Rico sees Chaps. “He’s exhausted struggling to catch his breath and has cuts all over his snout.” Chaps gives Rico his prosthetic leg and then Chaps gives Rico “a soldier’s salute and turns to face the Beast. We all watch as he charges right at the massive reptile . . . I knew that was the last time any of us would ever see Chaps. But he went out like a true soldier and put the mission first.”
  • The animals break into Mr. Mocoso’s mansion in order to find a will. When Mr. Mocoso sees them, “Simon swoops down from the chandelier, sending Mr. Mocoso to the ground knocking him out cold.”
  • Mocoso’s Doberman Pinschers surround Rico, but then his friends arrive and surround the Pinschers. Rico tells his friend, “Franny, tie them up so they can’t follow us. And don’t worry, once Mr. Mocoso wakes up, he’ll free them.”
  • When Franny ties up the Pinschers, she uses an electrical wire. The wire starts a fire, and Rico saves Mr. Mocoso and his dogs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Two mean dogs, Hans and Heinz, call Rico a “three-legged freak.”
  • Heinz calls the animals at the sanctuary knuckleheads.
  • One of the animals calls Mr. Mocoso a jerk.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World

Did you know that a dog’s nose is so sensitive that if a human could see as well as a dog could smell, we could be able to see the small letters on an eye chart from four miles away? While your dog may be talented at sniffing out snacks or alerting your family to welcome (or unwelcome) visitors, some dogs are super sniffers who put their noses to work with firefighters, soldiers, and scientists to save lives. These knowing noses can help locate missing people, detect explosives, or even sniff out a tiny, endangered snail species in the middle of a huge forest.

Dog lover and acclaimed science writer, Nancy Castaldo, introduces us to these heroic canines, many of whom were death-row shelter dogs. There’s Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, who is a decorated war hero; Rocky, the German shepherd who wears a bulletproof vest while sniffing for illegal drugs; Alan, a fox red Labrador retriever who detects tiny but life-threatening changes in his owner’s blood sugar levels; and Raider, who searches for disaster victims in piles of rubble. From your own very backyard to danger zones all over the world, hard-working dogs are on the job helping humans every day—eager to please, hoping for love, and always on alert.

Readers will be amazed by the dog’s abilities to use their sense of smell to help people. Sniffer Dogs educates readers about the different jobs that dogs train for including sniffing for bombs, drugs, missing people, and human remains. Sniffer dogs are also used to help people with medical conditions like diabetes. Some Sniffer Dogs are trained specifically to find old bones. For example, “the ghost town, Bodie, was once the fifth-largest town in California in 1859. Today, dogs are locating the unmarked graves of Bodie’s past residents.” Incredibly, other dogs are also trained to help scientists find whale feces in the Atlantic Ocean which allows scientists to study the population of endangered whales.

The book explores the different ways dogs have helped people throughout history. In World War II, “sentries and patrol dogs assisted the troops in battle, and ambulance dogs transported first-aid supplies to wounded soldiers.” Readers who want to learn more about how military dogs have helped people should also read the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sniffer Dog’s format will appeal to readers because of the large pictures that appear on almost every page. The book includes information on real Sniffer Dogs and gives specific information on how the dogs have helped. Readers will learn about the dogs’ training, their relationship with their handlers, as well as their incredible sense of smell. While the book is packed full of information, each section is broken into small, manageable sections. However, the advanced vocabulary may be difficult for struggling readers.

Sniffer Dogs will appeal to dog lovers as well as anyone who is interested in science. If you are researching any type of service dog, then Sniffer Dogs is a must-read. If you’re interested in learning more about how dogs are used in the military, grab a copy of Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. by Jennifer Li Shotz.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Because dogs are used to help find both living and dead people, many historic events—9/11, the Oklahoma bombing, etc.—are discussed in the book.
  • Eli, a bomb-sniffing black lab, went to Afghanistan with his handler Colton. “On December 6, just a few months after arriving in Afghanistan, Colton was hit by sniper fire while on patrol and was killed. Eli stood guard, crawling on top of his partner’s body, not leaving its side, even when Colton’s fellow soldiers came to retrieve it.”
  • When the Titanic was sinking, Ann Elizabeth Isham, refused to leave her dog. “It is commonly believed that when her Great Dane was denied a place in a lifeboat, she refused to leave without it. Their bodies were both found floating in the sea after the ship sank. Reports say that her frozen arms were wrapped around the dog’s neck. . .”
  • Roselle, a Seeing-Eye dog was with Michael Hingson on 9/11. “Roselle guided Michael Hingson down seventy-eight floors in Tower One after the American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building just eighteen floors above him.”
  • Dogs trained to find deceased people learn how to “recognize decomposing body odors as the scent drifts away from the body or skeleton. . .”
  • During World War II, “two men, a pilot, and a gunner, were flying on a training mission when their plane went down . . . Sadly, the bodies of the airmen were never recovered.” When the plane’s remains were found, dogs were “able to locate many of the bones of the missing men at the site, including a finger bone with a ring on it.” 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During World War I dogs carried “cigarettes to stressed-out soldiers in the field.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fox the Tiger

Fun-loving, mischievous, Fox, wishes he was a tiger. Tigers are big and fast and sneaky. So, he decides to become one! Soon, Turtle and Rabbit are joining in the fun. But will Fox want to be a tiger forever?

Young readers will fall in love with Fox as he pretends to be a tiger. Soon, Turtle joins the game and pretends he’s a race car. Finally, Rabbit turns into a robot. As the animals play dress up, Fox and his friends learn that the best thing to be is yourself.

Fox the Tiger uses simple, but adorable pictures that have a hint of humor. For example, as Turtle is changing into a race car, both Fox and Rabbit wait and wait. They wait so long that a snail passes them by. Each page has 2 to 3 simple sentences that include dialogue and fun onomatopoeia. As a My First I Can Read Book, Fox the Tiger is perfect to read to your little one. The story uses basic language, word repetition, and large illustrations on each page.

Young readers will fall in love with the mischievous Fox and want to read more adventures about him.  Even though the story is short, it has a powerful message—Fox is glad to be a fox and you should be glad to be you.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Once Upon a Camel

Zada is an achy, old camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the ruling Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new lands, led army missions, and outsmarted a pompous mountain lion.

But these stories were before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears and a dust storm the size of a mountain take Zada on one more grand adventure – and it could lead to Zada’s most brilliant story yet.

Readers will fall in love with Zada as she protects two kestrel chicks from a windstorm. Zada’s patience is never-ending, and she uses beautiful stories to keep the chicks occupied. However, some readers may become annoyed by the chicks’ constant chirping and complaining. Despite this, the relationship between Zada and the birds is super sweet, and readers will relate to the chicks who are anxious about being separated from their parents.

The wind, which attacks Zada and her friends, is described as a living beast. For example, “As if they were waiting to grab one of the chicks, the willy-willies and the dust devils, the samiels and simoons, danced all around Zada. They swiped at her ankles, raced ahead of her, rose and fell, then rose and fell again, reminding her of ocean waves.” Through the story, readers learn about the weather, which adds depth to the story.

Once Upon a Camel is best suited for advanced readers because of the constant back and forth between present day and the past. Each chapter begins with the name of a place and the year, which will help readers know if the events are one of Zada’s stories or not. Some readers may be confused by the advanced vocabulary and the Turkish words, such as simoons, samiels, muster, escarpment, festooned, denizens, and dissipate. Detailed black and white illustrations appear every 8 to 16 pages, and a one-page glossary appears at the end of the book.

Each story Zada tells is full of magic. Zada demonstrates how stories can help us deal with an array of emotions. Zada’s love for her original country shines, and readers will catch a glimpse of Turkey’s culture through her stories. Even though Zada was born into a caravan of prized racing horses owned by a Turkish pasha, in 1857, she sails the seas and lands in Texas, where she discovers she will be a pack animal for the U.S. Army. Some readers may be disappointed with the lack of details about how the camels helped the army.

While Once Upon a Camel highlights the magic of storytelling, younger readers may struggle with the constantly shifting time period, advanced vocabulary, and Turkish words. By the end of the story, the chicks’ “tap-tap-tap-KICK, tap-tap-tap-KICK,” and “peeppeeppeeppeeppeeppeeppeepeep” becomes frustrating. However, Zada’s point of view is interesting and unique, and she isn’t afraid to jump in a potentially dangerous situation to help those in need. In the end, no matter how difficult a situation is, Zada is determined to “become the brightest star.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Like human siblings, the two baby chicks argue and peck at each other.
  • When the camels traveled to Texas, they upset the horses. “The combination of hollering and gamboling set the resident equines into a frenzy of bucking and snorting. They reared up onto their hind feet, kicked each other, even cracked a bunch of teeth and jawbones.”
  • Pecos de Leon, a mountain lion, would hunt for prey. “He would spot an unsuspecting pack rat from ten feet away, then boom! Four paws off the ground and no more pack rat. Even snakes weren’t safe from his stalking prowess. He liked their spicy flavor.”
  • A group of boys sees Zada and her friend. “The boys and horses surrounded the camels, and for no reason whatsoever, started pelting them with rocks. Whap, whap, whap! Ouch ouch ouch!”
  • A flock of Kestrels attacks a coyote puppy. The puppy “was trying to tuck itself underneath a mesquite bush. Its front paws were covering its eyes, and it was shaking from nose to tail. . .[the birds] swished by and scraped the coyote’s ears with their sharp little talons. The coyote kept yipping and yapping and whimpering. The kestrels kept dive-bombing.” Zada chases the birds away.
  • The birds attack the coyote puppy because it ate some kestrel eggs. “They made a quick breakfast for the hungry pup.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Zada goes to the races and sees amazing things, including travelers who carried wine.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When the birds get separated, the bird’s father Pard thinks his family will be at the mission. Pard “was praying that Perlita [the bird’s mother] was already there.”

I Don’t Want to be a Pea!

Hugo Hippo has a best bird. Bella Bird has a best hippo. And they are going to the Fairy-Tale Fancy Dress Party. Together, of course.

Hugo wants to be the princess (and Bella will be the pea). No, wait—Bella will be the princess (and Hugo will be the pea). No, wait—the first way. No, wait—the second way.

Well, one of them must be the pea if they’re going to the party. Well, maybe they won’t go then. Hmph. Yes, hmph.

At first, Hugo and Bella think the most important part of going to the party is deciding on a costume. Soon, the two argue and Bella says, “Besides, I don’t even want to go to the party with you anymore.” Once the two friends are all alone, they realize that their friendship is more important than getting their own way. That’s why they both show up at the party dressed as a pea.

Young readers will fall in love with Hugo and Bella, who act like typical children, who want to get their own way. Their dilemma comes to life in brightly colored illustrations that are fun and lively. Readers will giggle at all the funny costumes such as when Bella dresses as a jester, and they’ll feel sad when they see Hugo crying in the shower.

Even though I don’t want to be a pea is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 1 to 4 sentences that appear in oversized font.

I don’t want to be a pea is short enough to be a quick bedtime story, while still having an important message for children. While the story can be used as a conversation starter about friendship, the silly story will captivate readers because everyone can relate to their conflict.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Chicken on Vacation

Zoey the chicken needs a vacation and she wants to take her barnyard friends, Sam and Pip, with her.

Zoey knows you don’t need to go to the shore to have the perfect beach day. . . but you do need a great imagination and a treasure map! Will Zoey lead her barnyard pals to buried treasure?

When Zoey and her friends get to the beach (the pond in their backyard) they each have fun doing different things. Pip floats around on his duck floatie. Sam swims in the mud. And Zoey rides her surfboard (the dock). They build sandcastles and look for buried treasure. The animals use their imagination to go on a great adventure. And in the end, Pip and Sam love the treasure they find—a pie!

Chicken on Vacation is an adorably cute story that shows readers the power of imagination. Told with simple sentences and humor, Chicken on Vacation will keep young readers entertained. Each page has 1 to 4 sentences and a large illustration. The story is ideal for readers who can read on their own, but who may still need a little help.

Chicken on Vacation will have readers giggling as Zoey pretends that everyday objects are something totally different. For example, a tractor becomes a lookout tower, and an old fence becomes a shipwreck. Readers will look forward to seeing where Zoey’s imagination takes them. Readers who love humorous stories should also check out Splat the Cat and the Duck with No Quack by Rob Scotton.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Pax

Twelve-year-old Peter regrets when he and his father abandon Pax, his pet fox, in a forest two hundred miles away from home. Pax has been part of their family since Peter lost his mother five years ago, and the two friends were inseparable. To Peter, “leaving Pax hadn’t been the right thing to do” so he sets out to bring Pax home. Not far into his journey, Peter fractures his foot, and Vola, a veteran who lost a leg and knows the cost of war, forces him to stay at her cabin until he can walk again.

Pax, with the help of the local foxes, travels through the forest to find Peter. At first, he struggles with living in the wild, but he befriends Bristle and Runt, who teach him about hunting and survival. However, the foxes get into a tiff with soldiers, including Peter’s father, who is gearing up for an unspecified war. As Peter and Pax try to reunite, they are changed by their experiences.

Each chapter alternates between Peter’s and Pax’s perspectives, which allows the reader to understand their bond. In Pax’s point of view, the foxes speak in italics because “fox communication is a complex system of vocalization, gesture, scent, and expression.” The “dialogue” in italics attempts to translate their eloquent language. Switching the point of view adds interest to the overall narrative as the main characters reflect on the five years they have known each other.

Peter faces his limits but resolves to find Pax amongst a brewing war. Peter’s recovery time with Vola helps him gather his scattered thoughts and focus on finding peace within himself, his relationship with his father, and his relationship with his late mother. Older elementary school readers will relate to Peter, who must consider if he should leave Pax in the forest, effectively putting his childhood behind him, or keep Pax and move forward without knowing their future. By the end of the story, Peter learns that “his fox belonged to [Bristle and Runt]. And they belonged to Pax. Inseparable.”

While Pax has several light-hearted moments, it hits on grim topics, including war, death, grief, and betrayal. The descriptive, violent content may shock sensitive readers. Even though there are minimal effects of war on the humans, the foxes are threatened with violence at every turn. Despite this, the story’s slow pacing gives respect for each character. In the end, Peter has found his peace, and Pax has found another place to belong. The story’s conclusion is bittersweet; nonetheless, it demonstrates the inseparable, yet distanced friendship between Peter and Pax.

Pax is a raw and entertaining story suited for more mature readers. The alternating chapters begin with an illustration of Peter or Pax, and other black and white illusions are clustered in the beginning, middle, and end. The illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s characters and events. Readers looking for a compelling, but tamer story about how war affects animals should read Survival Tails: World War II by Katrina Charman and Judy, Prisoner of War by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Gray, an older fox, mentions, “When the war-sick arrive here, [his] family will have to move nearer to those colonies or go north, into the mountains.” The soldiers would come into the forest and clear the land for war. While traveling through the forest, Pax watched “the war-sick spread out along the riverbank, rolling out more wires, digging more holes, and burying more dark boxes under the hot sun.”
  • Throughout the story, the foxes hunt frequently. “In a second, Bristle’s head reappeared, and in her jaws was a wood rat. She leaped clear of the grass, bit through the rat’s neck, then dropped it to the ground.”
  • Pax recalls a story about two foxes. “A mated pair of foxes, struggling with something that reminded Pax of his pen—steel, but with jaws and clamps instead of bars. The steel jaws and the white snowy ground were smeared with blood.”
  • Bristle tells Pax about her parent’s death from a gunshot. Just before Bristle and Runt’s mother reaches the chicken coop, “steel jaws sprang out of the earth with such speed that the air snapped. Our mother screamed. The clamp held her front leg.” Their father tries to help their mother, but “the human raised the stick, and in front of our eyes our mother and father burst into blood and fur and shattered bones spattered over the snow.”
  • Peter steals Vola’s knife because he thought she might kill him. Peter “found the knife she’d left . . . the knife he’d stolen grew heavier across his thigh.” Later, she confronts him about her missing knife and scolds him for thinking she would harm him. “My tools? I have twenty acres of trees to care for. And I’m a wood-carver. You thought they were weapons?”
  • Vola says she has post-traumatic stress disorder from being in a war. “People around me, they called it PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, from being in the war. . . I had forgotten everything that was true about myself.”
  • While in the military, Vola killed someone. “I killed someone. . .  probably killed a lot of people, or at least contributed to their deaths . . .” She regrets killing him, saying, “Even though he had grown up in a different country—we might have had something in common. . . But I’d killed him, so now we would never know. I searched his body, not for weapons, but for clues to who he’d been.”
  • An unnamed fox injures Gray. “The challenger ignored the peaceful greeting and sprang, hitting the old fox hard in the flank and pinning him down, then sank his teeth into Gray’s thin neck. . . The puncture was deep.”
  • An explosion kills Gray. “Gray tripped. Instantly, the scorched-air smell sizzled up from the spot like an earthborn bolt of lightning, and at the same second the riverbank exploded. . .The old fox was still. . . The scent of Gray’s death was on Pax’s fur, but the foxes knew already.”
  • Lightning strikes Bristle and Runt. Bristle’s “beautiful brush was burned to a black crust” and Runt lost a hind leg. “Where Runt’s hind leg should have been, where the neat black-furred leg and the quick white paw should have been, there was only a shredded red mess on the blood-soaked leaves.” Peter finds the hind leg, thinking it belongs to Pax. “Fleshless and singed, but still he knew it was a hind leg. . .” When Peter finds his father, he “pressed the fox leg into his father’s hand.”
  • The towns that Peter walks through are vacant because they had been evacuated due to the impending war. Peter “had traveled on roads though vacant towns, past abandoned schools and playgrounds and neighborhoods spookily silent without their squeaking tricycles, their car radios, their pickup ball games.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • An employee in a hardware store “took a drag on his cigarette” while speaking with Peter. The man “stubbed out his cigarette” when following Peter around the store.
  • Vola says she will give Peter “something for the pain, something that’s legal to give a child. . .a measure of willow bark. . . Aspirin in the wild.”

Language

  • Peter’s mother calls the rabbit that stomped on her tulips a “little devil.”
  • Several times, Vola uses the word “dyableman,” a Haitian Creole word meaning damned.
  • Peter uses “holy dyableman” once.
  • Vola says her first prosthetic “scares the devil out of [her]” and “scares the devil out of the crows, too, apparently.”

Supernatural

  • Peter refers to Vola as “witchy.”

Spiritual Content

  • Peter refers to the baseball field as “holy.”
  • Vola describes her concept. “It’s a Buddhist concept. Nonduality. It’s about one-ness, about how things that seem to be separate are really connected to one another. There are no separations. . . All these things are separate but also one, inseparable.”

by Jemima Cooke

Willodeen

Eleven-year-old Willodeen adores creatures of all kinds, but her favorites are the most unlovable beasts in the land; strange beasts known as “screechers.” The villagers of Perchance call them pests– even monsters– but Willodeen believes the animals serve a vital role in the complicated web of nature.
Lately, though, nature has seemed angry indeed. Perchance has been cursed with fires and mudslides, droughts and fevers, and even the annual migration of hummingbears, a source of local pride and income, has dwindled. For as long as anyone can remember, the tiny animals have overwintered in shimmering bubble nests perched atop blue willow trees, drawing tourists from far and wide. This year, however, not a single hummingbear has returned to Perchance, and no one knows why.

When a handmade birthday gift brings unexpected magic to Willodeen and her new friend, Connor, she’s determined to speak up for the animals she loves, and perhaps even uncover the answer to the mystery of the missing hummingbears.

Willodeen is a wonderfully relatable character who feels as if she’s odd and unlovable because she would rather spend time in nature than with people. Like many middle school readers, Willodeen is often self-conscious and struggles to find her voice. Many people make fun of Willodeen’s love of screechers because they don’t understand why she loves the ugly, smelly creatures. However, when Willodeen meets Connor, they connect over their love of all creatures. In the end, Willodeen becomes the heroine of the story when she uses her power of scientific observation to solve the town’s problem, saving the screechers in the process.

Through Willodeen’s experiences, readers will learn about the importance of community. When the town is threatened by fire, everyone joins in to help put the fire out. The theme is developed further when Willodeen and Connor go to the city council meetings—where both Willodeen and Connor find the bravery to speak up for the detested screechers. Readers will love how Mae, Birdie, and Connor’s father stand up for Willodeen and encourage her to “be what you are meant to be.” Even though Willodeen is different than others, the story shows that she has value and can contribute to her community in her own unique way.

Willodeen is also a story about caring for all nature—even the animals that aren’t adorably cute like the hummingbears. The story shows how all of nature is interconnected and how each animal has an important role in the ecosystem. Readers will love discovering how the screechers and the hummingbears are interconnected. In the end, the town learns to appreciate the screechers. And when tourists “complained about the horrible beasts stinking up the village, we learned to simply shrug and say, ‘when screechers were invented, Mother Nature made them scented.’”

Appplegate creates another beautiful story that advanced readers and middle school readers will love. The short chapters, loveable characters, and a bit of magic will captivate readers and leave them contemplating ways they can use their voice to impact their community.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Willodeen and her family are caught in a fire. Her father, mother and little brother died in the fire. Willodeen has a nightmare about the “flames grabbing for me like a hungry monster. The soles of my feet blistering. The poisonous smoke scorching my lungs.” Willodeen wonders why she “made it out” when her family didn’t.
  • Willodeen is looking at a screecher curled in a nest, when she “heard footsteps, movement. Thwap. The arrow hit with such force that the nest seemed to explode.” The screecher runs, but Willodeen sees “a thick trail of blood leading into the trees.” Later she finds the animal dead. “His eyes staring at nothing. His white snout was covered in blood.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Every year Perchance has a fair where “ale and trinkets” are sold.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Birdie tells Willodeen “angry tears have magic in them. . . There’s magic in all of us. Just a bit. You’re born with it, like fingers and toes and fuzzy baby hair. Some of us make use of it. And some do not.”
  • A screecher magically comes alive. “The creature has a maker, a boy with nimble fingers and a tender heart. He’s spent hours weaving weeds and thistledown in the milky moonlight, spinning her into existence.” The creature began as a screecher, made from weeds, wood, and other materials. But then Willodeen cried “for myself because I was alone and lonely on my birthday. And because I was odd and unlovable. For a long time, I let myself weep. . .” Willodeen’s “angry tears” had the magic to make the screecher alive.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Mr. Popper dreams of being an Antarctic explorer and living among the penguins alongside his hero, Admiral Drake. But as a house painter with a family to care for, Mr. Popper knows his dream is just a dream. Until the day when Admiral Drake responds to a letter by sending a real, live penguin straight to Mr. Popper’s house!

It isn’t long before the first penguin, Captain Cook, is joined by a second penguin named Greta. Soon, the Poppers have a houseful of new penguin friends. But with a dozen penguins to feed, plus Mrs. Popper and their children, how will Mr. Popper ever make enough money to keep the whole family going, penguins and all?

Despite the expense of having the penguins, Mr. Popper is determined to keep them. Even though the penguins do not mean to cause trouble, the curious creatures cause quite a stir in his house. Mr. Popper and his family try to make the penguins happy, and this leads to some silly situations that will make readers smile.

Mr. Popper’s family and penguins finally take their show on the road, which delights audiences. In the end, Mr. Popper knows he must do what is best for the penguins, and he allows Admiral Drake, an explorer, to take the penguins to the North Pole. Because of the penguins, Mr. Popper’s dream of traveling to the snowy land becomes a reality.

Anyone who has ever wanted a unique pet will fall in love with Mr. Popper’s penguins. The Newbery Honor-winning novel, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, was first published in 1938, but the story will still entertain today’s young readers. The adorably cute birds are illustrated in black and white drawings that appear every 3 to 5 pages. With short chapters, silly situations, and cute penguins, Mr. Popper Penguins will appeal to readers of all ages.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During a performance, two penguins put on a stage fight. “’Gork,’ said Nelson, punching Columbus in the stomach with his right flipper, and then trying to push him over with his left flipper. . . Columbus now sparred politely with Nelson until Nelson hit him on the eye, whereupon Columbus retreated with a loud ‘Ork.’” The other penguins distract Nelson and “Columbus immediately punched him in the stomach with one flipper and knocked him down with the other. Nelson lay there, with his eyes closed.” After Columbus wins the fight, Nelson gets up and all of the penguins bow. The fight is described over three pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Bear Snores On

One snowy night, a little mouse wants to get out of the cold. Mouse scurries into Bear’s cave and starts a fire. When Hare shows up, they decide to brew some tea and pop some corn. As more animals stop by to warm up, Bear snores on! Soon Bear’s cave is full of friends who dance in the firelight. What will Bear do when he wakes up to find his cave full of uninvited guests having a party without him?

Readers will want to cuddle up under a warm blanket to read Bear Snores On. As Badger enters Bear’s cave, he shares a treat with Mouse and Hare. As more animals appear, the group tells stories and dances by the fire. The illustrations beautifully contrast the cold winter snow outside with the warm den and firelight. Bear’s sadness when he wakes up and “blubbers on” is expertly illustrated so younger readers will be able to understand his emotions.

Bear Snores On is a wonderful winter story that is a perfect addition to anyone’s reading library. Each page has 1 to 5 sentences that include imagery, onomatopoeias, and rhyme. The poetic text is perfect for reading aloud. The sweet and surprising conclusion will warm readers’ hearts. A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson is another winter-themed picture book that is a fun read-aloud story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Such a Little Mouse

In the middle of a meadow, under a clump of dandelions, lives a curious and adventurous mouse—such a little mouse. Every morning in spring, summer, fall, and winter, one, two, three! He pops out of his hole. And off he goes exploring in the wild world.

Spend a year with a little mouse, with his smart gray coat, with his ears pink as petals, with three twitchety whiskers on each side of his nose. The wide world holds many surprises for such a little creature.

Readers will love seeing the little mouse explore his own backyard. The little mouse finds wonder in every season and everything—a snail, a clover, a reflection of himself in a puddle. As he goes about his day, “he brings a little round seed home in his mouth. He packs it away in his storeroom, way down deep in his hole.” As winter approaches, the little mouse’s storeroom becomes full of leaves, fruits, acorns, and other yummy foods. When the snow covers the meadow and trees, “he goes, down into his warm hole.” The little mouse makes himself a meal of acorn bread and seed-and-watercress soup. Then he snuggles down with a book and a blanket. “Such a little mouse, all snug and warm, deep down in his hole, until spring.”

Even though Such a Little Mouse is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 1 to 3 sentences that use onomatopoeia and repetition to keep readers interested. Such a Little Mouse is a wonderful story that teaches about the different seasons.

Such a Little Mouse is a sweet story that highlights the importance of preparing for winter. Even though the little mouse stops to enjoy the little things in life, he also packs away supplies for the winter. The little mouse’s days come to life in full-page illustrations that use the colors of each season. Some of the pages include panels that give readers a closer view of the little mouse’s activities. If you’re looking for more books about the four seasons, check out City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Trail of the Ghost Bunny

Kelsey’s family has moved into an old bed-and-breakfast that they’re fixing up, and the property comes with a resident: an adorable bunny named Trixie! But the inn also comes with rumors of a hidden treasure and a ghost. Something strange is definitely going on! Can the Curious Cat Spy Club figure it out and find the treasure before someone else does?

Kelsey, Becca, and Leo—with the help of their new bunny friend—are on the case. The sixth and final book in the Curious Cat Spy Series will satisfy readers.

The Trail of the Ghost Bunny is the perfect blend of spooky suspense and mystery. The story begins with a spooky tale of a dead girl, treasure, and the ghost that haunts her old house. Kelsey is determined to find the treasure, but that doesn’t stop her from helping the local animal shelter with a fundraiser. The story expertly weaves Kelsey’s school life, her home life, and her hunt for treasure.

As Kelsey tries to find the treasure, she must decipher a riddle, follow a rabbit, and gather clues. As she searches, she meets a new friend named Lyric, but soon she wonders if Lyric can be trusted. When Kelsey starts hearing strange noises when no one else is at home, she’s convinced that the ghost is real. The spooky events are mild, but they help build suspense. The conclusion will satisfy readers because it ties up all of the story’s threads and explains all of the mysterious clues.

The Trail of the Ghost Bunny will appeal to both animal lovers and mystery buffs. The story will entertain readers with a likable main character, relatable conflicts, and an interesting cast of characters. Even though the story has a large cast of characters, the unique characters are easy to remember. Whether you’ve read the previous books in The Curious Cat Spy Club, or are reading the series for the first time, The Trail of the Ghost Bunny will entertain you and have you dreaming of finding your own buried treasure.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Dennis was younger, he went into an abandoned haunted house. While trying to run away, he tripped and blacked out. “He woke up the next morning outside, lying by the riverbank. His shirt was ripped and his arms were scratched like he’d been clawed by a wild beast.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Ohmygod” is used once. “OMG” is used four times.

Supernatural

  • An elderly lady tells Kelsey about her nephew’s ghostly sighting. “A strange ghostly shape floated over the staircase. Dennis described it as half animal and half human with glowing eyes and long ears. When it came after Dennis, he tried to run away but tripped and blacked out.”
  • The older lady tells Kelsey, “Both Caroline and her father died there (in the house). Tragedy sinks into the wood of a house and changes it forever.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon

Francine Poulet is the greatest animal control officer in Gizzfor County. She has battled snakes, outwitted squirrels, and stared down a bear. Francine is never scared—until she’s faced with a screaming raccoon who may or may not be a ghost. Maybe Francine isn’t cut out to be an animal control officer after all!

But the raccoon is still on the loose, and the folks on Deckawoo Drive need Francine. Can she face her fears, round up the raccoon, and return to the ranks of animal control?

While not everyone has faced a ghost raccoon, everyone will be able to relate to Francine’s fear. While chasing the raccoon, Francine is injured. After failing to catch the raccoon, Francine “didn’t know who she was. She was not an animal control officer. And she was not a Poulet, because Poulets never panic.” It isn’t until Francine meets Frank, a talkative child, that she faces her fears.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon tells a humorous tale that highlights the importance of overcoming one’s fears. At one point, Francine quits her job because of her fear. Like Francine, readers may need help and encouragement to face their fear. When Francine tracks down the ghost raccoon, she gains confidence in her abilities, which allows her to overcome her fear.

 The Tales from Deckawoo Drive Series uses the same humor and characters as Dicamillo’s Mercy Watson Series. While this story focuses on Francine Poulet, each character is unique and interesting. Unlike many books, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon shows a wide range of people—some are old and wrinkled, some are heavy set, and one is a pig. The people in the story are similar to the people you would find in your neighborhood. Despite their differences, they have a sense of community and sit around the kitchen table to share a snack of toast.

Large black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 3 pages and will help readers understand the story’s plot. The illustrations highlight Francine’s facial expressions, which will help readers understand her emotions. Many of the illustrations are full-page, and they have humorous elements to them. Even though Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon is intended for younger readers, they may need help with the difficult vocabulary such as reclamation, recede, metaphorically, and hailed.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon is a wholesome and entertaining story that shows the importance of facing your fears. The interesting characters, a ghostly animal, and sweet conclusion will appeal to many readers both young and old.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Francine tries to capture the raccoon. “She opened her eyes just in time to see a shimmery, raccoon-shaped object flying through the air. . . She started to run. She could feel the raccoon at her heels. . . The raccoon hit Francine with such tremendous, raccoon-y force that she lost her balance and fell forward.” Francine falls off the roof and breaks an arm and a leg.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Francine climbs a roof in order to catch a raccoon, the owner of the house asks her, “Are you truly an animal control officer? Or are you just some nut job gallivanting on my roof?”
  • While trying to catch the raccoon, the neighbors talk about Francine. One lady says she is worthless and another says “she looks like a fraud to me.”

Supernatural

  • Francine gets a call from Mrs. Bissinger, who thinks the raccoon on her roof is a ghost because it says her name. Mrs. Bissinger says, “He is an extraordinary raccoon! He shimmers! He screams like a banshee!”
  • While in the hospital, Francine’s dead father appears and tells her, “There aren’t ghost raccoons, Franny. You know that.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Bridge Too Fur

Marmalade and her crew of construction kittens are in high demand!

Their latest assignment (and biggest job yet) is to build the new Mewburg bridge. But with the bridge comes the one thing cats hate most of all—water! As the team struggles to face their fears and do their jobs, they are forced to get help from some unlikely allies. . . slobbery, car-chasing DOGS.

A Bridge Too Fur has even more puns and wordplay than the first installment in the series, Meet the House Kittens. Both books show the importance of not judging others based on their appearance. While the theme is repeated several times, the examples are integrated into the story so the message doesn’t sound like a lecture. For example, when Bubbles says, “Sometimes our eyes see what we want to see, Marmalade. Like how people used to see us only as adorable little kittens.”

Another positive aspect of the story is when Marmalade realizes he had “been refusing to give these dogs a fair chance.” Instead of trying to deny his actions, Marmalade apologizes and makes changes. When Marmalade does this, the dog accepts the apology and says, “Cats and dogs are different. We’ve had to prove ourselves to people in different ways. You are more than just cute and adorable. And I am more than just a slobber factory that chases cars.”

The bright, comic-like illustrations are displayed in 1 to 3 large panels. Each page has 0 to 6 sentences that appear in quote boxes. The illustrations and text boxes make it easy to understand the plot. However, younger readers may need help with some of the more difficult words, such as demolished, coordinate, and landlubbers.

With adorable animals, puns, and humorous illustrations, A Bridge Too Fur will appeal to a wide variety of readers. A Bridge Too Fur is fun to read and will encourage readers not to make assumptions about others. If you’re looking for more graphic-novel, animal fun THEN check out the Bird & Squirrel Series by James Burks.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When a Marmalade is confused, he says, “What the–?!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Sentinels in the Deep Ocean

Fresh off their expedition on the tundra, Stacy’s supernatural wolves finally have answers about their origins as well as several newly developing powers. Meanwhile, Stacy has a new cat to care for and a mysterious diary to decode. The secrets buried in its pages will send Stacy and her pack on a thrilling race against time, a race across biomes to the farthest reaches of their world: the deep ocean.

The ocean is brimming with mysteries, but the biggest surprise of all is that Stay’s wolves are not as alone in this world as they thought they were. Could a secret from Stacy’s past hold the key to her future in the taiga?

The fourth installment of the Wild Rescuers Series focuses on Stacy and her pack of wolves. As the story progresses, they journey to a new biome and meet another small pack of magical wolves. Since the story has a large cast of characters, some readers may have difficulty remembering each character. In addition, none of the characters are well developed, which makes it difficult to connect with them.

Like the previous books, Sentinels in the Deep Ocean teaches about biomes. Readers will get a peek at an island with mangrove trees, a dying coral reef, and baby turtles. There is a brief lesson on the dangers of ocean trash as well as the importance of taking care of natural resources. While the new biome is interesting, the story could have included more insight into ocean creatures.

Sentinels in the Deep Ocean adds some interesting supernatural wolves, and it focuses on why the wolves live in different packs. Throughout Stacy’s journey, she spends time translating a journal that was found in the previous book. The journal chronicles where the supernatural wolves came from and explains some of their powers. Plus, the journal adds interest to the story and answers some important questions.

Each chapter begins with an illustration of one of Stacy’s animal friends. Other black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story. The illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s events. Some readers may struggle with the advanced vocabulary, such as cephalopod, chagrin, and epiphany. However, the end of the book has a helpful glossary, plus an interview with a sea turtle scientist!

Because the plot of each book in the series builds on each other, the Wild Rescuers Series must be read in order. Sentinels in the Deep Ocean uses Stacy’s adventure to teach about the environment. While the story is a little predictable, fans of the story will find enough action, mystery, and supernatural events to keep them entertained. Readers who love action and animals should also read the Survival Tails Series by Katrina Charman.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While at the veterinarian, Stacy is told, “Sometimes dogs and cats have to be killed in order to make room for all the other dogs and cats they have coming in.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Stacy’s wolves have powers. For example, “Basil was as fast as ever. Wink was indestructible. Everest could read Stacy’s thoughts and camouflage in the forest.”
  • Stacy and her pack meet other supernatural wolves who have powers such as growing crops instantly, controlling the wind, and healing others.
  • Rigsby can heal others, but it makes him “gaunt—reduced to skin and bones.”
  • Stacy can swim to the bottom of the ocean because Atlas can keep an air bubble around himself and Stacy.

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

 Dog Heroes

When Jack and Annie got back from their adventure in Magic Tree House Merlin Mission #18: Dogs in the Dead of Night, they had lots of questions. How do St. Bernards help find avalanche survivors? Who are some of the most famous war dog heroes? What breeds make good service dogs? Find out the answers to these questions and more as Jack and Annie track the facts.

The book includes information on the evolution of dogs, how dogs help search and rescue people, and famous dog heroes. Each chapter is broken into small sections that end in an infographic that explains dog families, how service dogs help humans, and other dog-related topics. Almost every page has a picture or illustration. The book includes historical pictures of the dog and the people they have helped. Black and white illustrations also show the dogs in action. Jack’s and Annie’s pictures appear next to photos along with information about the picture.

Dog Heroes is packed full of information on how dogs help humans, starting with the first human and dog relationships. The story contains many examples of how dogs have helped saved people throughout history. While many of the dog stories are inspirational, readers will have a difficult time keeping track of all of the dogs mentioned in the book. However, if readers are looking for a topic to use for research, Dog Heroes would be an excellent starting point. The end of the book lists nonfiction books about dog heroes and explains how to research.

Dog Heroes will appeal to every dog lover and teach about famous dogs in history. The book interestingly presents historical information and gives information about the dogs in Dogs in the Dead of Night, a Magic Tree House book. Dog Heroes is packed full of historical information that is fun to read. Even though the content is appropriate for younger readers, they may need help with the advanced vocabulary. Dog Heroes would be an excellent book to use for researching dogs, but it also contains inspirational stories about specific dogs in history.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Chapter 3 explains how dogs helped during 9/11. Omar was in the World Trade Center when a plane crashed into it. “Suddenly Omar heard a huge booming sound. Glass shattered, fires broke out, and the building began to crack and sway. Terrified people huddled in their offices. . . The ash-covered survivors looked like ghosts as they staggered down the sidewalk.”
  • Soldiers also need service dogs. “After Roland Paquette was injured in Afghanistan in 2004, he really needed help. He lost both legs due to an explosion.”
  • During World War II, Chip helped soldiers who were “pinned down and couldn’t move. . . Chip rushed directly to the spot where Italian gunners were firing. In an instant, Chip dragged one of the men out of his hiding place. Three other men followed with their hands up in the air.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Agnes and Clarabelle

Agnes the pig and Clarabelle the chicken are best friends throughout every season. Whether it’s planning the perfect birthday party in the spring, spending a summer day at the beach, braving a big department store in the fall, or making the very best pizza in winter, they help each other through every up and down. For Agnes and Clarabelle, everything is better when they’re together.

Agnes and Clarabelle is broken into four short chapters. Each chapter is a new story, which makes the book perfect if you’re looking for a quick bedtime story.

Each story focuses on a conflict that young readers will relate to. In chapter 1, “Spring: Surprise Party,” Clarabelle is worried that not everyone will be able to come to her birthday party. On the day of the party, one friend does not show up, but Clarabelle has a wonderful time despite this. In chapter 2, “Summer: Beach Day,” Agnes is “scared of a wave knocking me over or a Frisbee hitting my head.” Clarabelle comes up with a creative solution that takes Agnes’s fears into consideration. In chapter 3, “New Sneakers,” Clarabelle gets lost in a mall but is found. In chapter 4, “Winter: Perfect Pizza,” the two friends make the perfect pizza that is too pretty to eat.

Agnes and Clarabelle’s stories come to life in adorable, full-colored illustrations that show the friends’ varied emotions. Various sized illustrations appear every 1 to 3 pages. The illustrations portray a range of animal characters from a bear security guard to an alligator working at the mall. Readers will have fun finding the brightly colored birds that are on almost every outdoor illustration. Large text and simple sentences make Agnes and Clarabelle easy to understand.

Beginning readers will enjoy Agnes and Clarabelle’s adventures. The stories don’t show perfect solutions to every problem. Instead, Agnes and Clarabelle teaches readers what a healthy friendship looks like. Agnes and Clarabelle is a cute and engaging story that teaches important values. If you’re looking for another book that features friendship lessons, check out the Unicorn and Yeti Series by Heather Ayris Burnell.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Charlotte’s Web

Fern saves a piglet, the runt of his litter, from being killed by her father, Mr. Arable. She names the piglet Wilbur and cares for him until he has grown too big to stay at the Arables’ house. Her father is unwilling to provide for Wilbur, so he convinces Fern to sell Wilbur to her uncle, Mr. Zuckerman. Wilbur can stay at Mr. Zimmerman’s farm for the rest of his days. And although Wilbur has more room to move and plenty to eat, he becomes lonely—he wants a friend.

After hearing Wilbur’s request, Charlotte, a gray spider, befriends him. Fern frequently visits Wilbur and observes the activities around the barn, occasionally accompanied by her little brother, Avery. One day, a sheep warns Wilbur of an inevitable future: one of those days, the farmers will slaughter him for “smoked bacon and ham.” However, Charlotte plans to dissuade the humans from killing her new friend.

An external narrator tells the story of Charlotte’s Web so the reader can understand the thoughts of every character. Since the story centers on Wilbur’s growth from his friendship with Charlotte, who encourages him to be “some pig,” “humble,” and “radiant,” Wilbur is the only character who changes throughout the story. The narrator follows Wilbur’s actions often since Fern spends more time with the humans than the animals. Fern expresses her fondness for Wilbur, nonetheless. Younger readers will not get lost in the plot because Fern tells her family about the farm animals’ activities. In addition, pictures of the farm and characters are in most chapters so readers can visualize the setting.

Even though the story is a beloved classic, the frequent praise of Charlotte’s webs and Wilbur’s magnificence is heavy-handed at times. Plus, the book’s vocabulary will make it difficult reading for some readers. Younger readers may not understand the 1950s culture, but they will understand the relationship between Fern and the humans, and the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte. The dialogue has 1950s dialogue, and some phrases and terms may be offensive to modern audiences. For example, when Mr. Zuckerman says to the minister that Fern is a “queer child,” he meant that Fern is a strange child.

Elementary school readers will enjoy the book as it ultimately tells the story of friends from unlikely places. If you are looking for a more modern story about love, life, and friendship similar to Charlotte’s Web, there are great ones to choose from, such as A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mr. Arable was on his way to kill Wilbur, but Fern stops him by saying, “The pig couldn’t help being born small, could it? . . . This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of.” The scene lasts for two pages.
  • Throughout the book, Charlotte captures and eats “anything that is careless enough to get caught in [her] web.”
  • One of the old sheep in the farm tells Wilbur that the humans have been fattening him up so they can kill him and eat him. “Almost all young pigs get murdered by the farmer as soon as the real cold weather sets in. There’s a regular conspiracy around here to kill you at Christmastime. Everybody is in on the plot.” Wilbur’s panic at the revelation continues for two pages.
  • One of Charlotte’s cousins battled against a fish. “There was my cousin, slipping in, dodging out, beaten mercilessly over the head by the wildly thrashing fish, dancing in, dancing out, throwing her threads and fighting hard.” Her cousin wrapped the fish in her threads, defeating it. Then, “[Her] cousin kept the fish for a while, and then, when she got good and ready, she ate it.” The fight lasts for two pages.
  • Charlotte dies after seeing off Wilbur and Templeton, a rat, who are returning to Mr. Zuckerman’s farm. “She never moved again. . . Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the County Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Charlotte gives her prey “an anesthetic” so they won’t feel pain when she eats them.
  • Lurvy, the hired man on Mr. Zuckerman’s farm, gives Wilbur “two spoonfuls of sulfur and a little molasses” when Mr. Zuckerman notices Wilbur’s misery.

Language

  • Templeton is mad when Wilbur wakes him from his nap, and says, “What kind of monkeyshine is this?”
  • Wilbur calls Templeton a “crazy rat” when the rat makes noise at night.
  • Zuckerman calls Edith, his wife, “crazy” because she wants to wash Wilbur with buttermilk.

Supernatural

  • An announcer refers to Wilbur’s excellence as “dealing with supernatural forces.”

Spiritual Content

  • When Mr. Arable lets Fern keep and care for Wilbur, he prayed for the “good Lord” to “forgive him for this foolishness.”
  • Lurvy “dropped to his knees and uttered a small prayer” upon seeing the words “some pig” on one of Charlotte’s webs.
  • Many humans refer to Wilbur and the webs as a “miracle.”
  • Mr. Zuckerman meets with the minister about Wilbur and the webs. The minister says, “I can explain it in my sermon next Sunday.” On that Sunday, the minister says, “the words on the spider’s web proved that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.”
  • Wilbur refers to the doorway where Charlotte wove her webs as “hallowed” when he spoke to three of Charlotte’s daughters, Joy, Aranea, and Nellie.
  • Templeton exclaims, “Bless my soul” out of frustration when Wilbur persuades him to take Charlotte’s egg sac before they leave the County Fair.

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